With the sun shining across the country and September seeming like forever and a day away, the NFL season still feels like more of a mirage than oncoming freight train. That mood begins to shift Sunday, though, as the 2014 Hall of Fame Game officially kicks off the preseason proceedings.
This year's honorees are the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills, who are each coming off 2013 campaigns they'd like to forget. The Bills, who haven't made the playoffs this century, turned in their third straight 6-10 year. The Giants went 7-9 to miss their second consecutive postseason.
(If there's a plus, the last time Tom Coughlin and company missed the playoffs in back-to-back years, they won the Super Bowl the following season. So there's hope.)
The real star of the show, as usual, will be the induction ceremony Saturday night. Michael Strahan, Derrick Brooks, Aeneas Williams, Andre Reed, Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey and Walter Jones are scheduled to be honored over the weekend. The Hall of Fame ceremony brings legends of all types to Ohio, leading to one of the more memorable weekends on the professional football calendar.
And then there's a preseason game to whet our appetites for what's to come.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at what to expect from Canton.
2014 Hall of Fame Game Information
When: Sunday, Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio
Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
Spread: Pick (via Oddsshark)
2014 Hall of Fame Game Preview
While it bears a fancy name and heightened attention, it's important to remember one thing about the Hall of Fame Game: It is a preseason football game. More specifically, it is the first preseason game of the summer. Super specifically, it is the first preseason game of the summer and takes place four days before any other contest.
Figuring out what to expect should be self-explanatory from those sentences.
Neither team will resemble anything close to its regular-season form. The Giants and Bills will have fewer practice days than any other teams in football. Their starters will be rustier, their plays more vanilla and the hierarchy even within internal depth charts will remain in wild flux.
At the very most, we'll see Eli Manning and EJ Manuel leading their offenses for a quarter. More likely, it'll be one or two series and out in an effort to keep both players upright.
Even though Manning is coming off the worst professional season of his career, preseason reps for 33-year-old quarterbacks aren't exactly necessary. Manuel is only in his second season, but his propensity for finding the injury report in 2013 might make coach Doug Marrone a little conservative with his protege.
The same goes for Victor Cruz, C.J. Spiller, Sammy Watkins, Jason Pierre-Paul, et al. When planning to entertain oneself with an evening of preseason football, it's typically best to show up on time. Sometimes you're one three-and-out away from the depressing realization that you've missed the entirety of the "People Who Matter" section.
Afterward, the rest of the game is just a battle to find one or two players who stand out above the typical preseason fray. Usually, you can count on each side having players once viewed as training-camp bodies pushing their way toward a 53-man roster.
The Giants have linebacker Dan Fox, running back Andre Williams and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles all looking to make an impact. Williams is a near-lock to make the team as a fourth-round pick, but Fox and Quarles were among the two more interesting rookie free-agent pickups.
Fox was Notre Dame's leading tackler as a senior, has ideal size (6'3" and 245 pounds) and plays a heady style that can make up for his lack of elite athleticism. Quarles was a highly productive defensive tackle at South Carolina who was overshadowed by Jadeveon Clowney.
The Bills have their own crop of potential rookie free agents, but most will be fixated on the big names. Watkins has earned nothing but raves in camp—and he should, given how much Buffalo gave up to get him. Their other notables come on the offensive line, where Buffalo took chances on a series of talented but flawed youngsters.
Cyrus Kouandjio is slated to start at right tackle, Cyril Richardson may join him at the guard spot someday and Seantrel Henderson was a ridiculous value in Round 7. It's more likely than not that at least one of those guys won't pan out, but Buffalo has much more depth and talent on its line than last season. Maybe we'll remember Sunday as the dawning of a new era.
More likely, we'll remember the moments before the opening kickoff more than the game itself. The induction ceremony is among the most reliably tear-jerking events of the year, as past heroes begin saying goodbye to the game they love. The Hall of Fame also recently announced that Bills legend Jim Kelly will take the field alongside Harry Carson for the pregame coin toss.
“I have always said that God willing, I will be back in Canton every summer,” Kelly said. “This year especially, I am so thankful that I can be on hand to share in a great weekend that shines the spotlight on the Buffalo Bills."
Given all Kelly has gone through this past year, it'll be a pleasure to see him smiling on the national stage again. We'll remember the speeches, the moments and the atmosphere. The play will be secondary, and you probably won't be able to remember anyone who played in the Hall of Fame Game without looking it up in a month.
But, hey, it's football. That's good enough.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.