Looking back on football, bands

Training camps held by the Buffalo Bills at the State University of New York at Fredonia have become an almost distant memory. The last camp held 15 years ago in 1999 gives an indication of just how much things have changed – and not for the better in football.

Consider the team and pride associated with the team then compared to today’s version:

Hall-of-Famers Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed were in their final year in Buffalo.

From 1986 to 2000, the Bills went through two coaches – Hall of Famer Marv Levy and Wade Phillips. From 2001 to 2014, the Bills have gone through five head coaches, firing three of them, and are on their sixth.

Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson were dividing the team over who should be the starting quarterback. Since then, there has been at least 13 different starting quarterbacks.

Dunkirk native Van Miller was calling play-by-play on the radio for the team.

The Bills made the playoffs nine of the last 11 seasons, from 1988 to 1998. They made it again in 1999.

The Buffalo Sabres were two months removed from their last appearance in the Stanley Cup Final – and they were wearing the red, white and black.

Fast-forward to this week. The team completed another training camp at St. John Fisher University in Pittsford outside of Rochester on Thursday. Yes, it is more glamorous. Yes, it attracts many more than Fredonia ever did. It can even hold night practices.

But in terms of tradition, it’s a disaster. For the first 14 years at the facility, the team accumulated a combined record of 88-136 for a winning percentage of just under 40 percent. No playoffs, two seasons at .500 and only one winning record of 9-7 in 2004.

Hall of Fame Bills’ fan and Dunkirk resident Valerie Pawlak still misses what used to be the team’s annual visit to Fredonia. “I missed only three practices in their last 13 years at Fredonia,” she said.

Pawlak landed a job at the college in October 1986 after her employment at the Dunkirk Kraft plant ended when the facility closed. Each year she worked at the university, she would greet the team upon its arrival.

When the team announced plans to head to Greater Rochester, she continued to follow the team in its camps there. However, she became frustrated with the lack of afternoon practices at the new facility and quit going in 2006. “I miss them terribly,” she said.

Will the Bills start a winning tradition with St. John Fisher this year? Pawlak is hopeful. “I think we’ll make the playoffs if no one gets injured,” she said.

Quiet anniversary

Roger Orcutt of Dunkirk took a trip last weekend to Bethel, N.Y., but it was nothing like 45 years ago. That’s when the historic Woodstock Music and Art Fair event drew hundreds of thousands in 1969.

“I expected 30,000 people to show up, but I’d guess there weren’t many more than 300 there,” he said in an e-mail this week.

There were no concerts last week, but the location was the site of a showing of the Oscar-winning documentary film “Woodstock.”

He also got a shot of “Furthur,” included above in this column, a bus ridden by Ken Kesey’s son, Zane, while re-creating his dad’s cross-country trip. “Love those psychedelic wheels!” Orcutt noted.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday or call 366-3000, ext. 401.