PITTSFORD – It’s not easy to move an NFL team 90 minutes down the Thruway.
Just ask Jeff Mazurek.
The Buffalo Bills’ director of equipment operations, Mazurek annually oversees the massive undertaking that is moving the team’s headquarters in Orchard Park to St. John Fisher College for training camp.
“The amount of stuff, if you see it, it’s out of control for three weeks,” Mazurek said Friday, before the second practice of camp. “It’s like, ‘really, we need to bring all this?’
Just how much stuff? Try 18 trucks worth. That’s six semis that measure more than 50 feet and another dozen trucks that measure 26 feet. From field equipment to sound systems to gum and sunflower seeds, Mazurek’s job is to make sure the team’s entire staff – coaches, scouts, players and every other employee – has everything they need.
No detail is spared. Mazurek and his staff – which consists of three full-time assistants, Spencer Haws, Kori Reblin and Austin Skobel, as well as a team of interns – even prepare toiletry bags for everyone on campus.
“They can pretty much come here with nothing and they’ll be good for three weeks,” he said.
“It’s incredible,” coach Sean McDermott said. “To basically get in my car at the Bills’ facility, drive an hour and 15 minutes, walk into the facility here and not want for anything – not see a hiccup that would lead me to believe we’re going to have an issue here – I mean, these guys do a heck of a job.”
Mazurek and his staff start moving a week before camp begins. With 90 players on the roster, that means 90 sets of shoulder pads, helmets, cleats and any other equipment usually stored in the locker room.
“We’re taking everything we can from their lockers and putting it into our facility here at camp,” he said. “Every year, it seems like it’s more and more.”
Every player on the roster has his preferences of equipment, and it’s Mazurek’s job to know what they are. LeSean McCoy, for example, is going to want a black Nike hoodie with the sleeves cut off.
“It’s pretty-player specific, whether it’s having a guy’s jersey a certain length, or what size shorts he likes to wear,” Mazurek said. “With the coaches, we know what kind of toothpaste they want and what sun screen they wear.”
Mazurek is in his 21st season with the Bills, having collected his first paycheck while he was still at St. Francis High School, from which he graduated in 1999. Growing up, he lived next to former defensive coordinator Walt Corey.
“He got my older brother involved, and then he got me involved,” Mazurek said.
His first job in the summer of 1997 was carrying quarterback Billy Joe Hobert’s dip and gum around. At the end of training camp, Hobert gave Mazurek $1,000 for his troubles. With that, he was sold.
“I’m like, ‘dude, I want to do this for the rest of my life,’ ” he said. “I remember going to games watching Jim Kelly, and now Jim is one of my good friends. It’s just wild. It really is. When I think back on it, it’s been a blast. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
A career highlight came on New Year’s Eve, when Mazurek was in the locker room as the Bills clinched their first playoff berth after a 17-year drought.
“Getting in the playoffs last year was just amazing,” he said. “Being in the locker room, I'll never forget that. And then landing, especially being from Buffalo, with all the fans there at the airport, it's going to be hard to top that unless we win it all.”
Mazurek also has an on-field role during practice. Along with Matt Worswick, the team’s assistant to the head coach, he’s in charge of laying out the drills before practice, including where the ball will be spotted.
“I have the air horn to signal each end of the period,” Mazurek said. “Then it's pretty much the flow, moving the defense over to the back field, for example. The last thing coach wants to do is wait. Then it’s watching the weather, especially here at camp.”
Spending 21 years with one team means Mazurek has gotten to know plenty of players and coaches. The atmosphere under General Manager Brandon Beane and McDermott, he says, makes the 15-hour days, seven days a week, worth it.
“Coming to work every day, knowing that you have a job to do, and the head coach is going to have your back,” he said. “If you do a good job, he’s going to come up and tell you, or even recognize you in front of the team. It’s the same thing with Brandon. … We’ve got a great group of guys in the locker room.”
McDermott is big on culture. That spreads beyond the locker room.
“We have a certain standard,” the coach said. “That's what we tried to introduce last year when we came in the building. That standard is important to us.
“That's what we try and get to in everything we do. In the way we think, the way we talk, the way we dress. The way we play -- whether it's a training camp practice or practice where no one is watching or a preseason game or any important game. It's a standard that we hold ourselves to. When it's there, we're going to celebrate it. When it's not there, we need to correct within that context and get it to where it needs to be.”
Mazurek typically works two to three weeks in advance. He’s already planning out the team’s road uniforms for the second week of the preseason at Cleveland. He gives a behind-the-scenes account of what his job entails regularly on his Twitter account, @billsequipment. As of Saturday, the account had more than 20,000 followers.
The last update showed a photo of Mazurek’s staff taping off a make-shift “practice field” in the St. John Fisher gym. That way, the team can move inside and conduct a walk-through in the case of bad weather.
“That's how you build a team, with the right types of people,” McDermott said. “Jeff and his staff, they do a great job.”
Explaining the mobile ticketing policy
The Bills announced Friday that they will be moving to an exclusive mobile ticketing policy this season.
Brent Rossi, the executive vice president of marketing and brand strategy for Pegula Sports and Entertainment, explained the rationale behind that decision.
“It's actually an initiative by the NFL through their agreement with Ticketmaster that they entered into this past year,” Rossi said. “It's kind of the wave of the future. It's the wave of now, to be honest with you.
“There are a few reasons. No. 1, we found that we could get people through the gates quicker, with more ease. The second part is over the last couple years, we've had some issues every game with fraudulent tickets. So if you're printing a ticket out on your printer at home, you can photocopy it, you can print out five different copies, give them to your friends. It's the first person to scan that particular ticket that gets in. The other three or four get rejected. … The third part is really from a safety standpoint. By going to mobile ticketing, we're going to know every person who steps foot in our stadium. We want to provide the safest environment we can for our fans, and this is going to allow us to do that.”
Fans can manage their tickets through the My One Buffalo app or buffalobills.com in order to view, transfer, send or sell them at any time. They are urged to download their tickets 24 hours before the game. Tickets can then be scanned via smartphone at the New Era Field gates. Rossi said fans can save their tickets to their Apple Wallet, which is accessible even without wifi. Given the age of New Era Field, there are dead spots in internet accessibility.
Season ticket-holders, it should be noted, can continue to enter the stadium with their season-ticket card, so the mobile ticketing policy deals more with single-game tickets.
So what do you do if you don’t own a smart phone (Rossi said 80 percent of the population in the United States over the age of 18 has one), forget to charge it (guilty as charged) or aren’t tech savvy enough to access the tickets?
“We will still provide paper tickets for those fans,” Rossi said. “They have to go to the ticket office, show their ID and account services can look up that they purchased a ticket. We will run off that ticket for them. That's not what we want to encourage, because we believe that this is going to result in people getting in quicker. But if there is somebody that needs that, we will provide that service to them.”
Bottlenecks at the gates have been an issue in recent years at New Era Field. Rossi said there will be more event staff on hand at gates this year to cut down on wait times. Additionally, the My One Buffalo app provides a wait time feature, so fans can see how long it’s taking to get in at a particular gate.
As for fans who like to keep ticket stubs as a memento, they’re out of luck, for now.
"A lot of people ask us if we are going to have commemorative tickets," Rossi said. "It's something we have discussed as a company. It's something we do plan on doing. It won't be this year, but potentially within the next couple years, fans will be able to purchase commemorative tickets."