|Benny Selu/US Presswire|
|Aaron Rodgers is getting ready for his eighth training camp with the Packers (and fifth as the starting QB).|
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. -- The wondrous features of one of Earth's most scenic landscapes is the backdrop for their final hurrah.
The towering mountains, the bluest lake you will ever see, the sky that goes on forever in a real-life watercolor you can touch. For the chosen dozen or so, it is reality. A haven for skiers in the winter, campers in the summer ... and football players in mid-July.
The 23rd Annual American Century Golf Championship takes place on the shores of Lake Tahoe this time every year, but for many who will join NFL training camps next week, the course isn't the main attraction.
Instead, it's the breaths they can take. The sleep they can gain. The gossip they can share. The family members they can hug. And yes, the beers they can drink.
Football preseason is around the corner, and with that comes all kinds of anticipation. There is also stress, physical exertion and pain. It's why so many cherish simply being asked to tee it up in events like these so close to camp.
"My family, we didn't take many vacations when I was younger. So to be able to spend time with your family at such a beautiful part of the country, I think is a blessing in itself," Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin said. "I'm going to take advantage of being asked to come here. I'm fortunate. I'm going to try to play my best. Just going to enjoy it as a family and take it from there."
Austin hasn't completely pushed aside football this summer. In fact, he's been a daily fixture at his team's facility in Valley Ranch, staying in shape. But this week, he will try for the last time to step away before stepping into the fire in Oxnard, Calif.
He isn't alone. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers played a round Tuesday with some buddies, including teammate A.J. Hawk. Rodgers declined a pre-round interview request, saying his mind was only on the course. As in, not football. Considering Rodgers' stellar work ethic -- and recent Super Bowl ring -- it's safe to say he's earned the leeway. He's to be trusted on when to ease off the gas.
Hawk takes the same approach. When it's time for football, line up, crack some pads and let's go. When it's not, he steps back, which is why he's here.
"This is the last thing I do, the last three years, before going to camp," Hawk said.
During the season, Hawk can spend 12 to 15 hours per day at the Packers facility. Many of his teammates join him. There is always work to be done. But in times like these, the lazy breeze before the monsoon, Hawk values the calm.
"I definitely take a mental break from it," he said. "When I go home from football, I'm home. I have a year-and-a-half-old daughter. If I miss a tackle or do something bad, I don't want to bring that home to my little daughter. She's not going to understand that. ... Now, you need this break."
Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course is teeming with avenues for training advice if the players so choose. There are countless ex-stars, from hockey's Jeremy Roenick to skier Bode Miller to soccer's Brandi Chastain to baseball's Goose Gossage and Joe Carter. And on and on.
If the NFL's stars of today wanted help on how to treat the final week before the madness, the royalty from other sports was more than willing to offer advice. It's safe to say, the grizzled ex-players favored setting their sport aside right up until camp.
"When I played hockey, I always had my last hurrah," said Roenick, the 500-goal scorer who played 18 NHL seasons. "I would go away on a trip, I'd make sure I had fun. I drank, I still worked out, but I blew it out, because I knew that training camp becomes a grueling mess for about a month. I'm sure these guys are the same. They're obviously very conscious of where they're going. They want to go out in style and there is no better place to go out than here in Lake Tahoe."
Players do sneak away for workouts. Several athletes mentioned the football players had lifting or running on their agendas. But mostly, it's a time for a last recharge.
"You got to get away because you know you're going to go through the grind," ex-major league pitcher David Wells said. "You just want to try to put everything aside -- guys get their workouts in in the morning or the afternoon -- and then come out and golf. If they're smart, they're not even thinking any football, just relaxing. It's a grind. You need something to mellow you out, have some fun. Got great scenery, great people around here. Get a couple cocktails in you because you know you'll have to sweat it out pretty soon."
Less than a week for some. Yeah, they know. So do their coaches and fans. Perhaps that's why so many advocated not reminding them. Reality, really, will hit soon enough.
"You don't want to have your mind going crazy thinking 24/7 on that sport," former MLB outfielder Kenny Lofton said. "It makes you go crazy. There's a time to just relax your mind. Because once you get there, you're going to be 100 percent into that thinking. Why do it that soon? It won't help."
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