Along with padded practices the hazing that was once a part of NFL training camp has become a thing of the past, the few incidents covered on HBO’s Hard Knocks notwithstanding.
As late as the 1990s rookie players and particularly a highly rated draft pick was expected to jump to his feet at lunchtime when a veteran asked him to stand on a chair and sing his college or university’s alma mater or fight song. Further, as players took to the road for pre-season games, you would see rookies hauling bags of wings or other treats for veterans as they boarded the chartered plane. And it wasn’t unusual for a rookie to go to his locker, put on his helmet, and find his head suddenly covered in shaving cream.
A couple of years ago when the team still held camp at River Falls, Wisconsin, a highly touted rookie would sometimes be taped to one of the goal posts after a particularly strenuous practice and have Gator Aide tossed on him.
It was all in good fun, but sometimes it got out of hand and there was the occasional rookie who refused to take it which only enraged one or two of the players who had had to undergo the ritual themselves and tempers got hot.
In Marty Schottenheimer’s reign as head coach, he gave the youngsters a chance to retaliate near the end of camp with a talent show where the previously tormented rookies got their chance for revenge with amusing skits designed to poke fun at the older guys and even the coaches. Rob McGovern, a 1989 draft pick out of Holy Cross, had the entire team and staff laughing with his impersonation of head coach Marty Schottenheimer’s habit of breaking down in tears. A year later Texas rookie Ken Hackemack broke up the audience with an impersonation of GM Carl Peterson’s dress.
Shorter training camps and the fact more teams are staying put in the towns they play in have impacted the old traditions. The old summer camp concept of training is disappearing. Moreover, the business of sport is more obvious now and the newer coaches don’t have memories of the way it was way back in the 1960s when the AFL got going.