Training Camp Can Drive Some Over the Edge
Camp can drive some over edge
Updated: July 20, 2007, 6:01 PM ET
Guts and determination go only so far during the long, hot weeks of training camp. Stolen wine, wayward farm animals and concentrated coyote urine have also carried players through.
For while NFL training camps come and go, the stories endure.
"I can tell you stuff that will blow your mind," said Hall of Fame Cowboys offensive tackle Rayfield Wright. "The veterans had a whole lot of fun at the rookies' expense."
Starting next week, from Terre Haute, Ind., to River Falls, Wis., to Latrobe, Pa., the annual rites of summer begins anew.
Some of the NFL's biggest names will spend the latter part of July and August packed into tiny dorm rooms, featuring little more than a desk, TV and miniature closet. For roughly three weeks, they'll practice together, eat together, meet together and even shower together -- a long-established regimen that inevitably drives some over the edge.
Assemble 95-100 football players who practice twice a day in often steamy weather, while living in a confined area for about a month, and inevitably there will be some boredom-induced wackiness and fits of anger. Here are just a few slices of training camp life through the years:
Recently retired Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck had been around too long to fall for the ol' Flexall-in-the-jock trick. He played along, acting as if his loins were ablaze, but mostly Tobeck was plotting retaliation against analgesic-toting teammate Trent Dilfer. Tobeck settled on a trip to the variety store near the team's old training camp facility at Eastern Washington University. There he found a bottle of coyote urine. Spread around a garden, the urine's pungent odor repels deer and other grazing animals. Spread around a dorm room, the product turns NFL quarterbacks into high-priced maids.
"The joy for me was later that night, going up to his room and seeing him," Tobeck said. "He had candles and incense burning and he's on his hands and knees scrubbing his floor."
Tobeck pulled off the prank by securing a master key to the players' dormitory. That gave him free reign in Dilfer's room, while Dilfer and the other quarterbacks were in meetings or otherwise occupied. Tobeck used the time well, emptying the bottle everywhere -- under Dilfer's bed, along baseboards, everywhere he could. The stench was strong enough to bother players in adjacent rooms.
"He didn't know what it was at the time," Tobeck said. "He looked up at me and said, 'You got me.'"
-- Mike Sando
Roger Staubach and the sucker punch
If you mention the "sucker punch" to anyone associated with the 1970s Cowboys, it's a good bet they'll know what you're talking about. In fact, Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, the recipient of that punch, would still like an explanation almost 31 years later. In August 1976, Staubach and the club's other two quarterbacks, Clint Longley and Danny White, joined the receivers on the upper practice field of the club's training camp facility in Thousand Oaks, Calif. When Longley made a derogatory remark about Drew Pearson after throwing him a pass, Staubach challenged him to a fight. White said he was put in charge of distracting assistant coach Dan Reeves, and according to several eyewitness accounts, Staubach won the fight handily.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1974, Longley, nicknamed "The Mad Bomber," had led the Cowboys to a stunning comeback victory over the hated Redskins after Staubach went down with an injury. Two days after the initial fight, Staubach was putting on his shoulder pads when Longley snuck up from behind and punched him. The impact sent Staubach crashing into a set of scales, and he still has a reminder above his left eyebrow.
Ed "Too Tall" Jones and D.D. Lewis restrained Staubach, and Randy White grabbed Longley.
"Clint looked like Donald Duck the way he was flopping around in Randy's arms," safety Charlie Waters recalled.
When White released him, Longley raced back to the dorm, then promised a radio reporter an exclusive in exchange for a ride to the airport. Longley was quickly traded to San Diego, and he and Staubach haven't talked since.
-- Matt Mosley
All-seeing, all-knowing Cowher
It was Bill Cowher's first year in Pittsburgh in 1992. He was the new guy replacing the legendary Chuck Noll. The long jaw, the scowl and the tough-guy persona would all come later, so running back Merril Hoge and quarterback Bubby Brister wanted to know what they could get away with.
They decided to sneak out after curfew and have a few drinks at a local bar near St. Vincent College, where the Steelers hold training camp in Latrobe, Pa. To avoid the guards at the front of the building, one needed to sneak out a window and run through a cemetery. Most players resisted the temptation because it was too spooky to be in a cemetery late at night. Hoge and Brister, though, decided it was finally time to take the risk.
"A few drinks were worth it," Hoge said.
The two went to the bar and returned to their rooms undetected at 3 a.m. At breakfast the next morning and throughout the early part of practice, Hoge and Brister felt like children who avoided punishment for staying up past their bedtime. They relished the idea of pulling a fast one on the Steelers' new coach, while avoiding the $500 fine that came with breaking curfew.
But their euphoria would be short-lived. While practicing a play the next day, Cowher asked Hoge and Brister to pay the $500 fine. To this day, Hoge does not know how Cowher knew about his transgression. Brister and Hoge were so intimidated, they each gave Cowher $1,500 because they planned to sneak out two more times.
-- William Bendetson
Alone on The Island
Coaches often give speeches to players at the start of training camp about cutting down on the hazing of rookies. That effort is usually fruitless.
A common practice in Cleveland involved rookies, a whole lot of athletic tape and a goalpost. A player or two was usually taped to the goalpost and everyone got a good laugh.
In 1999, several Browns got a little more creative with their hazing. At Cleveland's training camp facility in the 1990s, there was a barrier with two swinging gates. One swung open for cars coming in and one swung out for cars departing. In the middle was a small island with a talk box that allowed team personnel to use a code to gain entrance after hours.
One afternoon after practice, several mischievous teammates taped a rookie to the talk box on the island. Every player, coach or team official who left training camp headquarters that night honked their car horn as they passed by the tormented player.
The rookie begged for help and eventually was set free, but his savior was never publicly identified. And no wonder: How would you like to be the next person stuck on that island?
Some teams put a slightly different twist on rookie hazing.
"I have never seen anything so funny as offensive linemen trying to squeeze into a short skirt while having to parade around the facility all day with it on," former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said of a memorable training camp scene.
But one of the more memorable parts of any training camp is the rookie show. Rookies often are forced to put on a skit, and the winning group escapes hazing. With the Eagles in 1988, Eric Allen, Eric Everett and other rookies dressed up like Diana Ross and the Supremes.
"Thank God there was no YouTube back then," Allen said.
-- William Bendetson and Jeremy Green
An early impression
The Steelers' 1974 training camp was weird. Veterans spent 42 days in camp. Tensions were high. One of the staples of camp, of course, was the hazing of rookies. Sure, rookies were required to sing their school songs during dinner, but they usually had to look over their shoulders for their official welcome to the NFL. But the amazing part of training camp that year was that one Steelers rookie, Jack Lambert, led some of the hazing.
The incidents were innocent and brief. No one ever got hurt, but it was remarkable to see leadership take hold during the linebacker's first camp.
Writers covering the team stayed in the same dorm as the players, so they could hear some of Lambert's antics. Accompanied by a few teammates, Lambert would enter the small two-bed dorm rooms and have a couple of players hold down the victim.
In a short time, Lambert and Co. would do their best to embarrass the surprised player. One would hear a few screams, a lot of laughs and before you knew it, it was all over.
The impressive thing was how Lambert, a true leader and character, took charge as a rookie. As a middle linebacker, a big part of Lambert's game was instilling fear into offenses. He did the same to a few unsuspecting teammates during his first camp.
-- John Clayton
Raiding the wine stash
Former Raiders tight ends coach Bill Meyers was really excited about the team's first training camp in Napa, Calif., so much so that he stocked up on a few bottles of wine from local vineyards shortly after arriving in wine country. The only problem was that Meyers didn't anticipate members of his own team interfering with his plans to build a modest wine collection. One night when Meyers was out, somebody -- either a player or coach -- decided to raid his stock and have a little party.
When Meyers returned, all he found were empty bottles lying around his hotel room floor. He was so stunned that he filed a report with the Napa police, a move that subsequently led to a story appearing in the Napa Register. Raiders owner Al Davis didn't find much humor in the situation. After reading the story, he reportedly hit the roof over all the shenanigans.
-- Jeffri Chadiha
An everyday Joe? Forget about it
The summer of Joe was so big, it lasted two years. It's still around in little pieces, like on the menu at Steve's Pizza Parlor. "Steve's Pizza," Joe Montana says in one of his less-famous quotes, "is really, really good."
Montana was bigger than the Beatles when he arrived for Chiefs training camp in tiny River Falls, Wis., in the summer of 1993. Groupies swarmed, hearts fluttered, and no autograph request seemed too silly. One guy asked Montana to sign his baby. Another Chiefs crazy crawled under Montana's car and hid while the Hall of Fame quarterback tossed a few back at a local watering hole.
Montana just wanted to be one of the guys, an everyday Joe. That was impossible in River Falls. He was followed and recorded everywhere, including Bo's N' Mine, a quiet bar on the main drag. Fans waited for Montana to finish a beer, then swiped his empty cans for souvenirs.
Adding to the circus was the fact that Marcus Allen had just joined the team too. And in 1994, Allen was surrounded by a media firestorm after his friend O.J. Simpson was accused of murder.
"There were people hiding in the bushes outside the dorm trying to ambush him and talk about the O.J. thing," said Pete Moris, who was in his first year with the Chiefs' public relations department in 1994. "Here's arguably two of the biggest marquee guys in the league in little River Falls.
"It was kind of wild."
-- Elizabeth Merrill
In 1967, future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Rayfield Wright was sharing a dorm room with fellow rookies Sims Stokes and Levi Davis at Cowboys training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Wright said he was about to nod off to sleep when he heard someone open the door at about 11:30 p.m. Thinking it was a curfew check, none of the players thought anything about it.
A few moments later, however, an enormous flame shot through the room, causing Stokes to leap over Wright's bed and jump out the window, which fortunately was located on the ground floor.
"Can you imagine lying there in bed and having a flame shoot over your head?" Wright asked.
After hearing laughter in the hall, Wright realized that fullback Walt Garrison was the trigger-man. He had lit a match and then squirted lighter fluid into it to cause the ball of fire.
"It was Garrison, Craig Morton, Dan Reeves and all them," Wright said. "And we had a tough time getting back to sleep."
-- Matt Mosley
Fun with chickens and a pig
When the Cincinnati Bengals trained in Wilmington, Ohio, quarterback Kenny Anderson decided he wanted to have a little fun with tight end Dan Ross.
Anderson got some chickens from a farm in Wilmington and put them in Ross' room. "After seeing how much the chickens tore up his room, Ross decided to get back," said Dave Lapham, an offensive lineman for the Bengals who is now the team's radio analyst.
Ross went to Anderson's room and let loose a pig, which destroyed the quarterback's room. The two decided to call a truce after that.