(John Hannah photos courtesy of New England Patriots)
Talk of Fame Network
Not many players liked training camps with two-a-day workouts, pads and contact. But, if you believe Hall-of-Fame guard John Hannah, they might have been a necessary evil – helping to protect players from injuries.
You heard right: Protect players.
The former New England Patriots’ star made that point on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast when asked to compare camps of today to when broke into the NFL as a rookie in 1973.
“It wasn’t a lot of fun,” he said of camps that could last as long as eight weeks for rookies. “It was like a boot camp. But it got you ready for battle.”
And, he believes, helped prepare players for what was to come. Which is why he believes today’s kinder, gentler camps – strictly regulated to protect players — might play a role in injuries suffered later during the season.
“I think it’s one of the major reasons you’ve got so many injuries today,” said Hannah. “There’s something to be said for learning how to take a blow and you’ve got to learn how to fall down without getting hurt.
“You get all that in camp, (with) hitting in practice, and you learn to adjust and you learn to take those blows, and learn how to fall and learn how to get up. And I think you learn to how to give with it, so to speak. Because they don’t do that enough they never learn it, so when they do take those big blows they don’t know how to take a hit.
“The thing is a lot different. And the rule changes have forced it that way.
“If you look at offensive line play today compared to the way we played the game, it’s totally different. A lot more Greco-Roman wrestling and striking a blow and lifting your opponent. And offensive lineman don’t use the same type leverage that we used, and their linemen aren’t as mobile as the linemen when I played. They’re bigger and stronger, but I don’t think they’re as mobile.”
Nevertheless, as tough as fans, players or owners think camps of 40 years ago were on players, Hannah said they paled to what legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant ran at Alabama, where Hannah played football so well he’s in the College Football Hall of Fame.
“NFL camp was a vacation from what we went through with coach Bryant,” he said. “Seriously, my rookie year when I went into camp (with New England) and I heard they had eight weeks, I said, ‘Lord have mercy; I’ll never survive.’
“And then all of a sudden I went up there and realized the way they had camp compared to what we had at Alabama, and I said. ‘Gee, this is a vacation. I like this.’ Coach Bryant got you ready for what camp was. It was a totally different animal. “