Russell Bodine developed an understanding of the passion of Buffalo Bills fans long before signing with the team on March 19 as a free agent from the Cincinnati Bengals.
The veteran center made the discovery as the Bengals were preparing for their 2017 season finale against the Baltimore Ravens. He was bombarded with texts from his former roommate and teammate at North Carolina, Sean Fitzpatrick, who is from Rochester and "a die-hard Bills fan." Fitzpatrick was pleading for the Bengals to beat the Ravens, a scenario that coupled with a Buffalo win at Miami on the same day would end the Bills' 17-year playoff drought.
Moments after the Bills did their part, the Bengals did theirs, thanks to Andy Dalton's fourth-down miracle touchdown throw.
"So (Fitzpatrick) was texting me before the game, after the game, the whole time," Bodine said. "He was like, 'Please! Please! Please!' Kind of, from that perspective, I knew about (what it meant to be a Bills fan) before I even got here."
And as Fitzpatrick and any Bills fan will readily tell him, finding a new center is among the major challenges facing their team.
Eric Wood's announcement shortly after the end of last season that his exit physical exam showed he no longer could continue playing caught the Bills by surprise. The additional loss of Richie Incognito to a sudden retirement that became a release only compounded their interior-line dilemma.
But it was Wood's departure that left the most glaring hole, because he was the anchor – dependable enough that last August, before their first season as general manager and coach, Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott decided it made sense to extend his contract beyond 2018. Meanwhile, Incognito was asked to take a pay cut after last season, triggering his desire to walk away from the team.
Bodine, who split time with Ryan Groy as the starting center during offseason practices, recognizes that Wood's are big cleats to fill.
"Yeah, I mean, certainly," Bodine said. "I didn't know Eric personally, at all, but he had the reputation of being a very good player. (It's unfortunate) what happened with him with the injury and all that, but it is what it is. You've just got to step up and handle your job."