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NFl offseason...1960's compared to now...

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NFL Offseason: Then and Now

By Gil Brandt

NFL.com Senior Analyst

(June 15, 2004) - It's the beginning of summer and NFL teams are in the middle of a slew of minicamps and OTAs (on-field team activities), which we examined recently. Players come in for practice, learn the new nuances and vernacular, bond with teammates and ultimately begin preparing for the 2004 season.

But the NFL offseason was not always this way.

In June 1960, players on the Dallas Cowboys weren't running routes or learning playbooks. They were probably selling concrete or working somewhere for the summer. That's because before the days of year-round workouts, players had to get a part-time job in order to supplement their football income.

So much has changed between my early days with the Cowboys and today. The entire offseason -- from the end of the draft until the first week of games -- has changed considerably. Camps were run differently, games were held all over the country, and even contracts weren't put together the same way (and certainly the money involved has increased).

Offseason preparations

Nowadays you'll hear about players going to quarterback school, or minicamp, or whatever non-voluntary practice a team is holding. The players are physically fit, knowledgeable of the playbook, and in some cases are entitled to receive salary bonuses just for participating. Most players live right in town and could come to practice and then head home each night.

In the '60s, there were no late-spring workouts. Instead, while our players worked their offseason jobs, we asked them to work out on their own. Not all of our players lived in town, so one way we kept up with their progress was by having them send us postcards with their weight and such. We would also send them postcards to guide them through their workouts, which was mainly running since weightlifting wasn't as popular as it is now.

Training camp

The concept of training camp has changed dramatically, mostly because guys come to camp in shape rather than going to camp to get into shape. That you probably knew already, but what you might not have known is that the schedules and locations of training camps have changed a lot.

The Cowboys' first training camp was on the campus of Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. We chose that locale because the weather was nice, the people were friendly, the school was accommodating, and it was far from Dallas so there wouldn't be any distractions. This was the kind of thinking most teams had when deciding where they would practice before the season. In 1963, we moved to California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and stayed there until 1989. Ironically, the Cowboys are going back there this year.

Still, some clubs prefer to travel to nearby college campuses for training camp. For instance, the Packers have been going to St. Norbert's College in De Pere, Wis., for years -- probably longer than any team has travelled to any school for camp. But the trend has been for teams to build state-of-the-art facilities for year-round practice in their home town. These gargantuan buildings have multiple practice fields, a gigantic weight room, roomy locker rooms, a five-star cafeteria, a game room and basketball courts.

In 1960, we arrived at training camp on July 9. Our first preseason game was on Aug. 6, and our first regular-season game was on Sept. 16. So instead of having 10 days before our first preseason game like teams have now, we had three weeks. That was so our players could get into football shape. Now the players arrive to camp in shape.

Teams also used to play six preseason games from 1961 through 1967, when teams played five preseason games. Then from 1968 through 1977, we went back to six games, which was wild since that was nearly 50 percent of our regular-season schedule (12 games). Once, Pittsburgh played in the College All-Star Game in Chicago, so it played seven games. Now everybody plays four preseason games, five if you play out of the country or in the Hall of Fame Game.

We would also play games all over the map. Promoters in smaller towns would guarantee teams a fee if they would play a preseason game there. For instance, we were guaranteed $25,000 to play a game in Pendleton, Ore. Back then, that was a nice chunk of change, so we went and played there. Teams also played games in Sioux Falls, S.D., Bangor, Maine, and Portland, Ore.

It was a win-win: The teams got paid well to play one of their preseason games, the place would sell out and fans would enjoy watching pro football in their hometown. It widened the popularity of the game and proved that football fans weren't just in big cities.

Money matters

One of the huge perks of playing pro football is getting paid -- that's no secret. One of Warren Sapp's favorite lines about football is that he "gets paid a king's ransom to play a kid's game."

Well, back in 1960 a king's ransom was around $20,000 a season. We even had a special "bargaining tactic" that we used when we negotiated with players. A player we wanted would come into our office and we'd come close to a price, say $20,000. At that point, our owner would say, "Well, would you agree to play here for $25,000?" Of course it's a no-brainer -- it's $5,000 more! But we would ask the player to use the extra $5,000 as a down payment on a house in Dallas. To the player, it made the deal an even bigger no-brainer -- now the team is giving the player money to buy a house in town. But for us, it meant the player would be in town all year, which made it a lot easier for us to keep up with him during the offseason.

The total dollars in salary of our first team was slightly over $1,100,000. There are players who make that much in one year. In fact, with the advent of bonuses, escalator clauses and the salary cap, $1.1 million is pocket change. One 2003 playoff team actually paid more money -- $1.8 million -- in workout bonuses.

Training camp is set to open in about a month or so. Back then, rookies who came to camp didn't get any money -- all they got was room, board, a football education and transportation home if he failed to make the team. Once a veteran started playing, then he got $50 a week. In this day and age, a rookie gets $750 a week and a veteran gets $1,000 a week while in training camp -- that's on top of their salary.

True, the money has changed and the offseason schedule has changed. But one thing is for sure -- the game remains the same. Once the whistle blows and the ball is kicked off, all the preparation and money in the world won't change how hard these players play. And it's been that way for over 40 years, and it will be that way for the next 40 years and beyond.

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