The April Soliloquy: A Visit to NFL Europe Training Camp
by David Oliver
April is the cruelest month,
Lilacs out of the dead land,
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Truly a poem written for BBI. First we face the Tax Man, then the Draft. Only January approaches the agony of April, as we must watch other teams play. I’m sitting here now in a mellow mood. When I was a younger man, I enjoyed opening a bottle of Ouzo, slicing a good hunk of provolone, filling a dish with large, plump, black Kalamata Olives, toasting some fresh Italian bread and sharing an afternoon with a few good friends.
Those times are in the past. But lately I have once again begun my own tradition of Olives, cheese, bread and a good bottle of Merlot. Now my company is one or two of the cats, who although not particularly interested in provolone, love a good piece of sharp Vermont cheddar. So we share the afternoon, sometimes out on the swing where my fat cat, Bret, sits with me and rolls over so I can rub his snow-white belly. He kneads the air and gets a goofy look in his eyes, as would I if I could convince a buxom blonde to rub mine. Getting to the Merlot has been an interesting journey. There was also a time when I would only drink a fine wine, but now I’m not particular. One day in the store I came across and Arbor Mist varietal, Blackberry flavored Merlot. Once the cork was popped, the genie came out, grabbed me by the testicles, and laughingly asked “how do you like MY wine?” Now this Genie reminded me of Barbara Eden, so I told her “damn, this is a fine wine.” It’s less than $4 bucks a bottle, goes well with the cheddar and olives, and I can drink a bottle and still walk. I have branched out a little, and have on successive days, sampled a Beringer Merlot and a Beringer White Merlot. Not quite the Blackberry kick, but it washes the cheddar, as a liquid should. Life is pretty good.
I’m going to tell you of my recent trip to Florida, to cover the 12 Hours of Sebring, and to visit the NFL Euro Camp scene. But first, the draft, then some unfinished business. On my last visit, I said pencil in Shockey. Shockey it will be. Forget agonizing over speed of the wideouts, bulk of the offensive behemoths, even the need for the defense replacements. This year, it will be Shockey. The writing is on the tablets if you care to read them. The only possible wrench would be a move up by another needy team to steal the Giants’ choice. There are teams that wait for this moment. They know the Giants do their homework; even if we laugh, or cry, when the Giants decide, others look for the poach. I don’t think EA would pull the trigger to go top 10; others will. Should someone grab Shockey, the typical Giant panic could set in and the clickers will really be flying. The scouts are spending too much time at UAB for my money. My feeling is still Columbo in the second, unless the run starts early on O linemen. If that happens, and 3 or more are taken in Round 1, look for EA to trade up to the top 5 in Round 2 to get his man. After that, I have no clue, other than a linebacker, a defensive end and a safety in the mix.
On to pressing matters. All this fol de rol over MS and Tiki and Hammer and Jessie. Many of you must be young – no real young. As in the kind of guys who like to run down the hill and get ONE cow. No memory base, so everything has to be now – immediate gratification. Like my son tells me, if you stay more than 3 years in one job, it looks bad on your resume. Well, here’s my take. Jessie A came in as an 8th rounder with something to prove. He played for nine years, never missed a game once he started, was fiery, emotional and productive. So he had a lesser year. You don’t throw away a fighter like yesterday’s newspaper. You make an accommodation, as in” Jessie, next year Dhani is going to get a chance. We want you to help him out.” Now, I know Jessie would have signed the same contract with the Giants as he did with that other team. The fact that it wasn’t offered leads me to believe that this was personal.
Still We wonder Who the hell we are
So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because you’re never in the game
Just remember It’s a Grand Illusion
Deep inside we’re all the same.
So if you think your life is complete confusion
Cause your neighbor’s got it made
Just remember It’s the Grand Illusion
cause inside we’re all the same.
(ok, Rocky T, you fill in all the artists).
Following that, MS goes on the block (maybe EA has been here at BBI). Now here is the best defensive lineman in the game, a guy who hasn’t been accused of wife beating, drugging, or scum bagging, but gives generously of his time to charities. He is coming off an unbelievable year. All of a sudden, the fans want to trade him, the GM is trying to trade him, the team cuts the heart to his soul off the defense, then has the temerity to come to him and make him an offer that smacks of disdain in the light of all that. (I remember Sam Huff and Little Mo as if it were yesterday.)
He is called selfish, stupid, short-sighted, and even called out by a MILLIONAIRE teammate. You know, MS is not dumb, and I don’t think he is ill-advised. He knows his time is coming close, and it hurt him. I think the man turned down a whole lot of money on principle – and that takes guts. So his teammate goes after him publicly. Man, if one of my mates did that to me, well, you remember that ad with the kicker taped to the wall.(grin) Hammer jumps in to cover his buddy. Hammer is a stud – a dying breed – a guy who sticks up for a mate simply because he is a mate. These are my kind of guys. Remember them, for no one like them will pass our way in blue for quite some time, maybe not in the rest of my life.
Then there is all this talk of what the Giants need in the draft and why. As in, if they bring in the 7 Blocks of Granite, KC will have more time; if we bring in a stud tight end, he will have someone to throw at; if we bring in Bronco Nagurski, he can pick up the blitz. Seems to me if all of that is needed to make KC better, the problem is KC. Me – I wouldn’t worry about the tight end, I’d do everything possible to get Joey Harrington. KC threw for over 3000 yards and Tiki ran for a bunch behind a line that couldn’t block, an offense with no FB and an absent tight end. Well, EXCUSE me. Maybe these guys weren’t All Pros, but if KC could read a defense, see the field and move his ass forward instead of laterally, the Giants would have been in the playoffs. It wasn’t the defense collapsing, it wasn’t a porous line, and it wasn’t because there was no bulldozer FB that the Giants were home in January. Bret Favre gets Bret Favre money because he is Bret Favre. Now before you all start pissing in your pants, that doesn’t mean KC isn’t a good QB. He is. He’s better than Dilfer, Testaverde, Kitna, and about 15 others. That puts him just out of the top 10. The Giants were good enough to go back to the dance last year if they had Top 10. You are all entitled to your opinions – that’s mine. I’m feeling more and more like Kafka these days. No, not the love starved Kafka of LETTERS TO MILENA, but the introspective Kafka of A AND B, and THE METAMORPHOSIS. I can feel myself turning into the Cockroach because I am so , I mean sooo out of touch with the current thinking. Silly me, I still stand with labor, even millionaire labor; I still believe in loyalty, team, standing by your unit. The ring means nothing to me, hell, I won’t be getting one. But playing hard, giving the game it’s due. Bah, I don’t want a Championship team made up of players who come and go. I want my heroes. And if they want a lot of money, so what. The game is profitable and a lot of these guys won’t be hopping up stairs in a few years. Why should Jerry Jones, or Dan Snyder, or, well, you fill in the blanks, have all the money? If MS can get $30 million, no skin off my ass, if he produces.
On to Sebring.
We had joy
We had fun
We had seasons In the Sun
My dad used to sing that song to my son, when dad was alive and my son was an infant. He was that kind of guy. It’s hard to believe he’s gone now for over 9 years. Particularly at this time of the year when the cars start up again. We spent many an hour together going to car races – the Meadowlands, Nazareth, Pocono. Damn, I miss him.
The cars call me in March. This year is a little different. Although I arrive at the track with a fax from my publisher attesting that I am the photographer, as well as writer, I sense some trouble as the magazine has requested credentials for three, but has been given only one photographer pass. It is highly coveted because it allows access course wide, not just the media room and the pits. Similar to football, most hotshots are happy to sit in an air-conditioned glass booth. I am not. I have to be out in the air. One of the guys is a former king of auto photographers, out of the game for several years but coming back. My mag is doing him a favor. So the guy goes to the media director and purloins my credentials. Bono fortuna smiles on me, as the man handling the credential sign in looks at my letter, understands what is happening and conspiratorially winks at me and says, “Just between us, I’m giving you a 7″. (circuit pass) I thank him and tell him that works for me. He says, “I thought it would.” It’s going to be one of those trips.
Next up is one of those strange mysteries of life. I wander into the season opening meeting of Motorsports Ministries, Chapel Service. These guys do a great job in caring for the racing community. At a NASCAR event, service draws a huge crowd, praying and singing on race day. For the sportscar events, it is lesser, but very serious. Usually, I am elsewhere. Today’s message is JOSEPH, EXODUS 37:18-28. I think of Hope J and I stay a little to hear the tale of Joseph again, of his obedience, and the theme of biblical obedience to God’s word. And I feel a little as Saul of Tarsus must have felt. (Herman, you’ll get a chuckle out of this). With religion in such disarray, Muslims going berserk, Jews retaliating, Catholics hearing so much of molestation and less of ministration, I am reminded of Thomas Merton , the Trappist Buddhist, and I think of Hesse and Siddartha. But mostly I think of Hope J, and the many women like her, so many of them women of color, whose faith in a risen Jesus is unshakeable, while mine is nonexistent, even when I am clunked in the head, time and again, by the signpost. I am a dumb person. I speak neither the language of the porpoise, nor of the religious zealot and I am adrift on the Tower of Babel.
There is nothing like the bizz, roar and pop, the staccato of finely tuned engines. (Jason in Ore – this Bud’s for you – and hey, did you catch Pele running his mouth as the brothers Schumacher crossed the finish line at the Brazilian Grand Prix – moral of that story – never let a soccer player near a real athletic event – GRIN – sorry EA). Almost 70 super machines, nameplates such as Ferrari, Porsche, Mazda, Audi (the current King of the Mountain), and now Cadillac, VW, MG, and the Corvettes, the Ascaris, the racing Peugots. I love to walk pit row in the morning and breathe in the gas, the perfume, the excitement. The ladies in their high heels, with their jacked up asses set the tone. I stand with some drivers, then some crewmen, as we ogle, without shame, and feel good because it makes some young lady’s day. They are taller now, some approaching 6 feet with heels, voluptuous, but prettier. You don’t find skanks on the pit row walk. Of course, that ‘s easy for me to say, now that I am balding, frumpy and probably looking hornier than bob in tx’s goat. The activity is frenetic. Two laps and tune the engine; 5 laps and change drivers. I watch the Cadillac team change drivers over and over. There are 3 to drive over the 12 hours. Each has a different seat and steering wheel. The fit must be perfect, and the timing down to the second. I talk to the GM major domo and we look over the Vettes and the Cadillac and talk about how wonderful it is for this marque to be back racing. The Cadillacs are prototypes, the Vettes race in GT and they compete against the Saleen, a graceful stud of a car.
This is a good shooting time for me. The drivers aren’t like football or baseball players. These guys jump out of the car, maybe roasting in a nomex suit, see you with a camera, and actually pose. Then they talk to you while changing outfits. Actually talk to you like a buddy, talk about the weather, the car, the track, the babes. I get over the wall and walk among the machines as they come roaring into and out of the pits, often within inches. The tires are squealing, the engines are pounding, the gas men are coming and going over the wall. Football is a 1,000 miles away. The crew guys – well, some are not well paid. Although this is not seat of the pants racing, I still see drivers hustling the paddock, looking for a ride. And I still share a spot on the paddock after dark, sleeping in my car, as they do in theirs. It’s glamorous if you make it; it’s hell if you don’t, but once it’s in your blood, you can’t walk away.
Race day is hot. It goes up to 95 and they are pulling guys out of the cars and pumping them full of fluids. I hear of a couple with body temperatures in excess of 100. They don’t do that for photographers, but Audi takes care of us. They give us breakfast, lunch and dinner and there is always cold water, soda and fruit juices available. Every two hours, I come back to the tent, chill a little – well, it’s not air conditioned, so by chill I mean drink a couple of bottles of water, stuff a bottle in my pack and head back to the track. It’s almost four miles walking around the circuit. I take the shuttle when I can, which is infrequent, so I log some miles during the day. Each hour presents different lighting, and I try to be certain places at certain times. I like the grid for pre-start. The cars are covered with their national flags, the teams line up with the cars, there is joking, kibitzing, posing, good photo ops. I always refer to photographing as shooting with the camera. This year, one of my Canadian acquaintances says ‘shush’ – you yanks are kind of sensitive these days, so we don’t use that term when we’re down here. Yep, even this game has changed.
For the start, I run down to turn 1 so I can catch the cars rolling under the Mobil Bridge. It is spectacular and colorful. Then I walk between Turns 1 and 3 for a couple of hours – there is a lot of passing, good lighting and some braking. I talk to the fans that line the fences. They are good-natured and usually offer food and drink. I notice one fellow hanging over the fence trying to get some photos. He has good equipment, but the concrete barrier is going to be in his shots, so I ask him if he wants me take some shots for him. He hands me his camera and I go over to the track and shoot about 10 for him. He can spend a lifetime telling his buddies how close he was to the action. How close? Well, Sebring is still a course where you can crawl on top of the cars in certain places. There are spots where I can within 10 feet without any barriers. The dirt and marbles ping your face and arms, and when you see a car bobble you wet your pants, but close is where the action comes and goes. After lunch I go out to the hairpin, a turn where the cars come screaming down a straight stretch and hit the brakes. The engines scream, the cars slide and the Porsches lock the wheels and lift on the right side. Very dramatic. I’ll come back after dark, when it really gets good.
I walk around to turn 10. Just after this turn, there is a huge old oak tree, which gives shade and cooling and a nice spot to shoot. There is a hole cut in the fence , where I can get down on my knees, put a 600mm lens on the camera and get the cars coming around the turn. It is a head on shot and if you time it right you can see the fillings in the drivers’ teeth. I do my work and decide to wait for the shuttle. There are some VIPs out there; there are always VIPs. Two couples, 50ish, one a very nicely kept blonde. There was a time when I couldn’t think someone 50 could be attractive, but I’m there, and my wife is still beautiful, so I’m looking from a different vantage point these days I do not that these women, who know what they want in life and are very purposeful, mine included, do wear a lot of jewelry. Kind of like those fishing lures that big bass go for. Well, darlings, I hate to tell you this, but when you are living the (Miller) Hi Life, a cold beer in hand will do more than any bauble. Well, there’s a bench with a cover here so I mosey over and sit on the bench. Next thing I know, the 2 ladies are on the bench. The men have these pocket digital cameras, and they are having a ball taking photos. One comes over and lines up the women. Well, ole Dave is kind of grubby in my black pants, black shirt and black photo vest, with my cameras slung around my neck. So I slide away, to get out of the picture. Out of nowhere, the blonde’s arm wraps around my neck and pulls me into the scene. I joke about being wanted in 6 states and we laugh; suddenly I’m everyone’s best friend. It’s a double date. They are not married, and we’re getting too chummy. The shuttle arrives and I leap fast. I wave good-bye and make a note not to come back to this spot for a while.
Around dusk I hit Turn 5. The strangest thing happened while I’m here. Cars are sliding off the road, giving me some great spins, with dust and dirt in the air. There is a yellow flag and a team of suits comes out of nowhere and starts walking the track. Seems it’s so hot the pavement has rutted and the cars can’t make the turn. I mean rutted, as in 6 inches deep, like an edge drop off. Out comes some machinery and they repave that section of the track, with the cars running by under yellow. Damndest thing I’ve ever seen. I talk to some old motor heads and enjoy the bizarre activities inside the fence. It’s getting dark, so I head for the hairpin. The strange ones are out now. There is a full sailboat – 30 footer (and not a drop of water in sight) with its owner serenely watching the race from the bow. He offers a beer. Tempting, but I pass. Then come the cows – a group of about 25 guys all dressed in cow outfits. There are bonfires everywhere and plenty of drunks. These people come year after year and stake out the same place. They bring plywood and build homes, like Ft. Dodge. Some are several stories. There are places where women shouldn’t go, unless, of course, they like showing their t—, or other things. It’s a bacchanalian revelry, mostly good-natured. As darkness drops, it reminds me of a scene from a Hieronymous Bosch painting.
Darkness wraps around me. Darkness can be comforting, it can be eerie, it can be frightening. I love this spot, with one light and the cars screaming out of the dark. There are only about 10 of us here, strung out so as not to block the view of the corner workers. Flashes go off in sequence. I drift off. I’m in a hassock in a place that’s very warm. I call over to a buddy, “Miguel, toss me uno cerveza, por favor, Pacifica Claro.” As he grabs my beer, he asks, “Senor Dafey (how he pronounced it), can I ask you a question?” “Sure, Miguel,” I say. “Have you ever felt fear?” Before I can answer, another associate sitting nearby, Tomas, says, “him, Miguel, no not him, he’s never afraid, including of some things he ought to be afraid of.” It’s good for people to think you have no fear, but truth is, every man has fear. Fear is like darkness. It curls around your neck and back, it drips as cold sweat into the crevices of your body and mind. I think of a week in Cabo San Lucas, a place many of you might know as a honeymoon paradise or vacation escape. For me, it is American drugs, Canadian whores and Mexican workers, and a frightening hell hole. We are in a place run by a thug from Brooklyn. He has flaming red hair and is called Rojo. One night, as he saunters into the lobby, I was standing against a wall and thought I’d have a little fun with him. As he reached the center of the room, I called out “Rojo.” He froze in his tracks and didn’t turn for a couple of seconds. It seemed as an eternity. He slowly turned and looked at me, saying “who calls?” As in a performance of Slow Death on a Killing Ground, I answer, “I do.” He says, “Where do you know me from?” I answer, “Avenue U.” He walks over. My buddy Antonio is standing with me. Rojo shrugs in his direction and asked me, “Who’s this?” I answered “my man.” Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a fellow standing against a wall about 50 feet from us. He wasn’t there before. Rojo waves and he walks over. “This is my man,” he says. I reach out to shake hands and as I have his in mine, Rojo asks, “notice anything funny?” Then he holds out an arm and shows me a scar from his elbow to his wrist. He says “I f***** up, he f***** up worse.” I am holding a hand with no fingers. We talk a little more, then go our separate ways. Before I get back to my room, it is broken into and thoroughly searched. Entry and exit via a window, which I detect by noticing the broken tiles. My camera equipment and other things are untouched. Only one $100 bill has been taken, from my wallet, which was left in my pocket folded tent style, to let me know.
Antonio and I were followed everywhere for two days. Guys with walkie talkies that we eluded by ducking into alleyways and around corners. Have I ever known fear? Antonio and I were the last to leave. As we are getting into our cab, a beautiful girl, blonde, dressed in a white dress, comes running out and grabs the door. She asked if we are going to the airport and can she come. She claims to be a Stew for Alaska Airlines. Yeah, right. I pull my straw hat down low and keep looking back. Nothing. We get to the airport without incident. As we are called for our flight, to Mexico City, via Guadalajara, Rojo appears in line just ahead of us. He just appeared. We board without acknowledging each other. Antonio and I always sit in the back, plane, train or bus, keep the field ahead of you. When the plane lands in Guadalajara, Rojo leaves. We breathe easier. He is satisfied we are going on. Fear. I say to Miguel, “make that dos cervezas, por favor, Miguel, frio, mucho frio.” I am reminded of these events in reading KNOW THINE ENEMY, by Edward Shirley, where he said “I’d stopped thinking about the fourteenth century and Mongol rule. You don’t think about history and beauty when you’re scared; you think in small increments, a hundred feet away. And you keep looking behind you.”
BANG, pap pap pap, ping, ping. I jump, pull my hands straight up. Bright lights coming right at me, noise, shadows. I’m shaking now. Slowly, I realize I am at Sebring. The cars have shattered my reverie, awakened me. I had pulled my camera up and fired the flash 5 or 6 times. I look around sheepishly to see if anyone has noticed. No one seems to care. I ‘m tired. There is no more beautiful experience than standing at this apex, listening to these cars, the ping, ping of the brakes and rotors, the rotors glowing red, on fire from the extreme pressure, flames shooting out the back pipes, or side pipes under braking. There was a time when I could stand here all night. Now, I’m tired. Age, I guess. It’s about one and three quarter miles back to the paddock. I’ve done all I can do here and it’s a long walk when you are tired, hot, worn out. I sling my camera over my shoulder and walk through the blackness. I still have my earplugs in, so everything is muffled. I talk to some of the happy drunks on the way. It’s after 9 o’clock when I reach the car, still an hour or more till the end of the race. I have a 2 hour drive back in the night, through the fog in the orange groves. I put my equipment away, get in the car, turn on the air conditioner, laugh and curse Bill Clinton and Al Gore. It is a ritual now, something only men of a certain age who worked for the Government of the United States at a certain time , would understand. I laugh to myself, and I sing
See the world through your cynical eyes
You’re a troubled young man, I can tell
You’ve got it all in the palm of your hand
But your hand’s wet with sweat and you need a rest
Why must you be such an angry young man
When your future looks quite bright to me
And how can there be such a sinister plan -
Get out, get back on your feet
You’re the one they can’t beat, and you know it.
The story of my life.
Sunday I took some film to be developed and went out photographing birds. Ft. DeSoto is great for egrets, ibis and herons and I got some nice shots. Monday, the real work started. I thought I would go over to visit the Berlin Thunder camp. They have one of the kickers allocated by the Giants. I also bumped into Josh Warner. He is listed with the Bears. He looks fit and big. We talked for a few minutes and I snapped some shots. Now, this is the real field of dreams. Sometimes I have to laugh at the attitudes on BBI, sometimes I want to cry. These kids are out here busting their tails, playing for peanuts- so they are camp fodder, without talent, yadda, yadda, yadda. Of course, MS wanting several more million or Jessie or Ike Hilliard – well, they want too much money, so they are worthless, ungrateful, yadda, yadda, yadda. Best I can figure is that the BBI salary structure ranges from about 300,000 to 5 million per year. On the low end, you are a position holder, on the high end, you are almost too rich. I’m glad none of you guys are my agent.
I like to visit the camps of the Euro League, or the XFL or even the semi-pro sandlots because here is the love of the game, and the dream. And I admire dreamers who give it their all.
I’ve been chasing dreams for so long
Just one step at a time
And then they’re gone.
I guess you have to hurt before you grow
Never let go of
never let go of the dream.
I always seem to lose what I thought was mine
and many times I’ve tried to leave it behind
Its been so very hard through the years
been looking through a rainbow full of tears
and still I never let go of the dream.
Deep inside hope was still alive
deep inside dreams never die.
I show up, and usually I’m the only photographer or writer who is there. At Thunder camp, there are a couple of scouts, from the Ravens and the Eagles. The PR man comes over and we introduce ourselves. I mention Giants and he talks about Pat Hanlon. Tremendous respect throughout the game. Every one knows Pat and every one speaks highly of him. My access is carte blanche. I roam the sidelines, the end zones, stand with the linemen during their warm-ups, go over to the bench and talk to the players. All these kids are good kids. I call them the 1%. They are better than 99% of the guys who have played this game, yet they have only about 1% chance of making it to the NFL. But they have the dream.
The national players are a scream. You can find them by the smiles. The rookies are nervous, tentative. The veterans are all business. They know what they have to do, and they know if they are going to attract attention, it’s because they work hard. And if they never get the call to the bigs, this is a good living. I listen in as the offensive line coach counsels his troops in an off moment. “You don’t need a fancy car,” he’s saying. “Invest your money, save it. One million dollars and you are a rich man.” Damn right, I say to myself. Then he goes on to tell them about a player last year, “(So-and-so) made a salary of x; then he picked up y for the playoffs and z for the championship. It was a pretty good nut. And he invested most of it.” This is good advice for these kids. Then one of the veterans is working with an up-and-comer. It’s hot out here and these are big guys. But they get in position and make moves on each other, doing reps, practicing hard. Work, hard work, that’s what it’s all about.
I talk to Matt Bryant, the kicker, and I ask him about the work and the heat. He tells me a story of the players doing one on one drills, d-backs and receivers. On one play, the receiver comes down with the ball and passes out. He rolls over and he is breathing hard. When he came up, Matt tells me, he jumped to his feet and yells, “I caught the ball, I caught the ball.” Here he had fallen on his face, passed out, and all he could think about was that he caught the ball. This is serious business for these kids. We talk about bonding and Matt tells me, “The main thing is position. The receivers come together, the linemen will usually be close. And if you were in camp with another player here, say with the Giants, you have that kind of camaraderie. Right now, we’re all Berlin Thunder, but you want to do well so you can be on the Giants or whoever put you here.”
I asked about kickers and he told me that it was a matter of that first kick, “Until you make that first kick, it’s like, well, who are you. But once we get into regular practice, it all comes together.” Matt is a confident kid. He tells me he is ready for a little of anything and everything. “One thing I learned in college, working with a pro kicker, is the mindset – whenever I would go in to kick, my deal was, I hope I make this. First thing he told me is that anytime I step on to that field, I’m going to make it. I’m pretty confident; I’m ready to go.”
I watched Matt kick a few. He has a nice strong leg and tells me his forte is hang time. On field goals he needs to get the ball up a little quicker. They were running center surges and leaps and the coach was telling him to start his motion on the snap. Matt knows his chances aren’t great. He’s aware of Owen Pochman and knows he is the coaching staff’s “boy.” But he will come into camp and give it his all, knowing if not the Giants, he may catch on somewhere. He’s worth watching.
Some of the other drills were interesting. The Head Coach was working botched punt drills, telling his punter if it goes inside the 10 yard line, run it, kick it or throw it out of the end zone, take the safety. Outside the 10, try to do something with it. The interesting part was watching them try to get someone to snap the ball over the punter’s head. The only one who could was the starting center. The Coach started screaming at the assistants to “get him out of there. I don’t want him picking up bad habits.” I snapped some shots and left as practice ended.
Next stop was the inter-squad scrimmages. All 6 teams were in action, starting at 9AM and going through the day. Two hours, two hours and two hours. I got a chance to catch up with a few Player Personnel Directors from other teams, talk to some scouts and chat with Sam Rutigliano. Houston had a lot of guys here. The Giants are going to be represented by Jerry Reese and Dave Gettleman, but neither is here today so I can speak freely to some of my contacts.. One exec from another team asks me if I have my sticks along. Sadly, I confess that I don’t golf anymore, it’s too time consuming and enervating. Cell phones are ringing everywhere. The Eagles and Ravens scouts are roaming once again as a tandem; lots of activity. My friend and I talk about the philosophy of the Euro experience and I note that teams don’t seem to be sending a lot of developmental players anymore. He confirms that with the change in off-season rules, you can pull a guy out now and work with him, so most teams are not willing to risk an injury, or lose individual workout time with their prospects, unless they are guys who otherwise are not going to get game time. This is mostly QBs and RBs, so you see a few quality prospects here. Mostly, these players are here for a lookover, a ready reserve in case some one goes down, or you have a need during the season.
We talk about Jessie and the nature of the business. It is interesting as I give him my take on the whole affair and tell him it’s not right to abuse a warrior, a guy who has given you everything. Now, he’s not going to break ranks. He tells me his team had one such player last year, and it was tough. Then he got quiet. Finally he broke his silence and said to me “but you are correct, it’s not right.” There’s a lot going on in the front office part of the business these days and the pressures are immense. We talk about the Super Bowl and he tells me that even the 3 year window is out. “Now,” he says, “SB teams come out of the blue.” I add, ” Yeah, and they go back into the blue.” He laughs in agreement, but it is clear that teams going to the Super Bowl are doing it the NE way, by putting together a very short term cast of players, then folding it to meet the cap. So to me it looks like EA’s 3 year window has run out and he is now dismantling the team that got there accidentally. When he clears all the names we are used to cheering for, he will have some money to go get some hired guns and make a run for the ring. Rich boys want their rings and they figure the fans could care less anymore, just give them a chance to buy that championship jersey and they’ll be happy. Pretty lousy, if you ask me.
The Claymores are here so I wander over and bump into old friend Pita Elisara, now the property of the Eagles. His big hair is gone. His head is closely shaven and he’s wearing a sweat cap. “I did it for Mom, last Mother’s day; got to take care of Mom, you know.” We laugh and talk about his XFL experience and Jim Skipper. He tells me, “Coach McNally didn’t like me, I guess. He’s got his guys, and that’s OK.” He shows me Andy Stensrud and I start talking to him. He’s a big kid, 6’7″ he says, weighing about 315. He asks me about the coaches and camp. He seems to have jitters and tells me he’s been away for a while, but he’s working on his technique. I ask how he is getting ready and he tells me, “Watching film hard. Working on technique. Knocking the rust off.” He feels like he’s holding his own and after watching him, I’d say he is. He’s very tall and one of the things he’s having some problems with is getting low on the bull rushers. He grabs the face mask a couple of times, but when he settled down, he showed some quickness, some strength. The gentle giant is a project, but with his size, he’s worth a look.
One of the things I really like about these scrimmages is that I’m right out on the field for the individual drills. Watching the offensive/defensive linemen go at it is fun. Speed against strength. Leg drive, hands. Fights break out, but not too many as the coaches get all over these kids. There is a lot of screaming. The tackles are the largest guys on the field, the guards slightly smaller, the centers comparatively small. The defensive ends are chiseled and quick, the defensive tackles use force. Advantage is always to the defense on the first drill. Then it’s interesting to watch the linemen adjust and neutralize the rush. Mostly for the tackles, its lock on and ride outside, for the guards, it’s get upper leverage and push the defensive linemen down.
I never caught up to Matt Layow and I watched Jody Littleton practice his snapping. Other former Giants here are Ray Redziniak, and Cedric Pittman . I talk to Gabe Lindstom who is ready to come back and give Rodney a battle for the job. He asks me not to take his photo because he’s wearing a Bucs cap. We laugh and I oblige him. Josh Stamer is here with the Admirals. He’s an interesting guy. A linebacker out of University of South Dakota, who arrived there as a basketball player, then switched to football in his second year. He surprises me with two statements: first, that he watched the Giants every game on TV; second, that he is on BBI a lot. He roomed with Ross Kolodziej in camp, checks in with him every now and then, and he now bleeds Giants’ blue. He told me, “You go through camp with guys like that and establish relationships. I recognized the defenses the Giants were running, and I stayed up with the team.” He told me he wished he was there playing with them and hopes he gets another chance this year. Josh just looks tough. He told me his biggest attribute “is my speed, which helps me to get into position to make plays and to drop back into coverage.” He is a SAM, but is now working as a Mike. He looked confused out there as I watched and was having trouble making a decision on which way to go in coverage. He also took a pretty good whack and I overheard him telling one of the coaches that he couldn’t hear a thing in his left ear. So his balance might have been affected also. He told me Euro was full of different challenges “physically and mentally and that’s the kind of guy I am in life in general, I’m a competitor.” He’s a gamer and he’s a BBI man, so let’s wish him the best of luck.
Finally, the biggest surprise, D.J. Dinkins, a guy I liked from the start. This kid is so talented, so humble, that he deserves a look somewhere. He wasn’t working as a QB and the Giants apparently aren’t insisting on it. He’s got an arm, he’s big, 6’4″, 245 pounds, and he needs some work. But he was at the end position. He held his position on a number of running plays, he ran over the middle on patterns. He’s tall and graceful and tough. I asked him about the experience so far and he told me, “It’s been a major experience for me coming from University of Pittsburgh and semi-pro ball. I’m here with good guys and I’m learning a lot every day and staying humble out here because if I take one day off, that’s one day that somebody else is going to get better than me. I’m probing the coaches’ minds trying to get everything I can off them so when the Giants’ camp comes around, I’m going to make that team, hopefully, and be a good player for them.”
I asked him about the road he’s been on and he gushed, “It’s a true blessing from God. I can’t say enough about my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who just really helped me out and blessed me. The rest is going to be on me and how hard I work. He’s opened the door for me, now it’s time to walk through that thing and produce on the field. I can’t wait. Coach Payton is really cool. I think I’m going to like him as an offensive coordinator and I can learn a lot from him and the quarterbacks already there. When the opportunity comes, I’m going to make the most of it.” I teased him about being so talented he was playing all over the field, and he laughed and told me, “Hey, basically, you put me in there. I’d love to play QB, but if somebody goes down and they put me in there someplace, it makes no difference. I love to go out there and play. I love the game. If I have to hold the ball for the kicker, kick punts, whatever, I just love the game, I’m ready to go.”
D.J. is, as I said, a big guy. I asked him his “true” speed and he told me “4.58 or 4.59, and I’m not afraid to block, not afraid to throw, not afraid to catch. I just love the game. It’s not about the $ signs. It’s about going against some of the best players, like MS, Tiki Barber; this is going to be the best opportunity I have to excel.” We were sitting on the bench and he leaned over conspiratorially and whispered to me, “I’m better than this guy, but the coaches have to play him – that’s why his team allocated him.” This guy happened to be Tee Martin. You know what, I believe D.J.is right. Earlier my exec friend and I had discussed the QBs and we laughed about the “statue” quarterbacks in the ranks. I told him how I longed for a QB who could move and gun on the run. This young man, D.J. Dinkins could be a # 2 or a #3. Let’s hope he gets the chance.
I wrapped the day with an old buddy, Kory Blackwell. KB is a veteran now. He looks and sounds like Philippi Sparks, who he admires. He is truly dumbfounded that I am here and remember him. He tells me, “Three more years, somebody has got to pick me up and give me three more years.” The dream – it doesn’t die. I wish him well and as he walks away he tells me thank you and he strikes his heart three times.
Most of these guys will disappear in a few years, but all will have been better and richer for this experience. A few will make it. I like it here. No whiners, no rich guys, no media, nobody calling them camp fodder. Just a bunch of good kids, living a dream.