I remember when training camp was different from how it is conducted today.
With the Denver Broncos Thursday morning concluding their first training camp practice of 2011, all my seasons and all my camps put me in mind of the many changes in this aspect of professional football.
The late 1970’s are not exactly the Stone Age of modern society, but in terms of what has changed—and progressed–in the National Football League since then, there is a light year’s difference.
Now the collective bargaining agreement limits the number of practices, as well as the number of practices in full pads, and training staffs carefully look to the health and nutrition needs of the players.
In the hot summer weather, hydration is always critical.
So it might surprise some readers to learn that back in the late ‘70’s, water was not allowed on the field. There was no water intake during practice because it was not allowed. Old wives tales about cramping up due to too much water, as well as a prevailing culture of manly behavior, discouraged what any doctor would say is a basic.
The Broncos of those days would have practice stopped for a popsicle break, with coolers of popsicles brought out onto the practice field for a quick respite.
But that was it. You better get your hydration from that popsicle, because that is the extent of it.
And speaking of practice, there were two of them every single day, all in full pads, almost all of them with some degree of hitting. And by every day, I absolutely mean Saturday and Sunday as well.
No days off, no afternoons off, no late mornings.
And of course, these practices, usually at some small college located in a rustic community, led up to not four, but five or even six preseason games—and the team generally returned to the routine of camp life after each of those games before ultimately breaking camp.
Try this on for size in your football memory back—the 1976 Denver Broncos played seven preseason, or exhibition, games, as their prelude to a 14-game regular season schedule. Seven preseason games, ah, those were the days.
Or not. Not, I think.
The days were long, the nights were unending with meetings, and I remember one writer commenting on the length of camp by noting that “we’ve been eating at this cafeteria for so long now, even the ice cream tastes like chicken.”
The off season in those days had no lifting program, and for that matter, many teams had no strength and conditioning coach. Players got into shape for the season in whatever manner they deemed best.
One player used to run up and down the stadium steps several times every day to work on his legs. Another liked to take his family to the beach so he could run in the sand for several miles every morning.
They worked real hard, don’t get me wrong, but without supervision, without insurance, and without a coach.
Not exactly like the NFL of today.
After the morning practice today I noted our fine Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy having lunch with his family—a great family moment.
But I can remember when you saw no one having lunch with his family, any day of camp, because the families just were not welcome. No breakfast, no lunch, no dinner, no way.
And back in those days, rookie intimidation was a million ways different from today, with now being a time when it virtually does not exist.
But I can remember the days when a young rookie kicker was excelling in training camp. Then the veterans arrived. Veteran kicker, veteran snapper, veteran holder, all 10-year players and good friends.
The next day, for that rookie, the snaps were a little off, the holds a little shaky. But all the holds and snaps were just perfect for the veteran kicker, an exceptional kicker even if kicking blindfolded.
It did not take long for that shaken rookie to be gone, never to be heard from again.
So a lot has changed in these decades, all for the better. The game has grown in so many positive ways, particularly in terms of health, including medicines, training techniques, and equipment.
Every Golden Age of pro football has been special, but there is no time in the past as good as the present in terms of how everyone learns, practices and endures a training camp.