With the Denver Broncos annual rookie minicamp upon us this weekend, it is another reminder that the camps were not always the way they are now — and neither was the scouting that produced the players.
Once upon a time, teams did not even have rookie minicamps.
There was no collective bargaining agreement in the first half of National Football League history, and some teams — like the Denver Broncos — were very reluctant to spend money in the early and mid-1960s.
To compensate, training camps were often very long.
"When I was with [Hall of Fame head coach] Hank Stram, we once started camp before the Fourth of July, and with all players," former general manager John Beake said. "But we had very long camps in those days, and often had six preseason games."
In fact, in the 1976 season, the Denver Broncos played seven preseason games.
Teams began to bring their rookies in for a three-day camp in the late 1960s, but that often was coupled with bringing the veterans in, as well.
"A lot of coaches wanted to replicate that college experience of spring ball that all the players had been accustomed to, and that was a good way to do it, in addition to getting a look at the young players," Beake said.
The Broncos' 10 draft picks and host of college free agents arrived Thursday at UCHealth Training Center, where they were fitted for equipment ahead of rookie minicamp. (Photos: Gabriel Christus, unless noted)
This time of the year always reminds me of when I got my first look at a lot of our players — and some of those moments made lasting impressions.
I remember seeing Dave Studdard as a free agent in camp. Studdard had been cut by the Colts the previous year, but at his first Broncos practice one of our coaches said to me, "That kid has great feet. Looks like he's going to make the team."
Studdard played 10 seasons for the Broncos as John Elway's prime protector at left tackle.
Of course, nothing matched the circus atmosphere when John Elway attended his first rookie camp. This was before digital photography, and the click of cameras reminded someone of a major press conference — except the shooting continued for as long as Elway was on the field.
The only thing close to that experience — relative to the media at mini camp — was when Tim Tebow was a rookie. It was a different era, but it was very similar.
Keith Bishop is another player whose rookie minicamp I will never forget.
Bishop was our sixth-round draft choice in 1980, and one look at his commanding presence suggested he would make the team and be a true player.
He turned out to be a two-time Pro Bowler who started on three Super Bowl teams in the 1980s. He was as gentlemanly off the field as he was ferocious and tough on it. We do not know if any of this year's players will turn out the same way, but we do know that more is known about them than was ever the case with previous players.
No doubt many of these players will go on to make a names for themselves — and two things about them all are certain.
Every player has been scouted thoroughly, and every one will get an equal chance.
When the take the field, they do so in the same uniform, and it does not matter how thick the press clippings are, what the former coaches said, or how big the signing bonus is.
The field is the ultimate equalizer, and they'll take their first steps onto it this weekend.