The NFL is back, starting with the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. For every other sport in America, now is the time to squeeze into the backseat.
The Buffalo Bills will take on the New York Giants at the cozy Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio, in this ceremonial precursor to the league's regular slate of preseason action.
The Hall of Fame Game isn't necessarily a contest of the highest order, but it is competitive pigskin action nonetheless. For those rabid gridiron fans who take on something of a summer hibernation as they await the first signs of autumn, this game is truly a welcome sight on the August calendar.
Here is a roundup of all the info you need to catch the first game action of the 2014 NFL season.
2014 Hall of Fame Game Info
Date: Sunday, August 3
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Where: Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
The early contest is part of the weekend's celebration of football history, as seven players are set for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Aeneas Williams, Michael Strahan, Andre Reed, Derrick Brooks, Walter Jones, Claude Humphrey and Ray Guy are the seven players in the 2014 class.
The Hall of Fame Game itself will be mostly contested by no-names looking to latch on to these two rosters. Both teams will be looking for youth to carry them forward and into new eras of success; the Giants and Bills combined to go 13-19 last season.
The Bills will be hoping that quarterback EJ Manuel can get his sophomore season off to a good start, as they are looking to build their offense around him. CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan gives the inside scoop on how the Bills offense has looked in training camp:
Sometimes we equate the 'no-huddle' philosophy with a passing game, but in Buffalo they love to run the ball from the no-huddle and Marrone said he loves the no-huddle to keep the pressure on the defense and try and wear them out.
One of the best offensive get the packages I saw at practice was their '20' personnel package with Jackson and Spiller on the field along with three wide receivers -- Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams and Robert Woods.
It will be up to Manuel to quickly build up a rapport with his receiving corps after his truncated rookie season. The former Florida State standout threw for 1,972 yards and 11 touchdowns against nine interceptions in his rookie year. The game could also be wide receiver Sammy Watkins' glorious reintroduction to football fans—no one has forgotten what he did at Clemson—as a member of the Bills.
The extra game could be a good chance for the Giants' revamped offensive line to jell; the unit didn't do quarterback Eli Manning any favors as the team stumbled to a dismal 7-9 finish.
If you need one player with a compelling narrative to keep track of Sunday, follow safety Jajuan Harley's quest to make the Bills roster. He went undrafted in 2013 after playing at Middle Tennessee State, and this could be his last chance at making an NFL roster.
Anna Stolzenburg of BuffaloBills.com detailed how he kept in shape while working at Wal-Mart to make ends meet:
A self-described “big kid at heart” and one to embrace his not-so-ideal circumstances, Harley said he actually had some fun with it. Most days, he didn’t mind going to work. He’d run laps around the Walmart parking lot during his breaks, or escape to the fitness aisle and do some curls – anything to keep the dream alive while staying afloat financially. It certainly wasn’t the NFL, but it was a job.
Harley will be competing for a backup spot with a very green group. Three safeties are rookies, and no training camp invitee has more than four years of professional experience. If Harley can prove his worth on special teams and in the regular defense, he has an outside shot at making the team.
Of course, there is a story behind every single one of these players, which is part of the charm of the Hall of Fame Game. For many players, it is their first chance to play competitive professional football.
The Giants' running back corps should be eager to make an impression with David Wilson fighting through a neck injury. One such player is former Boston College standout Andre Williams, who will look to show he can do more than just plow straight ahead for tough yardage. Head coach Tom Coughlin has already noted his ability to transcend his initial power-runner tag.
"If you've been watching practice and if you watched him last spring, he's become more than that," Tom Coughlin said, via Newsday's Tom Rock. "He was not used that way at BC, but he certainly has demonstrated the ability to do that."
It is an exciting time for football, but there is also the potential this game could spark an entirely different conversation. As the awareness of concussions and traumatic brain injuries in football increases, pure exhibitions like the Hall of Fame Game could come under fire as putting players at an unnecessary risk.
There is a case to be made for considering this game an outdated relic, especially if a player is severely injured in the proceedings.
With that being said, football is back. Hopefully this game is the start of something special.