Editor’s note: Please welcome Jourdon LaBarber to the BillsMafia.com blog as our newest staff writer. Jourdon is an aspiring sports journalist with a real talent for the writing process. We’re looking forward to many more great reads in the future.
When I learned that my first blog post for BillsMafia.com would be on this weekend’s rookie mini-camp, I immediately began to game-plan. I was going to watch some highlights from some of the 21 tryout players who the Bills had invited to camp, as while as the well-respected crop of rookies the Bills selected in last month’s draft. In order to analyze these players, I needed to get a feel for them.
As it turns out, none of that would be neccessary. Sure, some football news did come out of camp over the weekend: Coach Gailey expressed his confidence in first-round pick Stephon Gilmore, a few of the undrafted free agents and tryout players moved one step closer to realizing their dream and two quarterbacks who had garnered some attention — undrafted Richmond QB Aaron Corp and Division III YouTube sensation Alex Tanney — walked away without contracts. The real story here, however, was found away from the practice field. Beyond the numbers. Past the playbook.
What stood out the most to me in regards to rookie mini-camp 2012, in fact, didn’t even take place until after the camp was over. On Monday, a group of the rookies were taken on a tour of Buffalo, covering everything from Niagara Falls to the New Era flagship store. Along the way, a few players took the liberty of sharing their opinions of the Queen City via Twitter.
“Loving Buffalo so far, it’s such a laid back city,” running back Chris Douglas (@Run_CMD4) tweeted roughly an hour into his tour.
Linebacker Garrick Williams (@G_Williams_8) echoed the sentiment, tweeting “Buffalo is a beautiful place” and “Yea Buffalo holdin it down!” respectively.
Buffalo is holding it down? Buffalo is beautiful? Ladies and gentleman, the transformation is complete: Buffalo has finally become a place where players want to play (although we might consider ourselves lucky that is wasn’t snowing on the May day these Bills took their tour). This is what this year’s camp was to me: a final embodiment of the culture change that has finally taken place in the Buffalo Bills organization.
I can’t remember the last time this many players were this excited to join the Bills. Even Jim Kelly refused to come to Buffalo after he was drafted in 1983, and he is arguably the greatest offensive player in the franchise’s history. But now, as these rookies showed in their tweets throughout the weekend, a new era as ushered in.
Where it began, I have no idea. Was it up at the top, where Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey — rather than Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan — created a comfortable setting and finally convinced Buffalo that the Bills were a team that actually wanted to win? Was it the band of misfit players turned all-stars, from Fred Jackson to Stevie Johnson, who showed that you don’t have to be a top-ten pick or big-money free agent to make an impact? Or maybe it was the fans themselves, #Billsmafia, who contributed to an atmosphere where incoming players can feel like they are actually part of this city, part of a family.
More likely, it was a combination of the three. The Buffalo Bills have changed. The horror story of the past decade is over: no more Marshawn Lynch gun charges and media dodges, no more Jason Peters hold outs and no more talking about how good Lee Evans could be if he only had another receiver to compliment him. What we have here, win or lose, is an actual team. A team that wants nothing more than to win for each other and for the city. A team full of players who don’t have to be here, but want to be here.
No longer do we need to be grouchy old pessimistic Bills fans. For years not only were the Bills not winners, they weren’t even lovable losers… just a team middling in mediocrity. This team has completely removed themselves from that feeling. Of course expectations are to win, but at this point we at least know that our organization, from top to bottom, is doing everything in their power to reach those expectations.
So with the additions of this year’s rookie class, the family only grows. This year’s group features its own band of misfits (just ask any NFL analyst what they think of the Bills’ move to trade up and take TJ Graham in the third round), as well as some highly touted college players (we have a linebacker named Tank!). But they’re all excited to be here, and we’re excited to have them. Welcome to #BillsMafia.
Bills Mafia Blog