Favre thinks they’re pretty much a waste of time. No athlete has ever been more right about anything.
They’re starting in a few days, but one doesn't need to pay attention. Ask me to insert hot knitting needles in my ears, scratch my eyes out with rusty forks, run my head into a cinderblock wall. But, please, spare me the training camp stories.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the importance of this annual exercise in exercise to the participants. Rookies especially and most other players need training camp as surely as infants need milk. It's where they learn the playbook, the play calls and hone their blocking, tackling, running, catching, throwing and kicking techniques. It’s where free agents show they’re worthy or gainful employment and veterans try not to suffer any injuries.
From the standpoint of the team and players, NFL training camp is as important as all other training camps in all other sports.
Blah. Blah. And blah.
To quote no less an expert than Allen Iverson, we’re talking about practice. Only NFL camps are worse than just practice. It’s where players sweat and puke, then stand around drinking water and suck on fruit pops. Then it’s more sweating and puking.
I first went to a training camp when I was about 21 or 22. I wasn’t a sportswriter back then, just a Cleveland Browns fan who was as gaga as any other fan about his team. Another guy and I decided to drive down to Hiram College, which is where the Browns used to train. You know, because it was training camp! And they were the Browns! And, oh gosh, but wasn’t this going to be exciting!
We stood behind a rope or fence and the players ran on the field right past us. Then they got on the field and exercised. Then they did stuff. Some hit blocking sleds. Some practiced hiking and handing off. Some practiced throwing and catching. And it was hot. Really, really hot.
Why would adults want to watch that?
Favre knows. He doesn’t have any plays to learn, and he can make the plays, just as he did last season. Even by arriving three weeks into camp last year, he got his team to the verge of the Super Bowl. Nobody suggested the Vikes would have beaten the Saints if only Favre had spent another 10 days running wind sprints in the broiling August sun.
I would think football fans would agree. But most don’t. Saying that training camp isn’t worth paying attention to is like saying motherhood isn’t all that important.
It’s all because it’s the NFL, and anything related to the NFL is a major event. So people pack picnic lunches and skip work and drive to training camp to watch their heroes sweat. They sit in the broiling sun for hours watching guys run through plays and take water breaks. They’re fascinated to see who wins the wind sprints. And then they stay there in the sun, waiting for the afternoon session.
There's rarely anything to learn. You already know who the quarterback is going to be — and if you don’t, I feel sorry for your team. You know the running backs. You may not know the offensive line, but nothing you see in practice is going to help you on that count. If you’re a coach, you may find it useful. But otherwise, there’s nothing there that’s going to help me understand what’s going to happen in the coming season.
It doesn’t matter. There are endless supply of analysts and inflicting daily NFL pre-camp reports on us. I was watching SportsCenter today when I heard a discussion of the AFC and NFC South divisions. It went on for at least five minutes and here’s what I learned:
“It always comes back to Peyton Manning, especially in the AFC South.”
“The Jacksonville Jaguars? “They have to find a way to win games.”
“The Panthers? It’s all riding on new quarterback Matt Moore, who had better be clever enough to realize he needs to get the ball to his all-pro wide receiver, Steve Smith.”
Somewhere, NFL fans were listening to that and nodding their heads in agreement, because that’s some serious insight. I mean, who knew that the Colts rely on Peyton Manning? Do you think somebody should call Moore and tell him about Smith? And where’s the remote so I can TiVo this stuff?
And camp hasn’t even started. Just wait until it does. We’re going to be buried in this stuff every day for a month, and virtually none of it will have anything to do with who wins what once the season starts.
Go ahead and dive in, if you must. Wallow in it. Revel in it. Celebrate in it.
Just don’t ask me to join in. There’s a baseball season that’s starting to get interesting. I’ll be watching it.
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