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Sacco Sez: Training camp memories


Denver Broncos training camp is almost upon us.

For a veteran like me, so many miscellaneous memories are triggered from dozens of camps gone by.

The Chicago Bears visit this year, but I still recall our first camp visitor, the Dallas Cowboys.

Dan Reeves was our head coach, and he had played eight years in Dallas and later served as the Cowboys' offensive coordinators for four seasons before moving to Denver to take the reins as head coach.

Hence the connection, and I recall we were in the midst of a night practice when the Cowboys' buses arrived. Cowboys wide receiver Butch Johnson walked straight from the bus to the practice field to say hi to Dan. Butch was all class.

I also remember the craziness of the time we had both the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints visit, simultaneously.

During another Saints camp visit, I stopped by the room of Saints PR director Greg Suit to pick him up for dinner.

Greg was on the phone with his wife in a very happy, animated discussion. It turns out he had just found out that they were going to have a baby. That will always be a special moment for me.

Going back way before that, to the late 1970s in Fort Collins, former head coach and future Ring of Famer Red Miller ran tough camps. They were old school in every way.

The team had two practices every day, seven days a week. They always wore full pads, and in lieu of water on the fields, we had a popsicle break about halfway through each practice.

I can tell you there was great delight among all players when those popsicles arrived.

It was at that same time that we still ran "Oklahoma" drills — in which one offensive lineman tries to block one defensive lineman as a running back tries to sneak by and score. It was old-school football that was as physical as you can imagine.

But my most vivid memory of an Oklahoma still did not involve a player.

Unhappy with how an offensive lineman was blocking, Red had him step aside and the old coach took his place — without pads — to show just how he wanted the block executed.

It was bruising and bloody, but Red got his point across.

That is just how it was.

Camp ran for five, sometimes six weeks, and teams returned to the campuses and dorms after flying back from preseason games.

It was a brutal schedule, and I remember the days and could tell the stories of veterans intimidating rookies to protect the jobs of other vets. A rookie really had to survive a gauntlet to win a job.

Some guys made it very tough on the youngsters. That is just the way it was.

Going farther back, before my time, the Broncos first camp was at Colorado School of Mines and players slept in cots, all in a row next to each other.

Not exactly the Ritz Carlton, nor the Red Roof Inn.

But maybe nothing tops a story from another team's camp: the fact that San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame lineman Bob St. Clair liked his meat raw.

It is said that many a San Francisco rookie was intimidated enough to quit on the spot when sitting across from St. Clair at dinner and watching blood drool down the chin of the six-foot-seven Hall of Famer.

I did not meet Bob St, Clair until a Hall of Fame dinner in Canton many years later, but one look verified all possibilities of potential intimidation.

It was a different era, certainly lacking the sophistication of this day.

But that is the way it was, once upon a time.

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