Finally, the Buffalo Bills are first in the AFC East. OK, so they're first into training camp. You have to start somewhere, and the Bills will this weekend, opening camp a week before most of their colleagues.
Long-suffering Buffalo fans who have endured nine seasons without the playoffs hope it's the start of something more meaningful, and some believe they're already there. I'm talking of the buzz surrounding the arrival of Terrell Owens, the wide receiver you love to hate and the guy who will get the most attention in Pittsford, N.Y. this summer.
|Owens and his baggage's debut in Pittsford, N.Y., will get plenty of attention. (Getty Images)|
My guess is that Buffalo fans would settle for 11 victories instead. Anyway, T.O. is in Buffalo, Jay Cutler is in Chicago, Tony Gonzalez is in Atlanta and Brett Favre is in limbo -- for now at least. Training camps aren't supposed to be this much fun, but they're here, they're now and they look like this:
My five favorite camps
1. Arizona Cardinals at Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, Ariz.: Spectacular location. Gorgeous town. Clean air. Big skies. Easy club to navigate. Terrific head coach and Kurt Warner available for interviews. What's not to like?
2. Buffalo Bills at St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, N.Y.: Another marvelous setting for a camp, though altogether different from Flagstaff. If you have a couple of free hours, rent a bike and ride alongside the Erie Canal, stopping -- where else? -- at the Coal Tower Restaurant. You can thank me later.
3. Indianapolis Colts at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Ind.: One of these days I'll figure out how to get back there. The facilities are top-notch, the practice field is idyllic and you get to watch Peyton Manning at work.
4. San Diego Chargers at their facility, San Diego, Calif.: It's America's Finest City, the locker room is open, Coronado is 15 minutes away and there's a Filippi's up the road.
5. Seattle Seahawks at their facility, Renton, Wash: The Taj Mahal of facilities. Seattle is a long flight from New York, but the Seahawks are one of the most open and refreshingly honest clubs to cover. If nothing else, I look forward to listening to Matt Hasselbeck, who along with the Cards' Warner is one of the best interviews in sports.
Five biggest questions
1. Who winds up with more sequels, Rocky or Favre?
2. How soon before we see the Tom Brady of 2007?
4. Now that the Bears have their franchise quarterback, when do they give him a franchise wide receiver?
5. Who makes the first move on Michael Vick?
|The league won't be the same with Dungy missing from the sideline. (US Presswire)|
Five guys I'm going to miss
1. Tony Dungy, head coach, Indianapolis: Simply the classiest individual I've met in the NFL. The league's loss is the non-football world's gain.
2. Jim Johnson, defensive coordinator, Philadelphia: Great coach. Great guy. We're all pulling for him to beat his latest bout with cancer. Hurry back soon, Jim.
3. Mike Martz, offensive coordinator, San Francisco: Brilliant game-planner and straight shooter. I love talking to him about his teams because he pulled no punches. If a guy stunk, he said it. If he was good, he would tell you. In short, he was candid. Don't ask me why he's not coaching. Maybe some people see him as a threat, I don't know. What I do know is that there is no friggin' way there are 32 better offensive coordinators in this league.
4. Herm Edwards, head coach, Kansas City: Another guy who tells it like it is. Edwards was one of the game's outstanding motivators and got dealt a short hand in Kansas City. He deserved a chance to grow with his young team -- one, incidentally, that he made competitive last year despite playing with a third-string quarterback -- but once Carl Peterson stepped down, Edwards was cooked. Now people close to Edwards tell me he's not all that interested in being a head coach again. Too bad.
5. Mike Holmgren, head coach, Seattle: Somehow, I think we'll see Holmgren again -- whether it's San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas or Washington. He's an outstanding coach and one of the game's most complete interviews. He knows what you want, and he's quick to get you there.
|White has the tools to run the Wildcat in Miami. (US Presswire)|
Five rookies who intrigue me
1. WR Michael Crabtree, San Francisco: Great receiver, but his hands aren't as big as his ego. Of course, neither is the state of New Jersey. Did someone say prima donna? "Normally when you get great players," coach Mike Singletary said of Crabtree, "you get a little bit of attitude with them." A little bit I could handle -- Crabtree I could not. Memo to Crabtree: Listen to your receivers coach, Jerry Sullivan, if you want to make it. The guy knows how to develop wide receivers. Pay attention.
2. RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia: The Eagles believe McCoy is a younger version of Brian Westbrook, but I know scouts who are skeptical. Well, we're about to find out. A June ankle surgery has Westbrook sidelined indefinitely, which means McCoy gets most of the touches this summer.
3. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver, Oakland: The Raiders love him because of his speed, and I think that's great. But if that's why you draft a guy then why not sign Usain Bolt? Calling Heyward-Bey a reach is an understatement -- he is a big-time gamble, especially with Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin on the board. "This was the no-question pick," coach Tom Cable said of Heyward-Bey. Sorry, but I have plenty of questions.
4. LB Aaron Curry, Seattle: The Seahawks had the fourth pick of the draft, yet wound up with its best player. How does that happen? Can't wait to talk to Curry, who was one of the best and most engaging interviews of the combine.
5.QB Pat White, Miami: Just want to see how Dan Henning uses him. If ever there were someone perfectly tailored for Henning's "Wildcat" offense, it is White.
Five guys I wouldn't want to be
1. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: He must rule on Vick. He must rule on Plaxico Burress. He must rule on Donte Stallworth. He must look into Ben Roethlisberger. He must look into Brandon Marshall. Did someone say something about a CBA?
2. Burress: Goodell isn't his only concern. There's the city of New York and Michael Bloomberg's promise to crack down on anyone who discharges unregistered guns. Burress, step forward. Wonder why nobody is in a rush to sign the guy? They're wary of the long arm of Johnny Law. Burress should be, too.
3. Buffalo coach Dick Jauron: He has to win to keep his job -- that's the nature of a head coach's job. But he must do it while babysitting Owens, and, pardon me, but I would rather raise the Titanic. Jauron is one of the game's class acts, and he doesn't deserve this one-year sentence. I just wish he called Andy Reid before taking the plunge.
4. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis: He operates the day-care center for Chad Johnson/Ochocinco. So now Ochocinco wants to Twitter during games. Great. About what? His 50 yards in catches? Please. Lewis deserves better.
5. Denver coach Josh McDaniels: With all the fallout since his hiring, it's a wonder that irate Broncos fans haven't launched a recall campaign. McDaniels infuriated Cutler. Then the Broncos traded him. Now, it's Marshall who wants out. Fans wonder where this club is going, and, frankly, I can't tell you. There doesn't seem to be a plan.
|Cutler to the Bears will not end up working out. (US Presswire)|
Five most-covered stories
1. Brady's return to New England: We were there for his return to minicamp, and Brady said all the right things on a cold May afternoon to an audience of about 100 media members. The crush continues with training camp.
2. Favre and Groundhog Day: Wait a minute, didn't we go through this a year ago? Favre says he will make his decision to play by July 30. The Vikings open camp July 31. Gee, do you think the two are connected?
3. Owens in Buffalo: T.O. and Buffalo go together like Jon and Kate. Owens is good for the Bills' ticket sales, but wait until you see what he does for that good, ol' fashioned team chemistry.
4. Cutler in Chicago: I have a nephew who tells me this is a great move for the Bears. Sorry, I don't see it. When I look at Cutler, I see Jeff George. Yeah, he has a spring-loaded arm, but tell me who makes a better leader in Chicago -- Cutler or Kyle Orton. Besides, who's going to catch his passes? Anyway, this guy gives people in Chicago something other than Alfonso Soriano to talk about.
5. Matt Cassel in Kansas City: A year ago he was a virtual unknown. Now the Chiefs write him a check for $63 million and hand him the keys to the offense. I sure hope they know what they're doing.
Five storylines I want to follow
1. Jason Campbell's resilience in Washington: The Redskins tried to acquire Cutler but failed, which tells you what they think of Campbell. So how does Campbell respond? The guy vowed to be the best he can be, and his timing is right: It's a make-or-break season for him and his head coach.
2. Sean McDermott as Philadelphia's interim defensive coordinator: McDermott has been groomed by Johnson for years, and he takes over while Johnson battles melanoma. Question: What changes, if any, does he make and how different will the Eagles look without Johnson calling blitzes? I want to hear from McDermott.
3. Trent Edwards on T.O.: Owens buried Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo. All were Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Edwards is not. His future is ahead of him, and it might depend on someone like the controversial Owens. So how in the world does he endorse his acquisition?
4. Shawne Merriman's return to San Diego: He is one of the game's best pass rushers and could be entering his last year with the club. What's ahead for him and the Bolts?
5. Finding the next Burress for Eli Manning: It could be Hakeem Nicks. It could be Ramses Barden. Mario Manningham. Domenik Hixon. Sinorice Moss. Yeah, it's a little like finding Waldo. So many people, so little time.
Five reasons other than football to go to training camp
1. The Coal Tower Restaurant, Pittsford, N.Y.: Next to our kitchen at home, my favorite place to eat. Burgers. Shakes. Blueberry pancakes. You name it, you better order it. Now I know why the Bills keep coming back to Pittsford.
2. Graney's Irish Bar and Grill, Albany, N.Y.: Last time I was there they had 35 TV screens, but I dare you to keep your eyes on them. Great food. Better help. Absolutely the best sports bar on the planet.
3. Wegmans: It's Whole Foods on steroids, the biggest and best grocery store this side of Imperial Valley. I found my first outside the Redskins' training camp before realizing they were everywhere in Rochester, where the chain was started. You can also find them in and around Bethlehem, Pa., home of the Eagles.
4. Oatmeal pancakes at the Encinitas Café, Encinitas, Calif.: I was there this summer for another round when I asked our server for the recipe. She declined. "It's a secret," she said. I can understand why.
5. Camino Grande, Georgetown, Ky.: Pete Prisco covers the Bengals' camp this year, and the first thing I told him is that before you start tweeting with Johnson/Ochocinco, check this place out. The food is good, ample and cheap.
Five side trips I'd recommend
1. Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie, Wash.: It's about a 45-minute drive from downtown Seattle, and it's the home of the Salish Lodge -- seen in David Lynch's wonderfully bizarre Twin Peaks. One recommendation: Don't ask what happened to Laura Palmer.
2. Any of the Finger Lakes: Buffalo COO Russ Brandon is fond of Canandaiqua Lake and I can see why. It's a quiet town and an ideal setting. But I'll take Keuka and Cayuga Lakes, too, with a stop at Cornell required.
3. Newport, R.I.: I lived here when I was in junior high school, and the town continues to dazzle. The mansion tour is recommended, but I stick to Cliff Walk, the Newport Casino, Second Beach and strolling Bellevue Avenue.
4. Stillwater, Minn.: Talk about picturesque. The town is one living, breathing picture postcard. I usually stay at the Water Street Inn. The rooms are so big you could play a pick-up game of hoops in there.
5. Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, N.Y.: It's the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, and you can relive it by tooling down Route 17 on your way back to New York from the Jets or Bills. Alvin Lee and Roger Daltrey won't be here, but look for them in the museum inside.