SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
And what a scene it was Saturday, when Brett Favre came down from his mountaintop and anointed the Jets and their fans. First the numbers. Announced fan attendance to see No.4's debut was 10,500. Normal figure is 2,500. Announced number of media credentials issued, 100, up from the normal 25-30. I beg to take issue with the first figure. The bleachers are long and low-slung, with only about 10 rows. I did a quick calculation, tallying fans per small section and then multiplying by how many sections in the bleachers. I got 3,000 fans. I was told that others were milling around outside, which was probably true because you could here the moos and oinks. Anyway -- 10,500? Naah. They're pumping the numbers for publicity or some unknown motive. But those people were loud, and good natured (wait until the Favre Jets lose a few). As far as media credentials, which means us dudes...could be. The little press room in the training complex was swollen to bursting.
People who have a short history with this franchise were overcome by the Saturday turnout. The few old timers present who go back to the Namath era were mildly interested but not overwhelmed, because the old Joe Willie circuses could match any that have taken place since. First a bit of history. When your faithful narrator became the NY Post's beat man on the Jets, in 1966, the training camp was a hellhole in Peekskill, NY. Players filed regular protests about the food. The dinnertime staples were rock-hard hamburgers, nicknamed "sinkers," and mysterious hotdogs, and you don't want to know what they were called. Players' dorms were not air conditioned. The screens had holes. Once I saw a group of flies trying to drag a rookie cornerback out of his room. One of them said, "Better hide him before the big ones get here." Mosquitos were so big they could stand flat-footed and mate with turkeys.
And then in 1968, the Super Bowl year, nirvana! The club moved to its present summer location, Hofstra University in Hempstead, LI. Real dorms, co-ed in that first year, oboy! Namath was always finding reasons not to be in camp. The Bachelors III flap in '69, various retirements and absences and unretirements in the years following. And then, kaboom, he'd show up at camp, like a flash, and the fans and the media became a great swelling ocean. And not the kind of media we saw last Saturday. We're talking about the mod, the hip, emissaries of the Age of Aquarius. Many more women than there are nowadays, accredited magazine writers from Penthouse and Playboy, rock magazines, Rolling Stone and rolling stoned. A great, throbbing, thumping happening out there in the Hempstead toolies. Sorry, Brett, but your debut was well attended and fairly noisy, but nothing like the old days.
Favre was unremarkable as far as his accuracy or lack of same in his first workout with the team. He completed his share of shorties, hit an occasional bomb, which drew enthusiastic cheers from the fans. Rusty? Perhaps, but I don't really know becsuse I never saw him in camp during his Packer days. Upgraded enthusiasm by his teammates, during the drills, because of the presence of a surefire Hall of Famer? I don't think the drills were any crisper than the ones Chad Pennington ran.
Many of the fans seemed almost mesmerized, starstruck actually, and these are some of the league's tougher ones.
"Oh my God, I've always been a Brett Favre fan," said Kelly Schoenenberger, a 25-year old realtor who drove all the way from Montville, NJ, to attend practice, "and can you believe that in another month he's going to be out in our neighborhood in Florham Park?" September is when the Hofstra operation closes down and the Jets establish permanent residence in Jersey.
Still waiting for a catchy name for the club's parade of mercenaries led by Favre, big name players, most of whose careers have already crested. DT Kris Jenkins, G Alan Faneca, T Damien Woody TE Bubba Franks, plus Calvin Pace, a LB with real upside potential. I can't think of anything original. Suggestions would be welcome.
No, I'm not going to keep flogging the Favre trade and the parade of stars. This is something to file away for future reference. In a very quiet footnote to the Favre debut, Brett Ratliff, the third QB, was moved up to No.2. He's a big (6-4, 235) strong guy with a rocket arm. Last year he came as a free agent and taxied. Almost cut two times. The coaching staff basically is keeping quiet about this guy, but they have real hopes for him, once the Favre madness has played itself out in a year or two. Almost lost between the arrival of Favre and the bursts of lightning in Cleveland Thursday night was the pair of TD bombs (70 and 71 yards) Ratliff unloaded to David Clowney in the 24-20 win.
It's a steal. It would be hard to finish up worse than 10-6, even with Chad Pennington still running the offense. The toughest part comes in the beginning -- Dolphins, Patriots, Chargers, which could start the Jets at 1-2. And while the fans are drafting their nasty letters, the team plays six straight against clubs with non-winning records last year. Time for sober reflection with Tennessee and New England next up, but the schedule eases again with a final quintet featuring four softies (Bills, Broncos and Dolphins at home, 49ers on the road) plus a tough roadie in Seattle.
The good old Hempstead Turnpike on the way home, after a frantic six hours on the superstar circuit.
Randy Lange, editor and chief of the Jets' website, NYJets.com, told me half his letters, following the Favre trade, came from Wisconsin. Bitter? Angry? Warlike? I wanted to know. "No," he said. "Sad, and they were like Stepford fans ... almost all of them said the same thing. 'Take care of him.'"