NFL off-season fills everyone with hope

I remember talking to Bills vice president Russ Brandon about three years ago when the Bills Caravan visited Pittsford Plaza. We discussed how the Bills changed their approach to marketing training camp.

He said, "In training camp, everybody thinks their team is winning the Super Bowl." He added that the Bills were among a handful of NFL teams trying to take advantage of that enthusiasm and get people excited about their product during the NFL preseason. And that could only mean good things at the start of the regular season: momentum, excitement, advanced sell-outs – all without playing a single game.

Well, here we are in the middle of the off-season, and already it rivals the excitement of last off-season, when Drew Bledsoe came aboard. Maybe the Takeo Spikes and Sam Adams acquisitions exceed the Bledsoe acquisition because they mean Buffalo is closer to repairing the defense and going deep into the playoffs.

That's debatable. I think people would still say that Jim Kelly's arrival in 1986 far outweighed Cornelius Bennett's arrival in 1987 and Thurman Thomas' arrival in 1988, even though Bennett and Thomas probably pushed the team over the top.

The Kelly rule applies to Bledsoe. He's the quarterback. He's the foundation. When people look back at this time in Bills history, they'll say the Bledsoe trade marked the beginning of great things for the Bills, if everything goes according to plan.

Realize, Buffalo could still have acquired Spikes and Adams had the Bledsoe trade not occurred, but bringing in a big-named quarterback gives a team immediate credibility. It serves notice to opponents and players that this team is serious about shoring up the squad and making a serious Super Bowl run.

Those are signs and warnings. And that's what the NFL off-season is about.

How excited are Cardinals fans right now after they signed Emmitt Smith, who'll be 34 in May? They think that's big for them. They think they're one step closer – to what, I'm not sure – but they think Smith gets them closer, nonetheless.

I'd go so far to say that Buffalo's last two off-seasons are actually more exciting than the last two actual seasons – even last year's with Bledsoe and the offense tearing up the field during the first half of the season.

Now how the NFL managed to make its off-season product just as compelling, if not more compelling than the in-season product, simply amazes me. That's the power of the salary cap and free agency. Initially, when those two things were implemented, people thought they would simply rip teams apart and depress fans.

But they've been a blessing.

Owners make more money because their players costs are naturally capped, and off-season fan interest is at an all-time high because fans can realistically dream that great players they've seen on other teams might be suiting up for theirs soon.

Granted, the off-season is exceedingly dry, but for the hardcore fan, it's like taking a shower instead of jumping into a swimming pool.

I just wish we took that active interest in the NFL off-season, free agency and the draft, and applied it to local, state and national politics.

How is it that we're so adamant about firing coaches and players who screw up, but we don't mind continually voting in incumbent politicians who do things like drive up the state and national deficits and grossly mismanage our public finances.

We could all learn a little something from the NFL off-season.

Among other things: Change is good.


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