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Sundays with Sacco: Training camp's changes

Pro football training camps are not like they used to be, and like most things involved with progress, that is good.

A combination of circumstances has changed the entire dynamic of the summer camp.

These circumstances include advanced hydration and medical information on the field, the collective bargaining agreement—which is now so much stronger than it once was in the matter of player rights—and the offseason OTAs and other workouts, which put the modern NFL player in the best condition ever, and more versed in the playbook at the start of camp than at any time in the past.

But in the past, oh my goodness.

The Broncos continued training camp work on Saturday and got closer to their first day in pads. (All photos by Eric Lars Bakke)

When the Denver Broncos began play in the 1960 season, training camp was at the Colorado School of Mines and players slept in cots in the school gym.

The original Broncos did not have a playbook, nor did the 1961 Broncos, so at least they did not have a lot of late-night cramming to do.

The meals were mostly one version or another of hash, and the weight training program consisted of a number of buckets filled with various quantities of cement. Depending on how much a layer wanted to lift, he slipped a metal rod, like a broomstick, between two buckets of approximately the desired weight, and weight training was underway.

The head coach was Frank Filchock, and one of his favorites practice techniques was to separate the guys and play touch football.

Sure, it may sound like fun, but it is not exactly what Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak has his team doing these days.

Of course, the Broncos played in Bears Stadium, which was not available in August or most of September because the Triple-A Denver Bears were using it, so Denver played its first eight games — five exhibitions and the first three games of the regular season — all on the road.

The 1962 training camp was marked by the fact that the Broncos had a playbook for the first time, and General Manager/Head Coach Jack Faulkner burned the infamous brown-and-white vertically striped socks in a ceremony at the annual scrimmage game that closed out training camp.

The modern era is so far removed from the recent past as to be barely recognizable.

When I joined the team in 1978, training camp was in Fort Collins, and it featured pads and hitting, and lots of both. Every single day of the 30-day camp had two practices, and all practices were in full pads. The "Oklahoma" drill was very popular then, and just about everyone had to do it.

I was recently talking with guard Tom Glassic, who started for Denver in those days after joining the club as its number one draft choice out of the University of Virginia in 1976, and we chuckled (although it really was not that funny) about there being no water on the practice fields.

"The funny thing is, we had all the water we could drink during the games," Tom said, "but I guess they were trying to toughen us up in camp, so we had no water at practice."

What the team did have, one time during each of the morning and afternoon practices, was a popsicle break: one popsicle per player, once per practice. The reader can imagine that halfway through practice on a 95-degree summer day in Colorado, those popsicles were very popular indeed.

Take a look through the lens at our best photos from Day 1 of Broncos 2015 Training Camp.

It was seven days a week; a grueling schedule with very little room for exception.

I remember walking past Assistant General Manager John Beake's office in Greeley during camp there in 1981, and I saw John crying in his office. He was crying, and he was on the phone trying to arrange the signing of a player. I asked what the problem was and John said, "My dad just died." Then he added, "I have got to get this contract done."

Tough times, and tough guys who lived the game.

A very tough moment, but within the game, we have all been there at one time or another, and we get it.

I remember just about every significant detail of John Elway's rookie season in 1983, including his first training camp haircut.

Between two-a-days and late night meetings, there literally was not a barber available during John's hours of availability, plus the media was following his every step.

So I (the PR guy really has to be prepared to do just about anything) told our young quarterback I would take care of it for him. I found a Greeley barber willing to cut John's hair in his house, and I got a Greeley policeman to pick him up after the 9:30 evening meeting and take him to the residence in an unmarked car.

The deed was accomplished, and media observers were shocked when John Elway took the field with a fresh haircut the next day. Of course, John's haircut made all the papers.

A couple of weeks later I was sitting around with the assistant coaches in their lounge when quarterbacks coach John Hadl mentioned that he sure needed a haircut.

"John, I know a barber who can do it on your schedule, " I suggested helpfully.

John Hadl chuckled and said, "Jim, I can get my hair cut. I do not need a damn posse to escort me," referring to his quarterback's ride in the police car for the same task.

When 2015 training camp opened ESPN was live from the Broncos' training facility with Bronco Ring of Famer Tom Jackson and 16-year Denver reporter Adam Schefter providing their commentary.

But I can remember when Denver talk show host Irv Brown took the field with the first cell phone many of us had ever seen. It was about the size of a shoe box, and we were amazed that he could talk on that thing.

I remember that day when the press were talking with Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos about the condition of a player who had been injured, and Steve said that "We sent him for an MRI, and he is fine."

Everyone looked at each other, and finally someone asked, "What the heck is an MRI?"

Everything had its beginning somewhere, sometime.

The sophistication of the game is always happening, from the size, speed and strength of players, to medical procedures and water on the field, to the media and all the developments in how camp is covered today.

When I see it all, I see the present but I remember the past.

And it is all football now, but it was all football then as well.

Block, tackle, prepare, repeat.

Training camp is different, but it is exactly the same.

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