In two weeks, the 2013 NFL season starts and the New England Patriots will be in Orchard Park to play the Buffalo Bills.
For Auburn native Bob Socci, that game will be the realization of a lifetime goal of doing play-by-play of a major professional sport.
Socci is the Patriots' new play-by-play announcer, calling the team's games on the radio. NFL play-by-play jobs don't open often and the competition to obtain one can be fierce.
It was the culmination of an almost 25-year career of thousands of miles and millions of words.
"It wasn't like I always envisioned it would be, when I got that phone call someday, that I'd be jumping up and down and I'd celebrate," Socci said. "but over the course of time and I spent a lot of time reflecting on my whole life and the people that touched my career and touched me personally."
Socci is a 1985 Auburn High School graduate, who as a senior played on the state championship baseball team.
Socci has been steadily employed since graduating from the University of Dayton in the late 1980s, doing minor league baseball radio (everywhere from Albuquerque, N.M. to Pawtucket, R.I.) play-by-play, as well as U.S. Naval Academy football and basketball, and some televised Patriot League basketball games for the CBS College Sports Network.
In 2008, he moved to the Boston area with his wife and two children and looked for part-time work with the radio station that broadcasts Patriots games. But even though Socci wasn't hired because of conflicting schedules, he was on the radar of the station's program directors.
Last winter, Socci was hired to broadcast Pawtucket Red Sox games, Boston's top minor league team.
After longtime Patriots play-by-play voice Gil Santos announced his retirement last season, the station contacted Socci and told him he was in the running for the job and asked for new samples of his work.
Socci submitted a CD which included Navy-Notre Dame and Army-Navy football games.
"They liked it and I guess they liked me enough," Socci said.
Soon after, the station contacted Socci and in late April, gave him the news he had waited so long to hear. Coincidentally, Socci was in Buffalo to do a Pawtucket game when he got the phone call.
"It was exciting but on the other hand then I had to resolve my situation with the Paw Sox," Socci said. "It was a dream come true and it was also surreal and in the end at the same time, I felt an obligation to the Paw Sox and the people there that gave me a great opportunity."
Socci would finish his baseball responsibilities in late June and would be available to start his football position by the start of training camp in late July.
He said one of the best parts of getting the job was the avalanche of congratulatory texts, emails and phone calls from family and friends.
"That was really, of all the aspects, from aside from achieving a dream, and being in what seems an ideal situation for my family and me ... hearing from colleagues and friends particularly those who knew how I wound carving this path in my career from Auburn through minor league baseball towns and the college ranks," Socci said. "That was really humbling and extremely gratifying."
The timing was bittersweet as it came the week that the man who killed Socci's niece, Katie Socci, was sentenced to prison.
"After what happened, I took Auburn, the people for granted, it took a tragedy to reveal what a great community it is," he said, "the support my family got in the aftermath of Katie's death, and still receives, it's overwhelming."
The happy news, Socci said, was a "ray of sunshine" to his family during a tough period.
Socci has already broadcast three preseason games, involving arguably the NFL's top coach, Bill Bellichick, quarterback, Tom Brady and owner, Robert Kraft.
"There's this sense of what a great organization this is," Socci said. "To think of myself, calling their play-by-play, it's hard to get my head around."
And it will officially start Sept. 8 in Buffalo, where Socci saw his first NFL game when he was a youth.
"It would be special anywhere but there's an aspect to it, doing it in Buffalo," he said. "I relish it even more."