The first real sign that the NFL season is getting close arrives on Thursday when the Bills begin their annual training camp in Rochester. Sorry, but organized team activities and mini camps aren't really signs of anything getting close but more just things on the calendar that mark the time. Training camp means pre-season games are coming and of course after that, actual game games.
The way it usually works for me is I get excited when practice starts and then realize it's still just practice. Then I start looking forward to the first exhibition game. Then the 3rd quarter of the first exhibition game shows up and I'm pretty much ready for September.
I'm not sure how much different this August will be, but it feels different going in. It's hard to know what all the moves made in the spring will add up to. What I'm sure of is that this is the first time in what feels like a long time that the Bills head into camp without something hanging over them that's making their fans angry. It seems as though even the blackout story has kind of blown by without too much fuss. This of course doesn't speak for everyone. Still, it seems fans are heading in with a pretty clean slate for a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1999.
The offseason started with the usual amount of skepticism about whether or not the Bills would pay to retain one of their own rising young stars in Stevie Johnson. The Bills paid Johnson and then went off in free agency. Getting Mario Williams on an airplane seemed like a victory. Keeping him here for three days until he put his name on a contract was pretty much mind blowing and still is. Then for good measure the Bills went ahead and signed the guy who most of us would have been happy with when free agency opened, Mark Anderson, who is coming off a 10 sack season in New England.
For what it's worth, the draft at least made sense to fans. There was no reaching for more running backs. It seemed they could use help at cornerback and offensive tackle and so they drafted a cornerback and an offensive tackle with their first two picks. Again, this doesn't speak for everyone. Some fans really wanted a receiver. But even that fan didn't stay bothered for long.
The easy explanation is also the correct explanation for all of this, at least in my opinion.
The Bills hit it into orbit when they signed Mario Williams. We're still pretty much basking in the fuzzy afterglow of that move. The Bills look like they are really trying to be as good as they can be and actually made moves that provide evidence. As obvious a thing as that is to expect from your pro football team, it hasn't always been easy to believe. Now it is.
Eventually they'll have to, you know, actually win games and make the playoffs. For now, I'm willing to enjoy just not being mad at them. Heck, I'm more than that. I'm impressed.