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Sacco Sez: Training camp, then and now

Take a look through Broncos training camp history, from early days in Fort Collins to the much more developed camp at the UCHealth Training Center.

The Denver Broncos are officially in their first week of the 2019 training camp, and it is obvious how impressive Head Coach Vic Fangio and quarterback Joe Flacco are carrying themselves.

There are many impressive young prospects, and the team does everything possible to make all conditions optimal, from the playing field through every medical aspect in question, so that each player can perform to his best in their hopes of making the team.

This is my 42nd Broncos training camp, and the conditions have changed dramatically over the years.

My first season was 1978, and the Broncos were coming off their first Super Bowl appearance.

Times were different, and Red Miller was an old-school coach.

Training camp was in Fort Collins and was a full month (or more) in length. The Dallas Cowboys, for example, flew back to their Thousand Oaks, California, camp after every preseason game (we called them exhibitions then), so they had at least six weeks of camp.

The Broncos were in full pads for every practice, twice a day, no exceptions or days off.

One of the highlights for observers (and less than that for players) early in camp was the Oklahoma drill.

Blocker and tackler in the box, with a back behind the blocker. The collisions were as live and hard as you can imagine.

I remember one time when Red was unhappy with how an offensive lineman was executing his block so he ordered the lineman out and got down there himself, no pads, just the head coach against a defensive lineman, in full pads.

A tough moment, and as I recall, Red held his own.

There was no water on the practice fields in those days, and it was just as hot in the summer then as it is now, plus every guy was in full pads, full contact.

But Coach Miller did have a popsicle break midway through every practice, and I can vouch for how thrilled the players were for the respite, the popsicles and the water contained in the treat.

Every player lived in the college dorms and there were bed checks every night.

I do recall that defensive end Lyle Alzado liked to go out after bed check, and he would make a point of squealing his tires when he pulled out of the parking lot.

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The Broncos' first two training camps were at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, and it was pretty basic, as I understand it.

The weight-training program consisted of the equipment manager pouring cement into buckets, in varying amounts, then players would slide a steel rod into two buckets and lift weights.

They all lived in one large gymnasium with cots for every player — think of a military barracks in the movies, if you have not been in service.

I am told the food was hash-like, unlike the state-of-the-art food service areas today.

In fact, the Broncos have more full-time food-service employees today than they had coaches in 1960! 

I counted the media at our camp opening press conference Wednesday, and the total tilted toward 100. 

In the early days, the media was not quite so large.

In fact, the venerable Al King, public relations man from 1961-69, has told me, "We also worked for the Denver Bears baseball team, since both teams were owned by Rocky Mountain Empire Sports. So we would be in Golden during the day, handling whichever sports writers were there, then we would drive down to Bears Stadium (where both teams played) and work the baseball game that night!"

Maybe that is not as strange as it seems.

When I joined the Broncos from the Denver Bears in 1978, the baseball general manager wanted me to supervise my PR replacement for the rest of the season, so I too did the Broncos during the day and headed to Mile High Stadium (by then the stadium had a new name) for the evening baseball game. Until I had to (or got to) go to Fort Collins for training camp for several weeks. 

You do what you have to do.

Any fans who go to camp will note that every day players sign autographs.

You know how that structured autograph session began?

Mike Shanahan did it.

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We had won Super Bowl XXXII the previous year and fans surrounded us in Greeley. A good problem to have, but a solution was needed.

Mike had it. He had certain areas roped off so that players had walking areas to their meetings and meals, but had his coaches select five players per day, and those guys had to sign autographs at a specially designated area after practice.

The players varied, and every fan had a chance to get an autograph (or five) every single day.

But when the current Broncos facility was built, then expanded, it became an ideal place to hold training camp, and the team has done so since 2003.

It is hard to believe that we have now been having camp at our current site in suburban Denver for 17 years, still fewer years than how many we spent at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley (1982-2002).

I will close with an anecdote from our first year in Greeley.

The gentleman who had negotiated the contract with UNC had arranged for beds to be made only every other day, as an economic measure.

So we all got back from the first practice to see that beds were not made, trash was not picked up, and that's when head coach Dan Reeves found out those specific contract terms.

Dan said, "You live like pigs, you play like pigs."

The housekeeping arrangements were corrected and we had full service from then on and for the rest of our years in Greeley.

It was Dan's version of "Death by Inches," a term that resonates in our camp today.

Not allowed then, not allowed now.

Enjoy the start of the season, and I hope you get a chance to come to one of our practices.

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