Former Colt Talks Offseason Conditioning

Bob Lurtsema played defensive line for 12 years in the 1960s and '70s for four different teams, including the Colts, and he remembers a time when players were accountable to themselves for getting in shape. Our network affiliate, Viking Update, provides this glimpse into the past.

Viking Update: Just coming off all the offseason practices, did you have any practices between the last game of the season and the first day of training camp when you played?

Bob Lurtsema: Nope. The thing there is Bud Grant always said, ‘I never cut anybody; the players always cut themselves.' It's your body, your profession and you take care of yourself. If you come into camp, you better not give away the best opportunity to make the Minnesota Vikings football team. It was the same everywhere—it was up to you. Now they have three trainers over there in the offseason and to beat the system they put different names on mandatory workouts and voluntary workouts. Voluntary—if you don't show up, they cut you—to me that would be voluntary. It was up to you. How long can you treat an adult like a child, because a child will not perform for you week in and week out with consistency over a long period of time, where a man will. Once you get rid of these kids and now you're a man, your chances for consistency and winning increases immensely.

You're starting to see more coaches coming out with these quotes. One new coach got up in front of the players and said, ‘Do you know why the New England Patriots are winning? We have better athletes than the New England Patriots right here, but they're smarter. When you look around, a lot of you won't be here because I won't tolerate mental mistakes.' That's a growing process. He's not baby-sitting anymore. If you want to cut class, then you're not going to graduate. What's graduation? About $1.5 million a year.

VU: How many head coaches and position coaches did you go through in your career?

BL: I went through Don Shula, I went through Allie Sherman, Alex Webster, Bud Grant and Jack Patera. Five head coaches. Now, the line coaches, I guess there were five line coaches. When I talk about some of the coaches and the things I say, I had some coaches that absolutely ruined me. Allie Sherman was the worst thing that ever happened to me. He coached me entirely different. Earl Legit, who played the game even, tried to coach everybody the same way. Earl was 300 pounds; I'm 255. You don't coach every player the same. That's what I really like with (Vikings defensive line coach Karl) Dunbar. He's got Erasmus James getting off the ball again. He's flying and it's so obvious. Coaches can destroy players, and I'll take any coach on that denies it. But the good ones will agree with me. I talked with Mike Tomlin about it and I probably shouldn't have said what I said, but he backed me 110 percent, so he's aware of the situation. Coaches can destroy players. With 21 new coaches coming in here, it's going to be interesting.

VU: Night practices at training camp are starting to come up more and more. Do you think that's a good thing or do you think that goes back to the over-cautious babying of players?

BL: Over-cautious babying of players is correct. What they're doing right now is they've got to take their water breaks. If you can't go a couple hours, you're carrying too much weight. If you can't get your body in top shape, then you're really going to have trouble on Sunday and you're going to be psyched out for a game in Miami—totally psyched out. Yes, there is a certain time where if you can back off from two-a-days, then do it. Bud Grant would listen to the local station down in Mankato. If there was a cattle warning, he would have water on the field. That's the only time we got water. Now with the umbrellas, people are getting too concerned about getting tired and losing too much weight. I dropped 12 pounds in practice and I wasn't alone, but we were in shape.

You can say, ‘Safety, safety, safety,' but in football you're a freak of society. You heal faster, your body functions differently than the average person—all these things. The reason you're at the level you are is because you've been tested at all these levels....you go through all these leagues, through high school, through college and now you're in the pros. You've learned and you know what your body can take and can't take. They're going to err on the positive side.

To practice at night, you're instilling a negative into a team, saying you can do it during the day but you can't do it at night. That's a negative, negative, negative and I will never believe in it. If the players complain and sob...cut them....In our spare time we'd go up and play cards and sweat to death because we didn't have air conditioning. That group that we played cards with in our spare time, rather than rest and all that other stuff, they were there year in and year out. They weren't complaining, worried about the heat, being treat unfairly. You saw that no matter what team you were with, whether I was at the Colts, Giants, Vikings or Seahawks. You can see it even nowadays when you go in the locker room. I can tell you pretty much who's going to be around or who's going to give you that extra shot of work. Night practice, give me a break.

VU: Were there any problems with players and heat exhaustion back then?

BL: No, after a game a couple of times, we had to ice a couple of players down. If someone would get weak and dizzy, they brought him out right away and took care of him and iced him down. One time on an airplane, a player lost too much and they iced him down. He got to go to first class and we always laughed about that—what a way to move to first class. When I dropped 22 pounds in one game out in L.A., I thought that was a lot, but Merlin Olsen dropped 24 pounds in one game. The part that's funny is they say football players play 7 minutes and 45 seconds or whatever it breaks down to in actual time played, but that's a helluva diet—22 pounds in 7 minutes. I was skinny, but that's when I was playing at 264 pounds. The way we looked at it back then, it built up your thirst for a brewsky.


Bob Lurtsema was a 12-year veteran defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins VikingUpdate.com for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.

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