by Chris Kamler
In baseball, there's a phrase - “hope springs eternal” - which is uttered every March as pitchers and catchers head to Florida and Arizona to begin Spring Training. There is no such parallel in Chiefs football as temperatures are hot, drills are loud, there are more people, there are tents and souvenirs and people going around selling ice cream. It's called a “camp” but you won't find any sleeping bags or craft table here. This is the NFL. This is summer in Missouri.
Traveling to St. Joseph is simple from Platte County, just drive up Interstate 29, get off at Exit 46A and follow the signs. There are plenty of signs. Once on campus, you'll be led to a parking lot where smiling attendants will ask you for $5 cash to park and go to practice. But the upside is that admission (other than your parking fee) is free--except for Aug. 4, 7 and 8 when there are special activities going on those days.
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel said the community of St. Joe has been very welcoming during the past two camps and expects the same this year.
“To come up here in front of our own fans and also in the community of St. Joseph, it's been outstanding. The fans and the support each and every year that I've been here continues to get better and better.”
There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area of campus as you would expect in the college portion of town. There is no shortage of places to get wings and pitchers of beer - and play some darts.
The campus is beautiful and the training camp area is set up like a smaller version of a State Fair. All you see are tents surrounding two football fields behind Spratt Stadium, the football home of the MoWest Griffons. Unless you have a pass for one of the tents, however, you're sitting on the grass berms to the south or the bleachers to the east that circle the two practice fields. There is some level of shade on the westernmost practice field and most of the drills were done there on Friday. This is opposite the field with the bleachers.
Some practices will be in the Stadium especially when the Chiefs play host to the Arizona Cardinals the week of Aug. 7. Some of those practices will be joint practices where the Chiefs scrimmage the Cardinals.
The times that are open to the public vary each day with most days starting public practice at 3:20 until about 5:30.
The day we were there, about 300 people were in attendance on Opening Day. But the temperatures were relatively mild in the upper 80's on opening day. Can't imagine more people flooding in when it gets into the 100's. You're sitting in the sun for 2-3 hours; hydrate accordingly. Several fans brought stadium chairs from home. All the rest of the “rules” are on the Chiefs website.
The camp itself is football practice. Nothing more glamorous than that. Drills, drills and more drills. It is fairly entertaining to hear Head Coach Romeo Crennel's booming voice echo off of the campus buildings. He's extremely loud at times. Towards the end of the practice we attended, there was a seven-on-seven drill that looked most like football. To trained eyes, the coaching staff and the most educated observers will see technical things going right and wrong, but to those sitting in the berm, it looks a lot like. . .football practice.
Don't forget your sunscreen.
Oh. And nobody talks to the punters. They just work off to the side.
Toward the end of camp, fans do tend to saunter their melted bodies toward the west side where the players head back to their dorm rooms and those fans wave footballs, posters and hats in the hope their gladiators will come over and sign them or shake their hand. Many did.
Two of those fans in attendance Friday were Jason Kamradt of Raytown and Aaron Harper of Sedalia. Both fans were draped over the guard fence toward the end of practice holding items to be signed by Chiefs walking up the hill. Kamradt told me it was their first visit to Chiefs camp and he looks for good things from the team this year. Harper said that his favorite part of the camp was watching the 7-on-7 drills.
Those fans come to training camp to find out one thing - how will this Chiefs squad do in 2012-2013? A team that hasn't won a playoff game in nearly 20 years. A team that has gone through some rough seasons lately, winning only seven games last year and finishing in last place in the AFC Western Division.
Another person making his first trip to Chiefs camp was defensive tackle Dontari Poe. He is the recently signed number one draft pick of the Chiefs out of Memphis. Poe signed with the team less than 24 hours previously and said all the right things after his first practice.
“It's camp in the NFL. So I can't complain too much. I love it. I'm out here trying to get better, taking it day-by-day.”
Another first-timer I met while at camp was twelve year old David Pilso of St. Joe. He was hovering around the kids area where he was in line for a balloon. He said that he “really liked the kicking thing,” referring to the kicking competition in the back of the kids area. All of the kids area booths are free.
One player who wasn't in attendance was wide receiver Dwayne Bowe who was holding out for a new contract after being named the team's Franchise Player, limiting what he can make this year. Or maybe he just wasn't ready for the northwestern Missouri heat.
Most will come to St. Joseph to see if this team can challenge for the Super Bowl as Joel Norman from ArrowheadPride.com asserts, “My final prediction is 10-6.”
The best quote of Day 1 of Training Camp, however, might've come from linebacker Caleb Campbell, someone who is literally fighting for a job. Campbell has played in only three NFL games back in 2010 for the Detroit Lions. Campbell is from Army and keeps the heat and the rigors of camp in perspective when asked about staying in the Missouri Western dorms, “this place is better than West Point, so it is a step up from my college experience but it is still a dorm.”
Finally, Campbell compared his time at West Point with time as a Chiefs camper, “We have a quote when we walk into the West Point football field and it says, 'On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.' Meaning; the seeds that you sow while playing this game, the intrinsic qualities that it takes to play this game, run parallel with other fields of battle on other days. There are some striking similarities. Obviously it's not a life and death situation and I'll never take anything away from the men and women who protect our country, but there are a lot of parallels.”
There's certainly plenty to see up at Training Camp, but those tea leaves determining actually how good this football team will be won't totally be sorted out until the Chiefs play their final regular season game on Dec. 30 when they face the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos.
The snow certainly seems like a stark contrast from the 100 degree temps we're seeing now.