Ah yes, Training Camp is upon us. The month before NFL kicks off another season of fun and frolics for all. From the outside, (and let's face it until NFL London starts we are pretty firmly situated there) Training Camp looks like a bid to injure as many men as possible you just spent $130,000,000 on.
As you do.
Training Camp is best described as somewhere you'd send someone who has done something very, very bad to you, to have them punished for it. Despite Gridiron Football (Gridiron Football, American Football, Their Football. Anyway let's not get bogged down with semantics; they all mean the same thing) being played in the autumn and winter months, Training Camp is Held in July/August, for the longest hours possible. Usually in the warmest temperatures a coach can find, (and I mean bloody warm. Sadly in 2001 a player died during Training Camp due to heatstroke and dehydration. It really is that hard) and predominantly at a University campus.
Now before you go conjuring up images of these massive lads lepping about in their vest, undercrackers and sand shoes in someone's grotty old gym hall, whilst irate pensioners bang on the door demanding to be in because it's time for their Aerobics session, let me point out that University campus sport facilities Stateside are ridiculously well kitted out. To the point where more money is spent on them than some professional training grounds. In fact the only reason NFL took off at all was because of two things: televised games and college players joining the NFL when they graduated. American Football started in colleges and is such a big deal to this day, that places such as Los Angeles don't even have an NFL team because they don't need one. Fans go the the college games instead.
Anyway I'm digressing. Gridiron Footballers go to these University campuses and stay there for the Best part of a month. They are punished severely in bid to get them in the best shape possible. Continuously. They can play the equivalent of up to 2 games a day and the average NFL game is 3 hours long remember, so that's a fairly horrendous prospect given they'll have done exactly the same thing the day before that. Endless amounts of weight training. Constantly competing against rival athletes. No time to recover from injuries sustained. All whilst smiling during the relentless amounts of filming and interviews for the ever-present media
Sounds smashing doesn't it?
NFL teams are now allowed up to 90 players in their off-season roster. And if they are on the roster they will be invited to Training Camp. Out of these 90 players, *53 of them will be on the official team when season starts. Alas should you now expect to go to an NFL game and see a team on the field the size of which would make So Solid Crew look positively understaffed, allow me to burst your bubble. They like us only have 11 players on the field at a time. However unlike our 3 substitutions per game in the Premier League, NFL games have unlimited amounts of substitutions (hence this 1 hour of actual game time turning into the 3 hour game malarkey that takes place.)
What makes an NFL Training Camps especially lovely to me is that so much of it is fan-based. As with most professional sports worldwide, ticket prices have risen a lot over recent years, but by holding Open Training sessions, teams can charge only nominal fees so everyone can afford to see their team up close in action. And people do go. They take whole families with them. It's a full-on, remarkably cheap day out.
And if you happen to be an Indianapolis Colts supporter then your luck was definitely in this week, because team owner Jim Irsay took it upon himself to go around fans watching Training Camp handing them each $100 notes from his own pocket.
Nice one Jim lad.
I'm going to have myself a wander over to Darsely Park when Mike Ashley pops over to see the NUFC lads back in training. Reckon once he hears about Jim Irsay's act of random kindness he'd be well up for giving it a go himself, seeing as he seems to feel exactly the same way about Toon fans as he does about spending money...
So yes. Training Camp. A careful dance for NFL players everywhere, where striking a perfect balance means getting into shape and pushing enough to be a starter come season- yet trying not to get so injured they can't play at all. Such is the wonder of this legging-clad sport they call American Football. Let's just hope it's more of the former and less of the latter so we can get to see lots of them in action ourselves at Wembley eh...
*It's worth noting that of these 53 players, only 46 will dress to play. Also it used to be only 45, until a couple of years ago when the "46th man" was an inactive player, what they call a third-string Quarter Back (QB). Historically once this QB had been used before the fourth quarter he could not be replaced. Though this rule has changed you will still hear some pundits talk about the "46th man" purely out of habit. There you go chaps. Now you know.