""If It Is Time For Camp, It Is Time For Football""



If It Is Time For Camp, It Is Time For Football 


By Dr. Ken 


With the opening of most college and professional football training camps now coming on the final weekend of July or for most, sometime in the first week of August, football is definitely “in the air.” Of course with NCAA oversight and the restrictions placed upon pro practice by the Players Union and what seems like ongoing annual negotiating and arbitration, it is forgotten that in the late 1950’s through ‘60’s, training camps were much longer and of course, began earlier. Television has dictated earlier and earlier starts to the football season, especially the college season. Sports Illustrated magazine used to present highly respected College Football and Pro Football Preview issues. While certainly not of the depth or caliber of Street And Smith, SI had the advantage of utilizing its resources and wonderful writing staff to augment relatively skimpy team summaries with terrific feature articles in these issues, with the first of the college preview issues published for the 1956 season.


The 1957 Sports Illustrated College Football Preview issue was a popular follow-up to the inaugural issue of 1956.



The 1967 issue featured the nation’s projected top teams on the cover. Unfortunately for Sports Illustrated, of their picks, only Notre Dame finishing 5th in the final polls, made the Top Ten as USC won the National Championship with Tennessee in second.


 The Pre-Season College Football edition for example, had newsstand dates of September 22 in 1958, September 24 in 1962, September 19 in 1966, and moved up to September 11 for the ’67 season. The magazines were available prior to the opening games of the season, with a few of the major college teams kicking off that 1967 season on September 16 and most on the 23rd. Opening camp in late August would have given the collegiate squads the equivalent practice time that today’s teams undergo prior to the opening kickoff of the season yet legal or illegal, most of the college players I knew were in camp by the middle of July. Toiling in the highest readings of the summer thermometer was considered to be an efficient and effective way to prepare for a football season on any level of play.


The trends in pre-season preparation for both high school and college football were very much determined by what the top teams were doing. Just as the most frequently utilized offenses and defenses were copied from the nation’s best programs, the conditioning programs were also mimicked. The “Oklahoma Drill” is still utilized in most high school and college practice programs and still referred to by its original name, copied from the wonderful championship teams of Bud Wilkinson’s Sooner squads of the 1940’s and ‘50’s. The Sooners were the standard by which others were measured, thus they were copied and that included their on-the-field football drills and conditioning procedures.  The success that Paul “Bear” Bryant had at Texas A&M University in the mid-1950’s (see the HELMET HUT TEXAS A&M seasonal summaries and helmet displays  http://www.helmethut.com/College/TexasAM/TexAMindex.html ) prodded many of the Southwest Conference and Texas high school programs to revamp their pre-season preparation programs to include the type of extensive running and drill work that the Aggies had made undeniably effective. When Bryant returned to Alabama as their head coach in 1958, and quickly turned their downtrodden program into a National Champion, there were outcries against what was seen as a brutal brand of physical football that could only be played by those who were exceptionally well conditioned and both physically and mentally tough. Despite the objections, almost all of the SEC teams and other college programs in the South began to utilize smaller, quicker, and extremely well conditioned players, copying the Alabama approach. My high school days overlapped the success of the very visible Oklahoma and Alabama programs and the introduction of offensive and defensive patterns used by these schools was very evident in what we did. Our pre-season running and agility programs that would leave a prospective gridiron participant exhausted and encourage one who might quit, to bail out of the program early were hallmarks of this approach.



Bear Bryant’s emphasis on extreme physical conditioning and preparation methods revitalized and revolutionized the type of football played in the Southeastern Conference 


Of course, the purpose, or at least one of the primary purposes of the pre-season conditioning program and the first weeks of camp was to force those who did not make an absolute, one hundred percent commitment to the success of the team, leave voluntarily. The coaching mantra was “I would prefer that you quit now instead of during a game where you’ll hurt the team.” Thus, “football season” for many of us began on June 1 if we had not already begun our pre-season preparation. Unlike today’s world of college football where the players find themselves in the equivalent of a full time job, requiring both classroom and “voluntary workout” attendance on campus under the watchful eye of the strength staff through the entire summer, our football was over at the conclusion of spring football practice. We were then on our own to run and for the adventurous, lift weights. In the absence of collegiate weight rooms or other training facilities, and an attitude held by perhaps ninety-nine percent of coaches and physical educators of the era that weight training could and probably would make one “tight” and cause them to lose speed, conditioning programs consisted of what seemed like endless running and sprint related drills. Almost every former Green Bay Packers player from the Vince Lombardi era who gave an interview or wrote a book, made special mention of Lombardi’s “Up Downs” as his favorite conditioning tool. Running in place and then falling, or throwing oneself onto the ground at the given signal, scrambling to one’s feet in order to repeat the movement for what seemed like countless repetitions was a definite highlight, or at least one of the most memorable experiences for every one of those players.      


The power and balance of the great Jim Taylor was augmented by one of the NFL’s harshest conditioning programs. Taylor had been a physical fitness enthusiast from childhood and wore his iconic Green Bay Packers helmet throughout a career that took him into the Hall Of Fame. Even as a favored home-grown son who played for the New Orleans Saints in their inaugural 1967 season, Taylor is immediately associated with the great Packers teams.


After hitchhiking from New York to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to get a first-hand look at the training facility and methods of Alvin Roy, credited with being the National Football League’s first “strength consultant,” I met Jimmy Taylor, one of Alvin’s early success stories who continued to train at the gym every off-season. When discussing his league wide reputation for always being in football-ready shape, he cited the Lombardi Up-Downs as the one key exercise in what was considered to be a state-of-the-art fitness program that he adhered to. The success of those Packers teams and the knowledge that this specific drill was given credit for the inflated number of victories the team accrued under the legendary coach, made the Up-Downs an integral part of most college and high school drill sets.


The few who lifted weights flocked to the local YMCA’s or infrequently encountered storefront gyms. Even in the 1950’s, almost every city or small town had one or two “lifting guys” in residence, a former player who had utilized weight training to his advantage or a local weightlifter or bodybuilding devotee who had the equipment and knowledge to assist any of the young athletes inclined to enhance their strength with barbells and dumbbells. Once one left campus and was home for the summer, they would hopefully have some type of full or part time employment that required a great deal of physical exertion. The larger colleges would often provide contacts that had jobs available in construction or dependent upon the area, work in the specific fields of oil drilling, road and highway construction and maintenance, or some similar activity. It was believed that one “worked themselves into shape” with hard physical labor and that this type of activity built a form of “natural strength.” It wasn’t until the early to mid-1970’s that many college and pro players began to understand the benefits of strength training and not until the early 1980’s that most colleges had a dedicated weight training facility. The ideal state of affairs for a collegiate football player was early morning running followed by a job that required eight hours of arduous lifting and carrying of heavy objects outdoors, in stifling heat and humidity.



In the early 1960’s, many football programs added post-practice isometric exercise to their conditioning regimen. Pushing and pulling on a stationary pipe or bar had limited positive effects but it was the beginning of weight training’s acceptance for football players and other athletes


Recommending this type of manual labor activity to today’s crop of players, even those on the high school level, would no doubt be met by derisive laughter. With access to secondary school training facilities that look as if the Hollywood elite would be comfortable training in their air conditioned environs, the concept of hard manual labor and running through fields, over steep hills, or along soft beach sand would seem almost barbaric to the option of training, no matter how hard, on the variety of treadmills, ellipticals, and other specialized machines that fill modern day training rooms. Yet despite the so-called disadvantages of doing it “the old fashioned way,” I believe its safe to say that players of the 1950’s and ‘60’s, most of whom played both an offensive and defensive position, were in much better overall physical condition than today’s players. Yes, it’s a different game, one of specialization and offenses that don’t require much in the way of run blocking, pulling linemen, nor the necessity to be lean and quick due to the spread offenses and three and at most, five-step drop passing games. This relative lack of physical conditioning and specialization extending to the high school level has for many of us, made the game less enjoyable for yet one more reason.