You don't have to be an avid NFL football fan to know that when it comes to Buffalo, the Bills are the heart and soul of the city.
In fact, this deep-rooted connection that's existed between the community and the team for 60 seasons is frequently referenced by Bills draft picks and free agents as a source of excitement -- often, before they've even stepped foot in Western New York. An endearing factor that sets Buffalo apart from the other 31 NFL cities, the Bills' bond with fans is valued by the organization and is viewed as critical to rookie development.
According to Bills Director of Player Engagement & Alumni Marlon Kerner, building a rapport with the community early on can help the rookies bond with one another, adjust to life in a new city and transition to the NFL. To facilitate the acclimation process, the Bills rookie class participated in several group outings this week, including a trip to the New Era Cap headquarters in downtown Buffalo on Monday, June 17, and a city-wide excursion on Wednesday, June 19.
"We just wanted to get them to really understand what it means to be a part of this organization," said Kerner. "[It's also important that they know] what we stand for, and what this community means to the Bills and what the Bills mean to the community. We wanted them to see the blue-collar work ethic mentality and really get them to understand [that] win or lose, our fans are always going to have our back. So, [it] was really good for those guys to get out there and see."
While the rookies enjoyed designing caps, getting a birds-eye view of Buffalo from the top of City Hall and going behind-the-scenes at a local firehouse and police station, the takeaway from the events proved even more impactful.
On Wednesday, June 19, the Buffalo Bills rookie class spent the day visiting several notable places in the community. Check out photos from their visit to City Hall, a local police station and fire house.
"It was fun to get out and meet people who help us on a day-to-day basis," said running back Devin Singletary.
The Florida Atlantic product who goes by "Motor" was not only impressed by the kind nature of everyone he met, but also by their work ethic – something that he can relate to.
"…It has a lot of friendly people," he said of Buffalo. [They are] definitely hard working, you can tell that vibe…
"I think I fit in perfect. I think that it fits me perfect. [I'm a] small town kind of guy. Definitely hard working [and I'm] willing to come in day-to-day and get out there..."
Throughout the offseason program, members of the Bills Player Engagement & Alumni department have worked alongside the coaching staff, current players and Bills Legends to assist the newcomers with everything from money management and goalsetting to the speed of the game and what it means to be a Buffalo Bill. With a lot of time spent in the classroom, the team outings proved a welcomed change of pace for the guys.
"That's awesome," said tight end Tommy Sweeney about getting to explore his home. "I mean because you know, we have been here for a while, but we've been pretty busy. So, it's good to get out and be here and you know really see what it's like and [to learn firsthand] how the community is really what everybody says. It's a good neighbor community. Everybody loves the Bills. Everybody is really proud of Buffalo and everything, so it's been great."
In addition to providing opportunities to develop relationships with team supporters, the activities have allowed the rookies to discover more about each other and form friendships.
"They're always together and we like to do this in big groups just because it's not just a positional type of thing…," said Kerner. "When you get in a group like this, guys can kind of let their hair down, if you will, and meet other guys and say, "He's a good dude," 'I like him' 'He's funny'… 'Hey, we have the same background, I didn't know we grew up like that.' So, they get another sense of bonding that's not just driven by practice and X's and O's. We're outside, we're hanging…we get to learn a lot more about each other and not in a classroom setting.
"…Guys are really just coming together and I'm excited to see what happens when we get to training camp."