NFL camp a far cry from baseball's spring training
DAVIE, Fla. -- Ah, training camp in the NFL has begun. The smell of liniment is in the air.
There's nothing like training camp getting underway. The first broken nose. The first pulled hamstring. The first player to see his name on the waiver wire.
And, oh, the sounds of camp. The blocking sleds. The cries of agony. Dehydrated 300-pound men guzzling water.
Each year, fans fawn over baseball spring training as if it were the most romantic event since King Arthur rounded up his knights. It's the start of spring and there's a sense of innocence in the air.
While a romance novelist would be right at home during spring training, someone much different would be the best selection to chronicle an NFL training camp. Try Stephen King, as in "Misery."
"There's no romance," cornerback Dimitri Patterson said after his Miami Dolphins opened camp Sunday morning. "It's violence. It's straight violence. But it's controlled violence."
Then again, that's one reason why NFL training camps are popular with fans. The Dolphins announced a standing-room-only crowd of 2,700, the most to have attended a workout since 2006.
Sure, the fans loved seeing wide receiver Mike Wallace, the NFL's most coveted free agent last spring, make catches in his first South Florida appearance. But the crowd also cheered when cornerback Nolan Carroll and Wallace had their helmets bang together when they both went for a ball and Wallace went down hard.
"I don't know if (the fans) liked it, but I didn't like it," Wallace said.
Well, considering Wallace wasn't hurt, the fans were mostly pleased.
"I like the contact," Jedidiah Rocha, 22, of Davie, said as he watched the action. "You can hear the contact and the other player falls to the ground. I thought (Wallace) was going to get up and start giving (Carroll) some blows."
Wallace didn't. Carroll quickly told him he didn't mean any offense by the inadvertent hard hit, and all soon was well.
The Dolphins, you see, weren't in full pads Sunday. But they will be Wednesday when contact drills begin.
For those who really like the macabre of training camp, that's when the real action starts. Rocca admitted the tameness of Sunday's practice was a "little boring," but expects Wednesday it will become "more interesting."
Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake agrees. If you think a guy who was fourth in the NFL last year with 15 sacks likes hitting guys, you would be correct.
"All this hand fighting and this pitty-pat, so to speak, you really can't go in there and lay your weight on anybody until Wednesday," Wake said. "I'm looking forward to it. To me, that's the way you play football. We don't play in shorts. (The first three days of camp before Wednesday are) just the warm-ups, just the appetizers for the main course."
Even if Sunday might have been just a warm-up act, Manny Lopez still went all out. The longtime fan showed up with his body fully painted in Dolphins colors, his left side aqua and right side orange, and had the team's logo on his chest. Lopez said it took two hours to get painted, having started the process at 5 a.m. in preparation for the 8 a.m. workout.
The Miami resident represents the Dolfan Bandits, a group that dubs itself the unofficial mascots for the team. He cheered plenty Sunday, and more is expected when contact drills start.
"The key is the violence, the hard hitting," Lopez, 40, said when discussing some of what he likes about camp. "The quarterback getting knocked down."
Yes, this is indeed not baseball spring training. But nobody pretends it is.
In fact, the Atlanta Falcons once proudly declared in a press release how much their players sweat during camp. The Falcons wrote that the "hot Georgia sun can produce an estimated 100 gallons of perspiration daily from the 75-80 players."
The Dolphins actually lucked out Sunday morning; temperatures were in the 80s and it was overcast. That prompted coach Joe Philbin to say, "I went up to Massachusetts (before camp) to see my parents and it was smoking up there, so I mean, they're probably going to get some heat I'm sure at some point."
Yes, the Dolphins will. So once contact drills start and it gets really hot, Miami players know what training camp is going to be all about.
"There's sprained ankles and sweat dripping down your forehead and that burn that gets in your eyes," defensive lineman Vaughn Martin said.
"(Training camp) is a grind," Carroll said. "It's hot and humid. It's the real first day of training camp when you put on the shoulder pads and go all out. That's when you hear the thuds and the big hits. That's what (the fans) like."
And it to think all this violence is free. Miami Marlins spring training tickets cost as much as $40.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on Twitter @christomasson.