Downtime Before NFL Training Camps Start

Anyone looking for something to watch until NFL training camps start in late July, may get their fix from watching the movie Any Given Sunday

The early summer period before training camps start in late July — the Cleveland Browns will be the first to open camp as both have rookies reporting on July 23 — is considered “Downtime” around the NFL. 

Many people that work around the league, including players and coaches, take this time for a well-deserved month of re-charging before training camp begins.  Organized Training Activities (OTAs) for most teams have shut down with many players returning to their hometowns, attending charitable events like golf tournaments, running football camps, or simply taking a vacation. 

However as a self-described football junkie I have chosen to always be tuned into football even if the NFL is dormant.  There are several football related diversions to soothe my NFL fix including NFL Network (“NFL Football 24/7”), NFL Films documentaries/features, player holdout news, player camps, football related movies to watch (my choice is Any Given Sunday), the NFL Supplemental Draft, and minor league football.

Unfortunately there is no longer NFL Europe  — there have been rumors that after the CBA is finalized that the NFL may look to establish another prospect league.  But after a year hiatus, the Arena Football League  is back  plus the Canadian Football League (CFL) is beginning.  Even though these leagues are not NFL caliber, it is fun to watch when the NFL is quiet.  Yes, I am football crazy enough to watch the AFL, CFL, or put in a DVD of the NFL’s most disliked series Playmakers.

Conversely the only people still focusing on the daily grind of the NFL at this time are GM’s and Head Coaches.  Some may try to vacation and take their mind off the sport, but most decision-makers that I have talked to hate this time of the year.  They usually spend this “off” month putting the final touches on their training camp preparations while nervously checking news outlets to make sure that none of their players run amuck during their time out of their team’s reach (i.e. “Police Blotter Time”). 

Sadly it seems every week that there is another NFL player related story where a situation occurs that could possibly lead to a “hangover” going into next season (think Ben Roethlisberger’s “bar” activity).  Even with Commissioner Roger Goodell talking tough and always being ready to come down hard on trouble players, unfortunately some players just seem to find trouble…checkout the website NFL Crimes Newsblog

So as I always say, “The NFL Never Sleeps”.  Some events before training camps start are the Rookie Symposium,  2010 NFL Supplemental Draft, and many others on the 2010-11 NFL calendar that will briefly take over the spotlight. 

Until then NFL players should enjoy the little bit of downtime that they have left — just not too much though, i.e. STAY OUT of TROUBLE — since the reality of hot two-a-days in the sun of training camp will be here before we all know it.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer/Analyst for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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The Arena Football League Closes down after 22 years

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The Arena Football League that gave players an opportunity from future Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner to little known guys like QB Raymond Philyaw (above), closed down operations on August 5, 2009

As a self-proclaimed “Football Junkie”, I have to admit that I liked the scoring, commonality, and toughness of the Arena Football League.  The minor indoor football league helped bridge the gap between  long boring summers and the start of NFL training camps for many.

But after 22 years of thrills, pinball machine-type scoring, family value priced fun, and guys crashing into padded walls and each other, the indoor Arena Football League this week announced that it would be no more.  The league that gave anyone gutsy enough to put on a helmet a shot – for basically peanuts — from former college stars (Major Harris, Woodrow Dantzler, and Michael Bishop) to future NFL players (Kurt Warner, Mike Furrey, Oronde Gadsen, and Troy Brown) to NFL washouts (Todd Marinovich, Quincy Carter, and Marcus Nash) did not have enough backing in this bad economy to keep afloat their very flawed economic model.

Despite a modest television contract with ESPN, the league clearly had become two worlds of the “Have’s” and “Have Nots” as teams in Philadelphia, Denver, and Dallas – all backed by high-powered owners – clearly could not carry the leagues weaker teams (Los Angeles and others) any longer.  The AFL had previously called off play for the 2009 season, but had said it planned to return in 2010.  However a to-thee-point one-paragraph statement announced that the league had suspended operations. The statement said the AFL’s board had been “unable to reach any consensus on restructuring the league over the past eight months.”

The AFL’s board also added, “there are no other viable options available to the league right now.”  By all apparent accounts the league is likely to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.  The loss of another professional football league may seem like the National Football League ruling the block again. But unlike past failed other professional leagues (WFL, USFL, and XFL), the AFL never tried to compete with their larger cousin as they marketed themselves completely different.  The excitement built from playing in a hockey arena type environment’s 50-yard field with 8-on-8 player action on the field – many players played both on offense and defense, nets, smaller goalposts, and padded walls thrilled crowds from Utah to Albany. 

The AFL went from a little over 130,000 fans attending games in their inaugural season (1987) to their on EA Sports video game.  The AFL brought a football to the masses at a good price and most importantly they gave fans what they wanted most, scoring – I attended a game once that ended 70-68.  Even though the majority of players were largely unknown, fans flocked to places like Veterans Memorial Auditorium (a/k/a “The Barn) in Iowa to see guys play their guts out and then sign autographs for it seemed every fan in attendance. 

The league’s last champion will be rocker Jon Bon Jovi’s Philadelphia Soul, who broke the City of Brotherly Love’s Championship drought in June 2008 by winning ArenaBowl XXII with a score of 59-56 over the San Jose SaberCats.  With the AFL going by the wayside along with NFL Europe in recent years, you have to now wonder where players not of NFL caliber will apply their trade.  The NFL clearly needs a developmental type league as rosters are only 80 players in training camp until their cut down the regular season limit of 53 players and an 8-player practice squad. 

The new United Football League (UFL) starting in September 2009 maybe an option for some, but I don’t know how any league can compete with the NFL in the fall even if games will be played on Thursdays and Fridays.  For those that still need their indoor football fill there is still af2.  The AFL’s offshoot is currently playing this season and is in the midst of the ArenaCup playoffs. There are 25 teams in the af2 and there has been talk that the AFL’s former little brother — the AFL owns 50.1 percent of the af2 – might be able to absorb some of the AFL’s stronger teams. According to af2’s Iowa Barnstormers co-owner Jeff Lamberti, the af2 is solvent, self-funded, and pays its bills so it should keep going despite the AFL going bankrupt.

Philadelphia Soul All-AFL receiver Chris Jackson said of the bygone league, “I feel bad for the fans because for 22 years it was one of the most unique, most loved, most fun sports I’ve ever been a part of. It’s just a shame there’s no more Arena Football League for people.” I guess people seeking some minor league sports action will have to go to tractor pulls and bull riding contests at their local arena.

Many thanks go out to AFL players like Shedrick Bonner, Connell Maynor, Hunkie Cooper and many others for 22 years of “There’s a Rumble in the House” memories. 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)