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'Return of Blue & Red' practice a taste of Bills Mafia for new players: 'It’s easy to fall in love with this place'


HipKat
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Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller has played in Orchard Park before, but Friday brought a very different experience.

“I think just right when I walked out – it just hit me,” Miller said. “The sun was up, you see all the red, white and blue, and everybody cheering for you. It was good, man. I really felt at home right when I walked out the tunnel. So today was a good day for me.”

It was a sizeable crowd for his first time taking the field at Highmark Stadium as a Bill. The Bills announced that attendance at Friday’s "Return of the Blue and Red" practice was 35,911, their largest crowd ever for a practice.

Left tackle Dion Dawkins thought he counted a few more.

“You say it's about like 35,000, I think it's about 45,000,” Dawkins said.

The crowd got going early, as quarterback Josh Allen raced on to the field wearing a red helmet with blue stripes and a red visor, waving to the stands and getting fans on their feet. He soon swapped the red helmet out for a white one, which is what the Bills will be wearing this season, as the team began to warm up.

Rookie Khalil Shakir had some highlight-reel catches in front of a crowd that rivaled the capacity of his collegiate stadium at Boise State.

“I think this is probably the most fans I’ve ever played in front of, and it’s crazy that it was a practice, right?” Shakir said. “As we’re driving in, just traffic everywhere. They said the roads were going to be shut down or something like that, and I was like ‘Oh, it can’t be too bad. It’s a practice.’

“And it just shows how hard Bills Mafia, the fans, everybody, how much love they have for this team and this community, and it’s amazing to see it.”

Every year, Dawkins tries to prepare new players – whether rookies like Shakir or veterans like Miller – on what to expect. New Bills have heard plenty about the fans and the energy before they take the field, but it still takes a day like Friday for the raucous reality to really sink in.

“I’ve been telling them, ‘Bro, y'all have no idea. Y’all have no idea,’” Dawkins said. “And they're like, ‘All right. All right. All right.’ Now they see it and they’re like, ‘Dawk, we understand now.’

“So, the good thing is that the fans continue to show out and show up. This place is epic, and it's electric here. I'm just happy to be a part of it and to give these people some hope. We're playing ball, so it's a beautiful feeling.”

The support goes both ways. Dawkins came back to the field and was one of the last players signing autographs, with a few Bills still on the field around 8:50 p.m. after a practice that ended close to 7:30 p.m.

Tight end Dawson Knox seemed to spend the most time with fans, with tackle Spencer Brown also staying on the field to very end. Knox worked his way from around the 25-yard line around the corner, along the end zone, signing everything from hats to toilet paper to stuffed-animal unicorns. Eventually, Knox made his way to a sign that asked, “Can we Star Wars cosplay?”

“That’s pretty good!” Knox said, delighted as he showed off the sign before autographing it and handing it back.

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs took selfies all around the stadium, holding babies in between. A number of Bills spent extra time with a crowd that stayed and cheered well after practice ended.

Miller did not participate in full-team work, but he was struck by the atmosphere, also throwing footballs to fans along the end zone.

“I mean, I’ve been in some special places, but Buffalo, it’s different, man,” Miller said. “All the kids out here, everybody supporting. You see so many 40 jerseys, it’s incredible. We’re going to have a fun year. This is a great and fun fanbase, man, and I’m excited to get it going for real.”

The real football is still a ways off.

The offense rolled well throughout practice, giving fans the tiniest taste of what is to come. Of course, between a dialed down practice, missing starters and no reason to unveil the updated offense, Friday’s practice was not a dress rehearsal.

“I don't really like to make too many promises,” Dawkins said about what the offense may soon look like. “I just like to go out there and work. The fans seeing what we're capable of doing, and it's on us to continue to put the right foot in front of another. And as long as we just worry about ourselves and nothing else, the ending will be great.”

The Bills will return to Highmark Stadium on Aug. 13 for their first preseason game, a meeting with the Indianapolis Colts. Friday’s practice crowd and energy was just a ramp up to that.

“It’s incredible, man,” Miller said. “It’s easy to fall in love with this place, with this type of fan base, this type of support. It was cool coming out here today.”

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

 

Twitter: @HKTheResistance

 

HipKat, on *** other h***, is genuine, unapoli***tically nasty, and w**** his hea** on his ******. jc856

I’ll just forward them to Bridgett. comssvet11

Seek help. soflabillsfan

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