Lurtsema's Reaction: Training Camp Changes

As a former defensive lineman for the Vikings and three other NFL teams over a 12-year period, Bob Lurtsema has seen his share of training camps and has his opinion on the changes being implemented by the Vikings this year. See what the old-school jock has to say about the fan interaction this year.

VU: You were down in Mankato for this introduction to training camp. How do you think these new procedures are going to be received by the fans?

I personally do not like them whatsoever. Maybe I'm the rare individual. We used to embrace the kids because there was no greater thrill than to look down and see a 3-year-old boy or girl with a helmet on and your jersey number. You want to go up and give them a big hug and embrace them. We did that with our fans. The kids probably gave us more in return than what we gave them, and I sincerely mean that because nowadays I'll go up to the children I met as a Viking and now they're adults of course. They always say that was one of the biggest thrills they had, not so much for me but because of their mom and dad – it was a great family event.

The way it's set up now, I don't know if the kids can get as much personal contact with the players. They do have it set up where you'll line up 20 minutes before practice ends to get as many as 15 player autographs, but as of today you will not know which player will be at a particular table (but fans will know which positions will be represented). The way they described it, you won't be able to get as close to the players when they walk across the street. And also they've taken away some of the opening-day excitement because they're coming down on July 27th, the rookies, and the 30th for the veterans, but the public is not allowed to watch practice until August 1. I've just seen too many wonderful moments for wonderful kids and I think they're going to lose some of that. It's a family experience and they should be able to keep it that way.

VU: What was the reason? Was it just the NFL players today getting so overwhelmed?

They're creating the player to be so much bigger than the fan, and the fan is the one that is paying them. They're creating idols from very average people, like they're almost untouchable and it's an honor for you to be able to touch them. They are really isolating the fan, in my opinion. I do have to go to bat for them in another respect in that sometimes the fan comes up for an autograph and you see it on E-Bay the next day. The people we met, they were collecting autographs because they were fans and it was for themselves. There are a lot of business deals going on now too. But they are creating these average players to be celebrities.

VU: When you talk to current players with you being an ex-player, do the guys playing now express this overwhelmed feeling about the fans, that there is too much attention given to them by the fans?

That is very, very mixed right now with how the players accept the fans. Some players are coddled and cuddled from the time they can carry the football from 5 years old all the way up, but there are still a decent percentage that have that old-time atmosphere. Like Brad Johnson, there is nobody better as far as doing autographs or whatever you ask, Brad Johnson is always there. Moe Williams is like that – very approachable. But the percentage of approachable athletes is diminishing, in my opinion. Some of the people are putting themselves on a pedestal.

VU: When you talked to Vikings officials at this event, was there a feeling like they're going to lose money on training camp? Obviously the old group run by Mankato was losing money, but is it just that training camp has to be a losing proposition when it comes to the bottom line?

They can negotiate different situations. But training camp, when you put a dollars and cents figure to it, you're still selling ticket, you're selling the image, you're selling jerseys. I know some people are upset that there is a three-year contract and they have an out clause, but having an out clause is just standard business procedure, but people read into that the wrong way. I think what created the monster was Red McCombs because he treated it like another car sale. That's where all the sudden these other events came up and all of the sudden it's a money situation. What it brings to the community, sure they make some money, but so what? It's going to help everybody. Sometimes change is good, though. Maybe this will work out better for the fans. I just know how great it has worked in the past. It always makes me hesitant, where if it's not broke, don't fix it.

VU: What other changes are expected for this year's camp?

They're not going to have the intra-squad scrimmage. Brad Childress doesn't believe in people banging on their teammates. I kind of liked it myself. I think the competition level that we had in those was a tremendous plus because the guy that played across from you knows exactly your strengths and weaknesses, so it was kind of fun to outsmart your buddy. They're not going to get hurt; if you think you're going to get hurt, don't play that game. You've got to have the mentality that you're going to play forever and you're not going to get old – you're not going to get hurt, that's for sure. We used to actually look forward to it, but that's not how they did it in Philly (with the Eagles) and he doesn't like the idea of them banging on each other. The one scrimmage with Kansas City, they're not going to have any cheerleaders.

VU: They're labeling that as a practice with Kansas City. Do you think it will be more of just drills against Kansas City or do you think it will turn into more of a scrimmage atmosphere?

My educated guess is that will be a scrimmage atmosphere. Right over the main field is where they'll have a passing scrimmage and with the running backs. You've got to be able to test some of your younger ballplayers. You can't go half-speed. Sometimes they isolate the one-on-one pass drills, which are kind of fun. For fans going out there, those are fun to watch. If they don't have a little scrimmage or a little contact, I'd ask for my $10 back.

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 for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.

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