Final Family Fun Day a hit
Depite it being his inaugural training camp as general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, Scott Pioli sounded like a guy who might miss coming to River Falls every summer.
"I am really enjoying this camp," Pioli told the crowd at Saturday's Family Fun Day. "I want to thank River Falls and the university for having us here. This has been one of the first camps that I've been able to sleep; it's so peaceful here."
The Chiefs, who have called River Falls their summer training camp home since 1991, recently committed to return to Missouri to hold camp at Missouri Western University starting in 2010, pending the construction of a new, climate-controlled indoor practice facility on campus.
Pioli spent the previous eight seasons as vice president of player personnel for the New England Patriots. He has 17 years of experience in NFL front offices, including time with the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets, and is the son-in-law of former NFL coach and current Miami Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells.
Pioli replaced former Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, who was fired at the end of last season after the team finished with its worst record in franchise history, 2-14. One of his first moves as new general manager was to fire head coach Herm Edwards and hire Todd Haley, former offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, as the team's new coach.
"I'm looking forward to working with Todd to produce a winning team that can win some championships," he told the 1,690 fans in attendance at Saturday's Family Fun Day.
Also addressing the crowd Saturday was another new face at camp -- UW-River Falls' Chancellor Dean Van Galen, who wished the Chiefs the best of luck this season and hoped for a Super Bowl matchup between Kansas City and either the Green Bay Packers or Minnesota Vikings.
Rainy weather earlier in the day forced the cancellation of a scheduled appearance by skydivers from the Indianhead Sports and Parachute Club, but over 350 kids took part in the Chiefs' Experience, which tested the participants' skills in catching, throwing, kicking and running an obstacle course.
Following remarks from Van Galen, Pioli, and former camp coordinator Mary Halada, who has served as the main liaison between the university and team since the Chiefs' first camp in River Falls in 1991, fans were allowed onto the track around Ramer Field for the autograph session.
Players and coaches signed autographs for 20 minutes, with new Chiefs' quarterback Matt Cassel and running back Larry Johnson drawing the largest crowds. Following autographs, the team conducted an intra-squad scrimmage from 2-4 p.m.
The Chiefs will hold an afternoon practice Thursday before leaving for Kansas City Friday and hosting the Houston Texans in the first preseason game Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium. The team will resume practices in River Falls Monday through Thursday of next week before breaking camp. It will play the Minnesota Vikings in an exhibition game at the Metrodome Friday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m., before returning to Kansas City for good.
Pioli wasn't the only NFL personality to say good things about River Falls last week. Journalist Peter King, of Sports Illustrated and NBC and Sirius NFL Radio, was in town last Wednesday during his tour of NFL training camps and had this to say in his Monday Morning Quarterback (MMQB) column at SI.com:
Part of my rehab from 20-day-old left-knee meniscus surgery is to ride a stationary bike each day for about 20 minutes. I haven't been able to do it every day on this trip, which is in Day 14, but I haven't gone two days in a row without it. In River Falls, I needed to find a way to pedal, and the bike rack outside the Chiefs' cafeteria and meeting-room center on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls was chock-full. One belonged to Chiefs media-relations maven Pete Moris, who generously offered to let me borrow it for a spin through the flat streets of the western Wisconsin village.
As I rode down one leafy street just off campus, a 25-ish, power-walking woman with earbuds in walked purposefully toward me. When we were 20 yards away from each other, she took out both earbuds and said, "Hi! How are you today?" A couple of blocks later, two bikers on the other side of another leafy road both waved and the first one yelled, "Howyadointoday!" I spent nine years in the Midwest (Ohio, which isn't the upper Midwest, but a cousin of it), and I loved it, and on this pleasant valley Wednesday in River Falls, I remembered why.
After leaving River Falls, King was awarded the 2009 Dick McCann Memorial Award from the Professional Football Writers of America Friday night during the NFL Hall of Fame Weekend in Canton, Ohio.