Buffalo Bills draft picks get a taste of passion from team's fans at O'Hare Airport
Buffalo Bills fans have certainly made a name for themselves in a variety of ways, and some of those aren’t exactly flattering.
Sadly, too much of the football nation focuses on those who somehow find it amusing to slam their bodies through folding tables.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that went away and Bills fans could simply and rightfully be known way, way more for their passion and unbridled love of the team? To be known for things such as the scene that took place at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Wednesday afternoon.
With rookie minicamp starting Friday at One Bills Drive, the eight 2021 draft picks were flying the friendly skies on Wednesday, making their way to Buffalo. Three of them – offensive linemen Spencer Brown, Tommy Doyle and Jack Anderson – happened to fly through O’Hare and wound up on the same connecting plane bound for Buffalo.
Now, to be clear, none of these guys are named Trevor Lawrence, or Zack Wilson, or Justin Fields, three of the big-name quarterbacks who were picked in the first round of the NFL Draft a couple weeks ago and are easily recognizable.
They are three nondescript players, picked in the third, fifth and seventh rounds, and it’s almost a 100% certainty that no one in America’s busiest airport recognized any of them. That is until they all arrived at that gate for the Buffalo flight, and many of the people who were headed back home knew exactly who Brown, Doyle and Anderson were.
“It’s awesome,” Brown said. “The Buffalo fan base is super genuine and one of the best fan bases out there and that’s what I’m seeing right now and it’s the beginning phase.”
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Brown and Doyle both stand 6-foot-8, and all three men tip the scales at 300-plus pounds, so putting two and two together probably wasn’t that difficult for the Bills fans on the flight. Still, to be treated the way they were, Doyle said, was somewhat thrilling.
“Yeah, yeah, a few people did recognize us and we were able to talk to a couple of parents, take a few pictures, so it was pretty cool,” he said. “It was awesome to see how passionate fans are and having people recognize us at the airport.”
The flight attendants likely didn’t know who the players were, but seeing how their huge bodies were going to need some extra space, they moved people around the cabin to get them in a more comfortable situation.
“We got on the smallest plane I’ve ever been on,” Brown said. “It was some musical chairs going on with rearranging us and trying to get us in the best spot possible. Shout out to American Airlines for getting me an exit row; I appreciate it.”
When he was finally situated, Brown settled into a conversation with a woman and he said, “We were just talking about things to do around Buffalo. She was super nice and genuine. We didn’t really talk about football, we just talked about what’s going on in Buffalo and things like that. She grew up in Buffalo and has been a Bills fan. She started the conversation so I'm guessing she might have had a small inclination that three large men were flying to Buffalo.”
Brown hails from a small Iowa town named Lenox, population around 1,300. Buffalo may be the second-smallest city in the NFL, obviously not Lenox small, yet Brown is already starting to get the feeling that he’s in a good place.
“In the back of my head I was thinking how it’s like the Iowa ‘nice’ that everybody likes to talk about,” he said. “That’s just what I felt on the plane, in the airport, and then just going out into the community and seeing people. They just say ‘good luck’ and it’s awesome. I really do enjoy it.”
Brown actually got his first taste of what it’s like to be a Bill in Buffalo on his first visit to town.
“The guy that took my ID at the airport as I’m planning to go home, he’s like, ‘Good luck this year,’” Brown recalled. “So everybody’s involved in the city and it’s all about the Buffalo Bills, which is awesome. Coming from Northern Iowa, I never had to take pictures or anything like that. It’s pretty fun to interact with fans, though. I love it.”
Brown, Doyle and Anderson will be on the practice fields all weekend along with the other five draft picks – Greg Rousseau, Carlos Basham, Marquez Stevenson, Damar Hamlin and Rachad Wildgoose. They will be joined by two free agents the team signed Thursday, linebacker Mike Bell and offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez.
Also, six undrafted free agents were officially signed Thursday – defensive backs Olaijah Griffin, Nick McCloud and Tariq Thompson, tight end Quintin Morris, offensive lineman Syrus Tuitele and wide receiver Tre Walker – and they will practice, as will several players who have been invited by the Bills to try out.
Last year’s rookie class did not get this opportunity due to the pandemic and they didn’t practice as a group, or with the full team, until training camp started at the end of July.
“I definitely think it’s valuable, being able to get that hand-on-hand work rather than doing it over the Zooms,” said Basham. “Just like being able to have it right in front of you is better, I would have to say, so it's a big help.”
Second-rounder Basham said he and first-rounder and fellow edge rusher Rousseau have already gotten together to start working through the playbook.
“Just looking at it at first, it's kind of confusing,” he said. “We sat down and broke it all down and now it's kind of starting to come a little natural to me. Some of the stuff that is in the playbook now is what we did at Wake (Forest).”
Said Rousseau, “It’s definitely different from a college playbook. College playbooks are a lot smaller, just a lot less complex, but it’s really just a process of learning something here, learning something there, not trying to cram through information at once, just taking it slow and learning day by day.”
It is expected that all of the draft picks, free agents and any of the tryout players who get signed will remain in Buffalo for the foreseeable future and take part in organized team activities which begin in earnest next week.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.