“I’m sorry,” I said after 2 1/2 minutes of uncontrollable laughter that left my face hurting, “but I thought you said something about going to the Bills training camp.”
“I did, you dope!” he snapped, obviously irritated at my incredulous reaction to the suggestion that I spend two hours on the New York State Thruway in order to watch an NFL team practice.
“Look, wise guy, we leave Rochester at 8, catch the morning workout, get a few autographs, grab some lunch, watch the afternoon practice, get a few more autographs and we’re outta there by 5, back home by 7:30. Whattaya say?”
“Have a nice trip,” I said.
“You think about it and let me know,” he said.
Hey, I don’t have to think about it. You see, there are few things that humans do that are less entertaining than pro-football training camps. Root canals come to mind. And digging ditches would have to be in there. So would scraping your house, followed closely by painting it.
If you disagree, then obviously you have never been to Fredonia State in late July. Or maybe you get your jollies from the mere sighting of a large, sweaty, smelly, overweight millionaire who wouldn’t notice, let alone care, if you dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow.
Look up “boring” in the dictionary and chances are you’ll see a photo of an NFL training camp next to it. And if you go to Fredonia looking for football, then you’re probably also looking into some beachfront property just outside Des Moines (as in Iowa).
Training camp is a classroom, not an audition for gladiators. Coach Marv Levy and his staff do a lot of teaching, and the smart players–assuming there are any–avoid contact as if it were a torn hamstring. Really, training camp is the last place players go to prove how tough they are. An overzealous rookie or free agent who hits anybody hard at training camp usually gets into a nobody-wins fistfight with the guy he hits. And then one of the coaches will chew him out for potentially injuring another player.
Jim Kelly and the other quarterbacks, for example, wear brightly colored jerseys that convey a message: Hit me and you’re outta here. Consequently, what you get is one feigned “hit” after another (flag-football games have more contact), and all the running backs score on every play.
As for autographs, good luck! The most popular players–Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, etc.–are subject to leave the practice field by secret passage, which, if utilized, will take them from the field to the locker room to the chow hall without being seen by the people who make it possible for them to make all that money.
This may break your heart, but a significant number of professional athletes wouldn’t pour Gatorade on Joe Q. Fan if he were on fire. Pay through the nose to go to a game, support your team by cheering loudly and go home. Otherwise, you are a nuisance and potential invader of their privacy. Pro-football players want to be loved; they just don’t want to be bothered.
Thus, at Fredonia State you will find that golf carts–the escape vehicles of choice among the Bills–are everywhere. They offer a speedy end run around the suckers who think Smith is wonderful because 12 or 15 times a season he manages to avoid a block and tackle the opposing quarterback before he can throw a pass.
Anyway, if you’re willing to risk being ignored or treated as if you have leprosy, then by all means, put on your Bills jersey and get to Fredonia ASAP. However, if you don’t mind, I’ll stay home and paint my house.
You can read Rick Woodson’s column every Friday in the Daily Edition of the Rochester Business Journal and hear him every Tuesday night at 8 on 1370 Sports Connection on WXXI-AM 1370.