Living the High Life in River Falls

Needless to say my first experience in River Falls was one that I will never forget. For Chiefs fans that can't make the nine hour drive from Kansas City, they are missing a treat. Seriously, I'm not kidding. River Falls is a quaint town that can be compared to Lawrence or Manhattan Kansas.

After arriving shortly before 11:00 this morning, I drove straight to the Chiefs media headquarters. I picked up my press credential, parking permit and checked into my dorm room. Yes I too am living in the same quarters as the players. Not the same building but the same conditions.

I have the same two cots, mini fridge, TV (well maybe not the same TV) and a desk to compose these entertaining articles. Just like the players. Honestly, it's not bad at all. The place is clean and you can eat off these floors. Everyone is accommodating on campus and in the dorms. Heck they even changed out my TV that was stuck on one channel in just five minutes. I know Five-Star Hotels that won't do that.

Since I had missed the early morning practice, I took a stroll down Main Street in River Falls. It has the same amenities as any town, gas stations, bars, restaurants and shops to buy nearly whatever you want.

Today the shops were filled with people trying to buy a coat, long pants or a sweatshirt. It was in the low 50's, a record for these parts, but still I was here to watch the Chiefs practice not shop. The city of River Falls is decked out with signs welcoming the Chiefs and the fans that have shown up since the beginning of Training Camp. It's clear that everyone wants the Chiefs to feel at home in River Falls.

Some of the small business's in the area welcome the Chiefs with open arms. One store owner looks at them strictly as a cash cow for three weeks when they know they will have thousands of people coming into his shop. But that establishment was in the low minority. The majority of the folks I met were nice, gracious and pleasant.

Heck if you tried to cross the street, they'd actually stop their cars, smile at you and wave you through to the other side. In Kansas City, they yell, scream and probably curse a word or two.

But River Falls is a nice town and it's easy to see why the Chiefs are so comfortable in this small town in Wisconsin. Outside of the media area or practice fields the fans, mostly people from Kansas City, leave the players alone.

Honestly, there is not a lot of time to do anything for the players outside of eating, sleeping, practicing and studying the playbook. When the players do get time off, they are generally left alone by the locals. In fact the some of the offensive players were playing basketball late at night on a court outside of their dorms and they were just having fun hanging out and shooting hoops. That alone is worth being in River Falls.

I was amazed at the fans that came to the practices today despite the bitter blustery temperatures for August. I walked among the crowd and a vast majority of them were from the Kansas City area. A few were from Minnesota and there were some locals but most of the cars in the parking lot had Kansas or Missouri tags.

For me it was about watching my first live practice at River Falls. The afternoon sessions didn't start until 4:45 and some of the players milled out and began stretching. Kicker Morten Andersen was nailing field goals despite a nasty cross wind from 40 plus yards with ease. His battle with Lawrence Tynes might not be so much of a battle from what I saw on Tuesday.

As the rest of the players came out of the indoor facility, they stretched as a unit, then the defense, offense and special teams ran drills over and over again. It was very organized, structured and efficient. Not that I expected it any other way but these players took everything seriously and it was clear that this team is focused for the challenged ahead.

Standing on the sidelines with the other reporters; I was shocked at not only the size of the players but their speed and intensity. For the record, Willie Roaf is a big man. If he's not the best left tackle to play in the NFL, I don't know who's in his class. He was amazing today. Dante Hall is fast and his acceleration once he catches the ball is strictly criminal.

Priest Holmes caught a brilliant 40-yard over the shoulder catch from Trent Green in the end zone that was special. He looks like he's recovered fully from the hip injury. Back-up running back Larry Johnson did the same thing but his was a juggling catch with a defender on his back.

Other players stood out on offense. Tight End Kris Wilson is the real thing. He was efficient in moving along the offensive line and he caught every ball thrown his way. The other star was free agent wide receiver Richard Smith from Arkansas. He has been the talk of camp and he has a legitimate shot not only to make this team but contribute. Rookie Samie Parker also looked good, he has sensational speed and he's stepped up his game in practice.

On the defensive side of the ball it was clear that Gunther Cunningham was in charge. He was passionate and in command. He was yelling, screaming, congratulating and teaching his players the things they'll need to do to be successful. This defense just from the limited time I saw them today is already ten times better than the one that lost to the Colts last January.

They are flying after the quarterback and they are attacking the running backs. Linebacker Scott Fujita was impressive. Defensive end Vonnie Holliday had a burst of speed that I'd not seen in the past. Cornerback Julian Battle is the spitting image of Albert Lewis. He has his build, speed and only needs to get more reps to become a tremendous corner in the NFL.

Another defensive player who was impressive was Eric Hicks. In the defensive drills he had the look of a warrior. Against the Chiefs high-powered offense, he could have hurt Trent Green a couple of times as he flew around the end leaving the Chiefs tackles in a cloud of dust. He's moving faster and up the field under Cunningham's new defense. The Chiefs need Hicks to return to the form that led him to double digit sacks in the early part of his career.

For those who had any reservation about the departure of right tackle John Tait, forget it. John Welbourn has the entire package. He's nimble, quick and has an attitude that is an upgrade over Tait. In fact, despite the short, stellar career that Tait had in Kansas City, I think the offensive line is better with Welbourn.

And last but not least, Trent Green looked almost machine-like. He was sharp, crisp and on target. Like a bottle of Vintage Vermeil Wine, Green could be following in the footsteps of other notable quarterbacks who won Super Bowls in their mid 30's.

As many of you know, I grew up a Len Dawson fan. Green reminds me of the Chiefs Hall of Famer and there is little doubt that he has the supporting cast to get Kansas City to the Super Bowl.

The only bad part of camp today centered around linebacker Mike Maslowski. He was nowhere to be found today at practice. Chiefs Head Coach Dick Vermeil told reporters after the game that Maslowski was getting a second opinion on his surgically repaired knee. It does not look good for the Chiefs starting middle linebacker. His possible successor Kawika Mitchell looks much more comfortable this year then last. He has some big shoes to fill if Maslowski does not return to the starting lineup.

Overall it was a eye-opening day. I wish all Chiefs fans could see what these athletes do in these practices. You can't begin to see the depth of the drive these players have by watching a .30 second clip on the local news. You have to see it in person to view the true sacrifices these amazing athletes make in two-a-day practices. You have to see it live to appreciate it how hard they work on every snap.

Maybe the Chiefs will one day bring their annual training camp closer to Kansas City. And if they do, then more fans can enjoy the training camp experience like I did today. It was a treat despite the cold temperatures.


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