|Brian Garfinkel/Associated Press|
|After a long football dry spell, fans flock to NFL training camps to watch their favorite players at no cost.|
It's time for them to kiss their wives and hug their babies. Time to pack their bags and head for the hotel. It's time for grown men -- really large grown men -- to hit the big kid's version of summer camp.
But this isn't your average summer camp. No, kids don't sweat like this. They don't ever endure this type of grueling battle that combines physical hardship and mental anguish, all for a shot at the dream that has been gnawing at their minds for years.
Can you feel it? Can you hear it? Yes, NFL training camp is upon us. It is here faster than you knew it would be, even though it once felt like it would never come again.
And so, as the league embarks on 42 roster-shaping days between now and the start of the NFL's regular season, we'll remind you what it's all about with 42 reasons why everyone should cherish training camp.
We love ...
1. The first training camp fight.
2. New hope.
3. The smell of sunscreen.
4. The mind-numbing questions from minutia-obsessed reporters. Does it really matter how well the third-string left guard pulls from one side to the other?
5. The fresh white paint on the short green grass -- and the inevitable trampling it will take.
6. The massive roster so big it often fills two legal-sized sheets of paper.
7. The sound of distant whistles.
8. Fans who bring the folded-up sports page for the roster printed on 6C of their local newspaper.
9. When chunks of grass that look like golf divots get stuck in facemasks.
10. The no-contact jerseys worn by quarterbacks that say, Yes, this man is our most important player.
11. When head coaches scream.
12. When fans know the names of players buried six deep on a depth chart. That's hardcore.
13. The debates between players who believe their team will win the Super Bowl and reporters who believe they'll only win four games.
14. The skull caps worn over the helmets of players during special teams drills and the inevitable questions from fans when they see them.
15. When agents stand arms crossed in a corner of the bleachers, all by themselves, watching their clients like parents watching their children.
16. The players' wives section. Who doesn't love that?
17. That training camp is free for fans.
18. When, in the middle of a long practice when the sun's heat has quieted the crowd, a great catch on the field immediately wakes everyone up.
19. The sound of shoulder pads popping.
20. Post-practice gassers (because we don't have to do them).
21. The cold tub (because we don't have to get in it).
22. When reporters standing idle complain about the heat while players on the field, hidden under helmets, work through it like warriors.
23. The sound of the fog horn that signals the end of one drill and the start of another.
24. The two-minute drill.
25. When wide receivers and cornerbacks don't get along.
26. Fans who wear weathered, peeling jerseys with names of players long retired.
27. Grown men who paint their faces. Really?
28. Watching autograph sessions after practice to see which player stays the longest.
29. The way a great quarterback throws a pass in practice that just looks different than a pass thrown by anyone else.
30. Grass stains.
31. When summer storms roll through, forcing players to stampede like cattle toward an indoor field.
32. The wet-ball drill.
33. When a player who appears injured pops to his feet and runs back to the huddle to live another down.
34. That, when fans go home after a practice ends, players still have hours of meetings left to attend.
35. The first scrimmage of training camp.
36. The video camera that tapes practice from the high-standing crane, letting every player know that every move they make is being recorded.
37. Radio shows that broadcast live from the bleachers.
38. Watching players spend a few minutes with family members before retreating back to the locker room like kids back to summer camp.
39. When players get water breaks.
40. That every snap counts and every moment matters.
41. That a dream will be realized for some, even as disappointment will be felt for more.
42. That football is back again.
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington