ByJohn Mullin CSNChicago.com Bears Insider
Even if NFL owners and players do reach an agreement that lets training camp go off on schedule, the players will go to camp without any of the organized team activities or offseason strength and conditioning programs that have been parts of their annual routines every year since they came into the league.
They’ve worn throwback jerseys. This’ll be their first “throwback” offseason when it’s all finished.
Most players (ideally all of them, but when has that happened?) have been working out on their own. But not the way it was once done. And in the past, the Bears have run their strength and conditioning work from Halas Hall. Not in the time of lockout, however.
“I went down to the Irving Park YMCA and worked out,” said Doug Buffone, a 14-year Bears linebacker spanning the times of Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Walter Payton and others. “There was never a specific place to go work out, but some of us would go to the Y, lift weights, run and play basketball.
“For me, after a couple weeks at the Irving Park Y, my socks were getting a little raunchy. And if you got a clean towel, you were way ahead of the game. Having that place to go is more important, to me, than even the OTAs themselves.”
Training camp now is the time of rounding into football shape and final installations of offensive, defensive and special-teams schemes in conditions. It wasn’t always.
Training camp started traditionally the 5th of July for most teams. It was roughly six weeks of camp and six exhibition games.
“Guys came in there in horrible shape,” said running back Mike Adamle, a veteran of seasons with Kansas City, the New York Jets and Bears. “Training wasn’t meant for camaraderie but literally to get guys in shape. Guys went home in the offseason to where they lived and you never saw them until training camp. And camps were nasty.”
Camps were nasty by design, to pound players into shape. The camps were longer and two-a-day practices with pads were a standard.
People didn’t know all that much about hydration,” Adamle said. “The whole thing was to make it tough, to not have water. You had a lot of salt tablets. Guys would drop out all over the place. If people saw that today, they’d be like Teddy Roosevelt and talk about banning football.”
Any current players who have let themselves go in the weight room will have the opportunity to experience a “throwback” camp of their own. Players before the time of strength training, driven in no small part by legendary strength coach and Olympic weightlifter Clyde Emrich of the Bears, specifically did not report in strength shape.
“Clyde was the guy who really encouraged working out,” Buffone said. “When I first got up there, the veterans, the older guys, they’d call you ‘milk muscles.’ They didn’t believe in that, more in having a beer and whatever. Clyde really changed that.”
Change or else
So did other organizations.
“Prior to me being there, I heard all the stories about guys coming in with the golf clubs and all that,” Buffone said. “It was a different ball game. That was training camp: to get in shape.
“It started to change and I really saw that change in my second or third year. We went down and played Kansas City, came out in shoulder pads and helmets. They came out in just T-shirts.
“I looked at Butkus and said, ‘We’re [in trouble]. I never saw guys that big. Kansas City was one of the teams that started that weight training. Plus they’d just lost the Super Bowl so they were pissed and took it out on us [66-24].
“All the guys figured out right then that they better start working out.”