The Denver Broncos have just finished their mandatory minicamp, and the players and coaches have headed off to parts unknown for the next few weeks.
There were plenty of meetings on offense and defense, and field drills upon field drills. Lots of sweating and exhorting.
But there is not much that took place that has as much potential value as what happened Thursday, when Head Coach Vic Fangio canceled the last day of minicamp work and instead had a field day, like when we were all in elementary school.
The reason this has such great value is that hopefully it builds fellowship among the players, which in the long run has just as much value within a team as the talent and execution.
Virtually every NFL team does this in one form or another, and I am not sure when it first began. It used to be that the members of a team did not see each other in the offseason. There was no weight room, nor organized offseason conditioning programs.
I remember well back to the late 1970s, when I began my career in football, that it was surprising to see guys in the offices during the winter and spring months. It was like, "Hey, good to see you! What are you doing here?" And then the player would say he was in to pick up a check or file a medical form, or something.
Then, within a couple of years, the offseason minicamps began, less about classroom teaching than about practice, always in full pads and sometimes twice a day.
Eventually, when the players union became more powerful, management and the players engaged in sophisticated conversations about growing and developing the game. So too did the coaches develop, and while they were looking for every edge, the idea of team bonding began to take place.
Over the years, many of them involving training camp at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, I watched as practices became ever so much shorter and included fewer pads, and sometimes there were no pads, and sometimes there was no practice.
Old-time coaches on the staff would chuckle at the development, but everyone evolved as did the game.
I remember Houston Oilers head coach Bum Phillips visiting camp in Greeley with his team and saying, "We don't need to do a lot of hitting each other. It looks like our guys are in good shape, and they plan to hit the heck out of the other guys every week. No sense in killing them at practice."
Needless to say, players really liked that.
Over the years, many of them with Mike Shanahan as head coach, we had fishing contests (with prizes) and putting contests (with prizes) in Greeley.
The players loved it. They laughed, participated, and bonded.
That bonding part was very important.
When training camp eventually moved to Denver, the team went bowling a couple of times on what should have been the last day of minicamp — and bonded.
They already had lifted their weights, studied their playbooks and had a lot of repetitions in practice, so those things were very valuable, but so was bonding.
The cast of characters changed, but excursions like this allowed for guys to loosen up. And every team has guys with outgoing personalities (did I say Shannon Sharpe and Keith Burns?). These guys naturally brought other guys into the fold, and it always has worked to create a closer unit.
For several years, there was a big party at the coach's house one night after the final cuts were made and the practice squad signed.
In other words, the timing was such that the team was set for the beginning of the season.
There would be food and drink, games of chance including poker, valet parking and prizes galore. It was an absolute highlight and once again served the purpose of bonding.
Winning is not an accident and the team that believes in each other and plays like a team often does better than others.
Then the pandemic hit and dramatically changed how things were done in 2020. But this is a new year and the conditions amid the pandemic are largely improved.
The Broncos are building a new team, but Vic Fangio has seen a lot of practices, camps and teams in his career. He knows that the team that plays together off the field often plays better on the field as well, and hence the last day of minicamp was a field day.
It was just one day, but it was a big step toward the Broncos being a winning team in 2021.