View Full Version : Merrill: Camp Life

08-07-2005, 07:40 AM
Camp life

Little sleep. Big days. Big men. Little rooms. It’s 24 days of work and a screaming Gun that get the Chiefs ready to go.


The Kansas City Star

The days are running together until Monday is the same as Friday. The 5:45 a.m. wakeup calls, the 8 a.m. practices, the cafeteria ice cream, the naps on the twin beds pushed together in their 165-square-foot, tile-floored dorm rooms. Had the rookies known it was going to be like this, they would’ve packed an air mattress. Or a rug for their tired, cold feet.

“They’ll learn next year,” receiver Marc Boerigter says. “It’s part of rookie hazing.”

So up they go to the fourth floor. Sam Gado, whose eyeball is bright red from a finger-poke through his helmet, grabs on to the blanket that his mother made him. Boomer Grigsby reads a folder of letters from his family. It’s the middle of the afternoon, and the tin foil blocks out the sun. They force themselves to sleep.

For 24 days each summer, this is the life of the Kansas City Chiefs at training camp. They eat, sleep, shower, shave, fight, sing and suffer together. There are 91 of them on the team now. In one month, there will be 53. Few teams in the NFL take an approach this extreme to training camp. For 15 years, president/general manager Carl Peterson has shipped the team six hours north to River Falls to live in the dorms.

He wants them to focus. And to bond. And sometimes, it’s easier to relate when every player — whether it’s Pro Bowl tight end/reality show star Tony Gonzalez or undrafted rookie Gado — is living the same 11-by-13 life.

They just have different stories.

Training camp is about missing your family.

After six summers in River Falls, Kendall Gammon knows exactly what to pack. He rents a thick mattress that he piles on top of the twin beds. He brings a computer so he can videoconference home.

Gammon has to see the faces of his young boys. When he started out in the NFL as one of the few long-snappers in the game, Gammon hated training camp for a different reason. Football consumed him, and he constantly worried about being cut.

Then Gammon and his wife, Leslie, had children.

“The thing I hate the most is being away from my family,” Gammon says, “not being able to see them every day. It’s hard on me because they’re who I am and what I’m about.”

Gammon’s family is in town for their first visit to training camp. They’re staying at the Holiday Inn Express 10 miles away in Hudson. When practice ends Saturday morning, 8-year-old Blaise and 5-year-old Drake run on the field to play catch with quarterback Trent Green and his two boys. Green’s kids are wearing his No. 10 jersey; Gammon’s boys are faithfully decked out in No. 83.

Green instructs his youngest boy, Derek, to run into the end zone and celebrate. Derek spikes the ball and does the Worm, a celebration made famous by former Chief Johnnie Morton. The wives laugh. Saturday is Family Fun Night, complete with fireworks and a practice under the lights.

The families have little time together in River Falls. An off day Thursday, a moment or two between practices and meetings and meals. Gammon is 36 and has an 11:30 p.m. curfew and bed check.

He sits in his room late at night, alone, and types on his Mac. He’s writing a book that will hit the stands in October, about his 14-year career, his family, his beliefs.

Somewhere in the book, Gammon undoubtedly has his favorite line: “Only in America can you snap a ball between your legs and get paid for it.”

Somewhere else, maybe there’s a chapter on training camp.

“Is it going to be on The New York Times bestseller list? I don’t know,” Gammon said. “But it’s a good sanity measure for me.”

Training camp is about getting your ear chewed and your body punished.

At 29, Eric Hicks is feeling the effects of eight years as an NFL defensive end. He rolls over at night, on his inflatable mattress, and is awakened by the pain of busted bursa sacs on his elbows.

His fingers are mangled. His body is arthritic. Nearly every day, a young offensive tackle is tugging on his jersey, trying, as Hicks says, to kick his butt.

“You start to think about that stuff, and it kind of gets you down mentally,” Hicks says. “But you can’t worry about that. You’re paid to pretty much donate your body to science.”

In the first defensive meeting of training camp, coordinator Gunther Cunningham was downright scary even to the veterans. He laid everything out, said he was going to ride the defense hard, said he wasn’t going to let up.

“There were a lot of f-bombs,” Hicks says.

“He’s on a personal mission to make this defense No. 1 in the National Football League, and I think he might die if he doesn’t get it done.”

In that first meeting, the fire was directed at a unit that finished 31st in the NFL in 2004. In practice, it’s been spewed at individuals. Cunningham tells a cornerback if he’s going to stand there and watch the ball, he’ll have his daughter do it.

He’s calling out his players, but he isn’t trying to embarrass them, Hicks says. “Gun” just wants it done right. Hicks has known Cunningham for eight years, and he’s never seen the defensive coordinator this intense.

Hicks lists Cunningham’s favorite lines, in no particular order:

“Use your helmet!”

“Hit ’em right between the eyes!”

“Hit them in the (freakin’) mouth!”

Maybe it’s because he’s getting older, but Hicks has found this training camp more difficult. More physical. The aches and pains don’t seem to go away as quickly. He retreats to his dorm room and sleeps in-between practices.

The people at Wisconsin-River Falls, by the way, cringe at the word “dorm.” They call them residence halls. A residence hall, they say, is a living and learning experience. A dorm is a room providing sleeping quarters for a number of persons.

While the Chiefs are in River Falls for 24 days, they’re dorms. The pool table on the bottom floor is covered to make room for a snack area. A greaseboard in the lobby lists the day’s activities. On Saturday, there were 19 entries.

Hicks takes a minimalist approach to training camp, keeping only a bag of Twizzlers on his nightstand.

“I wake up in the middle of the night and I eat Twizzlers,” he says. “I don’t know why.”

In the middle of the night, the team has its biggest reminder that it is in a dorm — um, residence hall. To use the restroom, they must put on their flip-flops and walk down the hall to the communal bathrooms. For 11 months a year, Hicks lives in suburbia in Overland Park. For the other month, he’s confined to a tiny room that is barely big enough to fit a bookshelf, a bed and a dresser.

“I think being regimented in training camp like this is good,” Hicks says. “It keeps everybody together.”

Training camp is about routine and monotony.

The digital alarms go off at 5:45, the players hustle next door to the Rodli Commons for breakfast at 6. Their schedule is mapped out from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. — four hours of practice, a couple of hours of meetings, two hours of taping, three hours in the afternoon to rest. Even snacking is on the schedule, from 10 to 10:30 p.m.

Defensive tackle Lional Dalton walks gingerly up the stairs to reach the cafeteria. Three-hundred pound men sit at tiny tables to eat three times a day. Saturday’s lunch menu, scribbled on a chalkboard in front of the cafeteria, has an international flavor — sao pao shrimp soup, orange sesame chicken, Jack Daniel’s pork. One tired player says he’ll skip the pork and take the Jack Daniel’s.

As each athlete walks into the cafeteria, a worker crosses his name off a list.

“It’s college. That’s what it reminds you of,” says Grigsby, who sings, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ’ as he enters the lunch line. “You’ve got your usual little dormitory with the tiny twin-sized beds, you stick two of them together and try to make sure they don’t slide out in the middle.

“It’s dim-lighted, kind of dark, musty … your typical college dorm room. It’s not gross. It’s kind of like an old school building.”

The coaches, scouts and even Peterson, the GM, stay at Grimm Hall, which is next door to McMillan. The good news is that nobody, players or coaches, has to share a room. The bad news is that just about everybody shares showers except for Vermeil, who stays in a larger-sized apartment at Grimm Hall.

If the players want to watch TV, they rent a Samsung from the university for about $75. With a cable hookup, they can get the NFL Network.

Gado says he doesn’t mind the dorms. He’s lived in them for four years at Liberty. He’s happy just to be here. Boerigter, who keeps pictures of his family on his nightstand, isn’t quite so content.

“They suck,” he says. “Everything sucks about it. Just the fact that you’re back in the dorm. … A lot of guys haven’t lived there since their freshman year of college. I guess you can say what you want about camaraderie. It’s training camp, guys are tired and stuff, so you just retire to your room and you don’t get a whole lot of time to hang out.”

The bathrooms seem to be the biggest source of complaints. A handmade sign outside the first-floor restroom says, “This bathroom will be closed from 7 to 7:30 for cleaning.”

Grigsby, who nicknamed the rookie hike to the fourth floor at McMillan “The Walk of Shame” and “The Trail of Tears,” suggests that the university install urinals in every dorm room.

“By the time I get up out of bed, go to the door, walk down the hallway and go to the bathroom, I’ve been awake for like four minutes,” he says. “So I’m completely alert. I might as well come to practice, but it’s 2 or 3 in the morning. It’s hard to go back to sleep.”

Training camp is about having too much time to think.

When Nick Murphy lies in bed, he wonders where he’ll be sleeping in a month. He’s the backup punter, his apartment lease expires Sept. 30, and that’s all Murphy can definitively say. Well, that and he feels sort of lost. He’s standing outside the cafeteria, reminiscing about the call he got in mid-December. Bill Kuharich, the Chiefs’ vice president of pro personnel, was on the line.

“How’d you like to punt on Christmas?” Kuharich said.

Murphy thinks he said all right.

The Chiefs had already gone through two punters, and Murphy was joining his second team in 2004. He punted 22 times last season, averaging 43.9 yards per punt. After shuffling through training camps in Minnesota and Philadelphia and punting in NFL Europe, Murphy thought he’d finally found a home.

Then in April, the Chiefs used their third-round draft pick on Dustin Colquitt, an All-American punter from Tennessee.

“I think everybody in the back of their head knows the reality of the situation, and until it’s actually done you have to go on as if you’re going to be here,” Murphy says. “But you don’t draft a punter in the third round and cut him.

“It’s tough to sit in the meetings and listen to coaches talk about goals and our schedule. … It’s stressful as hell because you don’t know where you’ll live, you don’t know how you’re going to make your money. Come Sept. 11, am I going to be somewhere, am I going to be here, or am I going to be in Arizona working for my dad?”

Murphy had four kicks Friday, four chances to prove he should stay. Colquitt had eight. He sees the Chiefs’ front-office people talking to Frank Gansz Jr., the special-teams coach. All he hears is Colquitt’s name being whispered.

But they’ve managed to become friends in spite of the circumstances, and Colquitt, Boerigter and Murphy went to see “Wedding Crashers” on Thursday, their day off. Colquitt then took Murphy out to eat at the local Perkins.

“I’m not mad at him,” Murphy says. “It sucks that it happened to me, my job or my team drafted him. But he didn’t do anything wrong. All he’s done is work his butt off, and he’s being rewarded for it. Good for him.”

Murphy has been out in the real world before. He’s been a valet parker, he’s bartended and substitute taught. He recently filled out a Marriott rewards card application. One of the questions asked how many times he’d stayed in a hotel over the past year. He wrote down 200.

“What’s the worst thing that can happen to me? I go out in a 10-minute punt period and I don’t have the best day,” Murphy says. “It could be an awful lot worse. Jim Kelly’s son passed away today. And people have much bigger issues than the potential of losing their job in the NFL.”

He leans up against a wall, as his current teammates pass him, and smiles. He hates this. He can’t stay away from it.

Welcome to training camp.


Mr. Laz
08-07-2005, 10:36 AM
nice article as far as fluff pieces go

08-07-2005, 10:52 AM
Great read.

08-07-2005, 11:09 AM
I miss Ivan Carter... this chicks articles blown ass.

08-07-2005, 11:10 AM
I miss Ivan Carter... this chicks articles blown ass.Whats different?

08-07-2005, 02:12 PM
Pretty good article. She's just trying to write people-centered pieces. I'm not sure she'll make it as a nuts and bolts sports writer, but she does a pretty good job here of finding some of the interesting personal things that go on at camp.

I mean, telling Murphy's story is probably the most interesting thing in there from a human interest standpoint, but it's also probably the thing that most Chiefs fans care the least about from a football fan's perspective.

Mr. Laz
08-07-2005, 02:14 PM
Whats different?

ivan wrote articles from more of a sports aspect

merril writes more from a people aspect

i prefer the sports aspect myself ... but this article by merrill is solid.

08-07-2005, 02:36 PM
I miss Ivan Carter... this chicks articles blown ass.

I miss him, too. FWIW, he's a member here.

But, there's nothing wrong with this Merrill piece. In fact, I think it's one of her better efforts.

08-07-2005, 02:36 PM
I miss him, too. FWIW, he's a member here.


08-07-2005, 02:46 PM
ivan wrote articles from move of a sports aspect

merril writes more from a people aspect

i prefer the sports aspect myself ... but this article by merrill is solid.Thats true, I liked Ivan alot and wish he were still on board but alot of times I think this place pretty much has a lock on the sports perspective. Anything that can be said or any angle comes out here. May god have mercy on the pour soul who tries to write about something we have not covered at length. I usually welcome the pieces about who these guys are and what they are like.

08-07-2005, 02:46 PM
Yup. Signed up with his Post email address. Hasn't posted yet, though.

08-07-2005, 02:47 PM
I usually welcome the pieces about who these guys are and what they are like.

I find those articles most interesting.

Rain Man
08-07-2005, 02:59 PM
Interesting article.

08-07-2005, 03:00 PM
I have no issues with her or her articles. I liked this one, it gives you another perspective on what's happening. Ivan was a favorite of mine too, but I'm not ready to throw Merrill under the bus just yet.

I miss him too. FWIW, he's a member here

Digital Takiwara?

08-07-2005, 03:03 PM
I have no issues with her or her articles. I liked this one, it gives you another perspective on what's happening. Ivan was a favorite of mine too, but I'm not ready to throw Merrill under the bus just yet.

Digital Takiwara?

You can't expect me to invade Ivan's privacy like that, can you?

08-07-2005, 03:07 PM
You can't expect me to invade Ivan's privacy like that, can you?

I would never ask such a thing of you......


08-07-2005, 03:21 PM
Nice piece and the article is not bad either-haha I little sappy on how tough it is up there, jeez it is three weeks!! I have friends that have been in Iraq for almost a year, I am sure they would love to be in River Falls playing football. Shit my high school, practices lasted all day with a half hour lunch break in the Mo. heat. Please they don't have it that bad!! It seems she is going for a sympathy article. That does suck about Murphy seems to be a real stand up guy. But am I going to feel bad when our special teams killed us last year-No I want improvement!! If that means Dustin wins, so be it. The world needs valet guys too. Halfcan

Thig Lyfe
08-07-2005, 04:06 PM
Little sleep. Big days. Big men. Little rooms.

What the hell is this, a picture book?