I was given a rare treat last week as the publisher of this website invited me to go to training camp with him as a member of the media. I was grateful, excited and nervous all at once.
I knew going in that I had to be professional about it but deep inside I was just a giddy fan. I had no idea what to expect. What was I going to see that maybe the regular fan doesn't get to see from their vantage point across the practice field? Would I get to have exclusive one on one conversations with the players I root for? Was I going to be exposed to more full frontal nudity than an episode of Oz? How much therapy would that require if I was?
Well here is what transpired and some observations: The day started as I met with this site's publisher Sean Deegan for breakfast at a diner just down the road from Hofstra. Apparently scrambled eggs calm a nervous stomach. He gave me some pointers on what to expect and I thanked him a few more times. Then we were off, heading down Hempstead turnpike towards Hofstra for the Jet's AM practice.
When we got there we parked in some obscure lot somewhere in the labyrinth that is Hofstra University. I swear if I didn't follow people in and out of that school I would still be in there now, wandering around trying to find the Meadowbrook Parkway.
As we approached the doors for the pressroom some fans came by asking us how to get to the training field. Sean gave them directions and advised them not to follow us because we were with the press and they couldn't go where we were going. That sent a rush through my body. It was like finding out you had backstage passes to a concert. Suddenly I was authorized personnel. We entered after Sean punched in a door code on a keypad; we turned two keys simultaneously and gave blood samples.
The minute we walked in I recognized a few faces as sportswriters I read regularly. They looked tired, just like anyone else would at their job around 8:00am. I felt like a fish out of water. Here I was. A writer, but also a fan fortunate enough to have the unique opportunity to cover his favorite team up close. I wondered if beat writers and media surrounding me knew how lucky they were to have such great jobs. I started to think about all of the classic moments in sports that they may have witnessed. How many games have they watched? Were they tired and jaded from years of covering sports? I thought how sad it was that before their eyes they have seen some of the greatest players of our era and maybe they didn't appreciate it any more.
I followed everyone onto the field. I could hear Mike Westhoff's voice bellowing out orders. Some players were still approaching the field in small pairings and chatting on the sidelines. I had to step around Marvin Jones to get to a spot where I could follow the action on the field. I kept thinking to myself, "I just moved Marvin Jones out of my way." Like I said: giddy fan.
Practice seemed like organized chaos in the beginning, groups all over the field while Edwards watched with his hands behind his back. His assistants did most of the on hand coaching while he would just interject either some words of encouragement or some detailed direction.
The entire process seems to be an extension of Edwards. There is a sense of joviality and camaraderie among the players that I don't normally pick up on from my TV screen. Even as the team began to take the field you could hear Edwards urge on Jason Ferguson with an affable plea, "Come on Fergie, let's go, you huffing and puffing already."
I also noticed how large and quick some players were. Lamont Jordan's biceps were about the size of my head. Chester McGlockton looked as though he were a giant. Brooks Bollinger look diminutive compared to the lineman he stood next to and he is over six feet tall. Whenever the players made contact it sounded like cars crashing into each other. No wonder everyone is taped up afterwards.
I witnessed just how graceful and courteous Curtis Martin was first hand. During practice he seemed to glide across the field. Everything came so easy to him. It seemed effortless for him to swiftly maneuver around defensive players. Later on after the morning session was over it looked as though a few friends came over to him and as one female said hello and went to hug him he wouldn't let her, stating how he was dirty and wet with sweat and didn't want to ruin her shirt. He came across as a class act.
At 10:30 sharp the whistle sounded to end practice and suddenly everyone in the media started to swarm around the exit of the field. It was like my dog whenever I open the refrigerator door. He comes over and meanders around looking for some scrap to fall. That was the media. Pointing at players and trying to get their attention so they could ask a few questions about that morning, or the next game, or the upcoming season. Over behind the fence were some autograph hounds beckoning for the players to sign something when it occurred to me that the press was no different from them. They were just on the other side of the fence.
As we all walked in I noticed four players signing some autographs, Chad Pennington, Wayne Cherebet, Curtis Martin, and James Dearth. I didn't know it was Dearth, someone told me that. I just want to know who was asking for his autograph? I remember the Giants-49ers playoff game just as much as everyone else but still...the three stars on offense and the long snapper? I don't get it.
The press conference itself was nothing special. Edwards came in looking tired and gave us some info on injuries and who had the morning session off. Then there were some questions peppered around the room and it was over. Jets Insider writer Kevin Newell, who was also with us, was nice enough to get me a Jets media guide, which was probably about twice the size of my apartment. It had everyone's picture in it, from the head coach to the food preparers.
Sean gave me the honor of preparing the daily practice synopsis for the website. After Herm's press conference, I commandeered an available computer in the press room, wrote up my summary and observations from practice. Aster a quick edit, Sean uploaded the story to the website instantly. Good to see my presence at practice resulted in something for the site.
Finally we made our way to the cafeteria. There is no press locker room access during training camp due to the huge roster and lack of space so the only time you can interview players one on one in when they are coming and going for lunch. We got there and had to wait until the players received their allotted time to eat in peace. There were some fans pleading anybody who walked by to come over and sign autographs. Guys like Chris Smith and Dave Yovanovits had moments in the sun. Some players rode up on bicycles like John McGraw (who looks like a skinnier, younger Dolph Lundgren) and Kevin Mawae. Other rolled up in their cars. I counted nineteen Escalades. They were all sort of gaudy colors, had personal license plates, and hubcaps that spun around after the car had stopped. It was like some ridiculous car show of Pimps. Although I didn't personally interview any players I got to see many up close. Most of them seemed very cordial. A few stopped and commented for the gathered beat writers.
After the players eat, the cafeteria opens to the media. Free food to boot! We sat to eat and they had everything and loads of it. I am starting to see why many sports writers carry around about an extra twenty to fifty pounds. You had about two hours until the next session started and more food than Thanksgiving in front of you.
So what did I learn? Probably nothing. For the most part the players are quiet. That everything is green and white everywhere in Jetland. If you feel like you overeat in the cafeteria you can always do some curls with the press releases the team gives you. I also learned that if I had to choose between being a fan or a member of the press I would choose fan hands down. As a fan you can get lost in the moments that help define our love for these games. You can drown in the euphoria. All it seems a reporter can do is take notes.