Fewer and fewer NFL teams are traveling for training camp these days. With multimillion-dollar investments in team practice facilities and the ability to keep everything under one team-controlled umbrella, staying at home is a much more popular option around the NFL than traveling away for an isolated training camp.
With COVID-19 restrictions lifted, the Bills are back at St. John Fisher University and sleepaway camp, even if it’s shorter in duration than we’ve seen in the past, because the organization sees the benefit in the isolation.
“Getting away allows us a chance to come together as a team, spend some time together maybe after meetings, before practice,” head coach Sean McDermott said Sunday before the team’s first practice. “Get guys hanging out a little bit more where they can develop those bonds that bind us during the year when things get tough.”
As many have learned over the last two-plus years working remotely, the interactions that happen outside of organized team activities and meetings are often where the best team-building actually happen. The moments that aren’t prescribed allow individual personalities to come out more.
Veteran Von Miller was asked specifically about going away for training camp. Before the pandemic, his former team the Denver Broncos held training camp at the team facility, so it’s been a while since he slept in a college dorm.
“It’s different being 33 and in a dorm room,” Miller said chuckling. “It’s bigger than your individual preference. It’s all about comradery and getting to know your teammates, which I’m all about.”
Miller harkened back to his days at Texas A&M and mentioned how the toilet paper and beds are different while laughing some more.
The Bills have always had a remote location for training camp. That has been St. John Fisher in Pittsford, NY, a suburb of Rochester, since 2000 (excluding the COVID summers of 2020 and 2021). Prior to that, they spent 19 years at SUNY Fredonia, but they wanted to regionalize their fanbase a little more, and expanded east two decades ago.
This year, 11 public practices will be held at Fisher, down from a high of 17 several years ago. Part of that is due to new rules over the last several years, limiting the number of offseason practices, but mostly it’s shorter so the Bills can go back to their multimillion-dollar facility in Orchard Park.
With increased expectations for the team, tickets for this year’s camp were at a premium, and the website crashed when fans flooded the ticket request system. Previously, you didn’t even need a ticket for most practices, but fan expectations are at an all-time high.
The Bills are joined on the road by the Carolina Panthers (Wofford College), Dallas Cowboys (Englewood, California), Kansas City Chiefs (Missouri Western State University), Los Angeles Chargers (Costa Mesa, California), Los Angeles Rams (University of California-Irvine), and Pittsburgh Steelers (Saint Vincent College).