- I am not sure about everyone else here, but I was not a big “camp” guy when I was a kid. I grew up in the sticks down in southern Maryland, where every day in the summer was camp. The woods, a creek and open fields were the backdrop of pretty much every summer day I can recall, and when we left the house in the morning to meet up with the other kids in the neighborhood (a loose term given there were three houses on my street surrounded by fields of tobacco, corn and soy beans), we wouldn’t return home until dark (lunch was not something you stopped a game of capture the flag deep in the woods to have). I would say I was probably just not in a place where camps were a big thing, because when I got to college, everyone talked about summer camps they had gone to since they were young. My family also didn’t do any tent-camping, either. Like I said, we kind of already lived in an extremely rural area where we could look out of our window and see huge groups of deer running through, or we could listen out of our windows and hear just about every form of animal call/scream you can imagine. (As a grown man, I now know that those animal yelps were really one of two things: animals getting eaten, or animals getting it on...but I digress.)
- Being a Redskins fan was something I don’t remember being “taught,” meaning as long as I can remember, I was just always in love with football and the burgundy and gold. “Camp” to me meant only ONE thing in life: football players were reporting to get the season started. In fact, some of you remember that there was a time when camp meant watching the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers bang up against each other on standard definition television sets, while the likes of Glenn Brenner and George Michael narrated the many battles that ensued. Bright gold jerseys, chippy one-on-one drills and a lot of Mark Rypien’s name being pronounced pretty much every way you can imagine...that’s camp to me. I always wonder if football players reporting to camp have that same dread that so many kids claim to have had ahead of their own camp experiences. The training room tables full of McDonald’s burgers in the days of The Hogs probably represented a far better culinary experience than what most camp food offered kids, but having your head beat in by fellow monster athletes in the hot August sun on a football field would have to take a strong second-place to craft time at Camp Whatevermazoo.
- The other major sports don’t have anything that matches up to the NFL’s training camp...at least in my humble opinion. Spring training in the MLB is sexy, in that it generally takes place in sunny Florida beach towns, or other resort destinations, but how many baseball fans are watching as much spring training as football fans watch training camp? I feel like I watch way more video of training camp practice than I do of Nationals spring training games (and I love the Nats as much as anything). Almost nobody even knows when the NHL begins their training, and since it is on ice, it just looks like regular practice anyway. The NBA is so littered with summer leagues and exhibition leagues that compete with the same at the high school and college levels, there is no real buildup to when a team actually gets going in earnest to prepare for the beginning of the season. In fact, most sports fans can really only name when football and baseball season actually start. Think about it—unless you are a hardwood or ice rink fanatic, you might actually miss the first game or two of those regular seasons because a) those games are barely better/different than the preseason games and b) FOOTBALL IS ON!!!! (I say this as a MONSTER Caps and Wiz fan that is amazed every year when my friends have no idea that these seasons are underway.)
- Sure, the NFL is so popular that we know way too much about way too much, but that is how we like it, and that is the world we have made for ourselves. Training camp is a part of the summer experience for every football fan, and it is ON THE CALENDAR. Just the act of reporting—or not reporting—is the kind of news that we hang on, and folds neatly into the age of the salary cap/mega-contracts/superstar divas that colors the manner in which we view our teams and their chances for the upcoming season. In addition to seeing who shows up, training camp allows a lot of fanbases to once again focus only on their team. Think about it—sure, every team has beat reporters putting out stories all year long, but the NFL news of the day throughout most of the offseason is hyper-focused on superstars and the perennial winners. Whether we like it or not, we have to wade through Tom Brady, Jerry Jones, Rob Gronkowski and Todd Gurley headlines most of the offseason (we all watch, of course). When players and coaches report, the focus in every NFL city is back to being on its own team. In what other sport are postseason hopes greater—across the board— than in the NFL? I mean, fanbases of every kind are known to be insufferably optimistic, but I have always thought that there are more NFL fans who have no business dreaming of watching their teams in the playoffs doing so than in the other majors. One reason why I believe this? I’m a Redskins fan.
- There was a time when training camp was designed to get players physically ready for the season. These guys had other jobs the rest of the year. They literally needed the month or so to get back into shape, gutting their way through two-a-days (in pads!!) with coaches who showed no mercy throughout the process. There would be congressional hearings if NFL teams tried to conduct those same training camps today that were the rule back then. You can argue that today’s athletes are bigger and stronger than they were 25 years ago, but football players today couldn’t carry the jocks of the actual men from yesteryear who had the balls to knock each other’s brains in by day, while chain-drinking cold cans of cheap beer by night. Don’t get me started on the equipment and facilities they used to use versus what players use now, either. I mean, can we all just take a second to tip our hat to the poor bastards who used to lace up some Chuck Taylor cleats (yeah, they existed) and take bone-crunching hit after bone-crunching hit all day long in the August sun in between 100-yd gassers and Oklahoma drills? Today we have players who would call their agent and lawyer if a coach asked them to do half of that before the season started. To be fair, players show up in athletic shape (for the most part). Their million-dollar salaries afford them the ability to train at state-of-the-art facilities year-round, or at their university’s facilities for the lesser-paid guys (you won’t find many hanging out at Planet Fitness is my point). The complexity of modern offensive schemes has coaches utilizing way more film and meeting room time these days, which is fine so long as guys are ready for September. It makes for a different kind of camp news cycle than it used to be, but none of us is really complaining. We still get to see some guys whizzing the ball through the air, and we get to see speed and athleticism on the news each night. Further, it ain’t a MINIcamp, which means that we wake up tomorrow and get to see more all the way until the season starts.
- All of this is to WELCOME the official start to football. Training camp is not the offseason, is it? We are underway when players report, right? And what are we paying the MOST attention to at this point? INJURIES, of course. All we want in life is to see our guys make it to September in one piece, able to stick it to our opponents on Sundays. I know injuries have always been—and always will be—part of the sport of football, but today’s training camp feels more like an exercise in holding our breath than actually watching guys get ready to play. Again, not a complaint as much as an observation. I don’t know if it’s better or not, because I am too busy wondering who is beating who in one-on-one drills and how tight a spiral Dwayne Haskins is throwing when he launches one 60 yards down the field. Folks...here you go...here it comes...I do this ONCE a year: We made it!!! We lived on offseason crumbs, free agency morsels and the feast that is the draft, knowing that we would need to conserve our energy for a very long June and part of July. The next time we meet here for a Sixpack, we will have news from the field to discuss. We will see how things are shaping up in the camps of our rivals and we will be able to begin charting our course for the playoffs! Because we are totally going to the playoffs...
Looks Like Someone Has a Sixpack of the Mondays
Washington Redskins training camp opens this week on Thursday, giving fans some—almost—actual football to follow.