There is no longer an offseason in professional football with minicamp, authorized team workouts (OTAs) and mandatory strength and conditioning constituting the year-round profession the NFL is today.
But in the early days of the game and up until the 1990s, training camp was pretty much the start of everything associated with the sport. Players held off-season jobs, usually in communities where they played, and when they came to camp, it was as much to get in some kind of playing shape as it was to learn the offense and defense, get acquainted with new teammates and see what the head coach had planned for the coming year.
In the history of the Kansas City Chiefs, the franchise has had five training camp locations: Roswell, New Mexico, Dallas, Texas, Liberty, Missouri, River Falls, Wisconsin, and St. Joseph, Missouri, but perhaps the most interesting camp of all was a tryout camp in 1960 just prior to the opening of training camp leading to the American Football League's first season of play.
Tryout camps were always an amalgam of off-the-street wannabe's, aging vets who couldn't cut it in the big leagues anymore, and young, just-out-of-college players to whom playing professional football was little more than a dream, at least until the AFL came along. This sort of camp would be repeated years later when the World Football League and United States Football League came on the scene.
Smokey Stover, an undersized linebacker out of Northeast Louisiana College, had received a recommendation from his coach, Jack Rowen, and had been invited to attend the camp by Will Walls, a Dallas Texans' scout at the time who had sent out feelers to various colleges looking for players for the new league.
On July 5, 1960, 129 players reported to Dallas' Jesuit High School. As the lengthy list of players began taking physicals, one particularly "large guy," to hear Stover tell it, had a blood pressure level that was so high that the attending doctors had to have him recline on a bed for fear he might have a heart attack.
"And we hadn't even started working out yet," Stover remembered.
Overseeing the camp was the full slate of Texans' coaches, including Hank Stram, Bill Walsh, Ed Hughes and Tom Catlin. These were not big staffs, nothing even close to the size of Andy Reid's staff today. Stram's staff took turns leading the horde of prospective players in calisthenics. As the practice progressed, more and more players began dropping out as temperatures soared.
Stover recalled as many as 60 players called it quits in the first hour and a half of the first day.
Two-a-day drills continued for 10 days, and although the players were working with no pads, the number of participants continued to dwindle. By the time the camp ended, Stram and company had selected only 17 players out of the original 129, and the survivors were off to Roswell, New Mexico and the "official" start of training camp.
"We looked like prisoners of war," Stover recalled as he and his fellow survivors started off to New Mexico. Of the 17 who migrated to Roswell, only Stover and Al Reynolds made the team from the earlier camp, a testament to their perseverance, not to mention their play.
Stover went on to play for the Texans and then the Chiefs for six years, including in Super Bowl I.