While the sight of two players sharing the trough and sipping beverages as if it were a spa hot tub has garnered a few grins, the rationale for the set-up is no laughing matter.
The tent is designed to provide immediate relief for any player who falls victim to the heat. Hopefully, awareness of this need coupled with quick action can prevent a repeat of the tragedies that scarred football in 2001. One year ago Wednesday, 27-year-old Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer collapsed at a training camp practice in Mankato, Minn., and died from heatstroke a few hours later. Stringer was the first heat-related fatality in NFL history, but the rare occurrence was followed all-too-closely by the heat-related death of Northwestern University defensive back Rashidi Wheeler.
"I think you'd have to call it a precaution," said Packers head trainer Pepper Burruss. "We've heard so much about heat preparation and precautions that we think we've been prepared in the past, but we're always looking to micromanage and see what else we can do."
The cool tent doesn't mark a radical change for the Packers, who have always provided a shaded area for players to seek relief from training camp heat. Hydration and prevention of heat-related illnesses have been stressed regularly at camps, Burruss said.
During Sunday's morning practice, when the temperature on the field ranged from 86 degrees to the low-90s and the heat index wandered between 91 and 96, Burruss said conditions under the tent remained 14 degrees cooler. The heat index is expected to top those levels Wednesday. Meanwhile, the medical staff will continue to monitor players' hydration levels through pre- and post-practice weigh-ins.
"This is all just part of our preparedness, and it's not meant to imply that it's a thousand changes," Burruss said. "We think we've had a lot of this right at our fingertips before."
Rookie defensive end John Gilmore took the inaugural dunk in the tank, and it's been popular ever since. Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Scott Frost became regular visitors to freshen their legs and maximize workouts. David Martin was also treated at the tent after suffering heat-related illness Sunday. The Packers' new facilities at Lambeau Field also offer a cold tank, but the on-field convenience of Burruss' tent set-up may encourage those reluctant to leave practice to seek relief.
Burruss has already addressed the team twice about the importance of staying hydrated. If it seems farfetched for a player to feel that his life is at risk, he should at least know that his job might be, Burruss said.
"This is not about the tough-guy mentality," Burruss said. "The thing we want to hit home with these athletes is that this can effect your performance, . . . your decision making, your concentration."