Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud entered a high school practice field in suburban Atlanta for a seven-on-seven session a few weeks ago carrying the pink-highlighted cleats that many players wore to raise awareness for breast cancer research last season. He said those happened to be the only shoes he nabbed from his locker before the NFL lockout kicked in -- and kicked him out of the team facility in Flowery Branch, Ga.
San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers said he bought his own case of water for team workouts. I had to lend my hand towel to Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain to wipe his brow before he did an on-camera interview because he didn't have one. The Carolina Panthers hired a cop to keep the media way from their private sessions. The New England Patriots reportedly did the same.
Not since high school have NFL players had to fend so much for themselves -- even to get in a glorified game of touch football. Watching these players arrive to a workout with bags, balls -- their kids -- has been like witnessing soccer dads haul coolers of foil juice packs and granola bars to the recreation fields for a tournament.
For an NFL player, that's slumming.
Usually this time of year, players are at their respective facilities, getting stretched by trainers, having batting gloves brought to them and asking medical staffers to add another round of tape around their wrists. Fields are lined with jugs of water and bottles of flavored sports drinks. Machines zip balls to receivers and punt returners, and trainers are there for every muscle tweak.
What a difference labor strife makes.
When the Raiders gathered in suburban Atlanta recently for a three-day minicamp, Campbell went into the huddle with a folder filled with loose-leaf paper and the team's offensive plays. A wind gust could have sent his belongings awry and made some wayward observer some coin on eBay. Ryan and other quarterbacks, including Minnesota Vikings rookie Christian Ponder, have had playbooks, too, and spent time before workouts scripting drills.
At least the Raiders had personal trainers from Competitive Edge Sports run their sessions. Staffers filmed positional workouts. They provided ice and water bottles and lugged dummies, balls and other training gear in trailers. Other players might not even know where to go to buy cones to run through since they probably haven't had to in years. That leads to another subject: cost.
Players -- or their agents -- have to pay to train. The cost could range upwards of $2,000 or $3,000 per player per month if players don't live where they train and have to rent apartments. Top-shelf facilities such as CES, Athletes Performance and Tom Shaw's camp in Orlando aren't cheap. Some agents have told me they've put the onus on the players because the agents have to feed their families, too.
Travelle Gaines, who runs AP's training staff and is based in Los Angeles, along with CES founder Chip Smith, told me the lockout has been good for business. Usually they'd be training high school or college athletes this time of year or in Gaines' case, "this is when I'd usually be fishing in Louisiana." Now they have dozens of professionals coming in nearly every day looking for help.
There's a flip side, though. Some players have retreated from those workouts or not come at all because they're sticking to a tight budget in case of a lengthy lockout. Gaines, Smith and other trainers have said they're worried that those players who aren't training might not be disciplined enough to train on their own and, when football starts, resort to crash diets or diuretics to cut weight.
There's also another face to this: the undrafted free agents. Most of these guys don't have deep-pocketed agents to front them money to train or eat properly. They'll also have a much shorter window to catch coaches' attention once football resumes. Keep in mind, they're also the guys who are worked the hardest in training camp because they're the ones spelling the veterans who get to rest one of the twice daily workouts.
They can't miss a snap. These are the guys desperate to train.
At least one of these guys is quite resourceful -- and there probably are plenty of others. A rookie free agent who shall remain unnamed is one of 30 or so players who trains daily with Smith at CES. In lieu of payment, Smith has allowed him to work at the facility in the afternoons and evenings behind the front desk, cleaning up the weight room.
Whatever needs to be done.
An added benefit: The player also gets free beverages, snack bars and locker-room facilities. He also gets to train, which could make the difference between him playing football or working at one of the facilities full time in the fall.