The debate seems to have calmed down four years after the NFL owners and players signed the new CBA. Which was better to build a great football team, the two-a-day past or the one-a-day present? We're four years into the "kinder, gentler" training camps and the stakes are higher, the game as popular as ever. Life goes on.
But some players still remember.
"It sounds almost like the old guys in the barbershop that talk about how the music has changed. 'They don't sing about how to love a woman, now it's all this garbage out there, you guys don't know real music,' " he said, chuckling like a silver-haired man of 60 in a white barber jacket instead of the dark-haired dude of 30 still wearing his white No. 60 jersey over his pads following today's camp practice.
How many ways was the old school different? I asked D'Brickashaw to reminisce some more and he had some vivid recollections.
1. Water, Water Everywhere
"Nick [Mangold] and I were talking the other day about how oftentimes during two-a-days you had to jump right back into the next practice and your pads would still be all wet, your braces would be wet, so you'd find ways to dry stuff by hanging it on fans or leaving it outside," he said.
The dampness extended naturally to the gloves the players wore, and also to footwear: "A lot of times in those long periods, when you were dripping sweat and your cleats were so sweat-filled, you had to put them in dryers."
2. Tough Calls
"At that time you had to make choices whether you wanted to eat or sleep," Ferguson said, "not because both weren't available, but what was more important to you? Going to the caf, relaxing and eating a long meal or just grabbing something quick so you could sleep for two hours."
3. Fluid Situations
D'Brickashaw remembered the trailers that were brought in for camp at Hofstra University for one purpose. "They would set up beds and IVs," he said. "In the past it was pretty common to get IVs between practices because you'd be so dehydrated that there was no way you could replenish all your fluids in that time period."
4. Bring On the Pain
Ferguson remembers those times as being very much a Herculean labor. "Your body was sore all the time, and practices were just something you had to grind through," he said. "A lot of people would do ice tubs [they still do, of course], but there's no amount of recovery that would make you fresh not only for the next practice but for the next day."
5. Overtraining Is the New Undertraining
"I think with concussions and so forth, a study showed that having multiple practices heightens that possibility," he said. "That's had a ripple effect, and now even the idea of overtraining is something I think people don't want to do because they know it breaks the body down and causes your team to be more injured than not pushing your guys to the limit all day."
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6. The Disappearings
The tough old days of five to 10 years ago resulted in another phenomenon, Ferguson noted: Now you see a teammate, now you don't.
"What we did was hard, it wasn't like a game," he said. "And people voluntarily, nobody asked them, they just left. And it wasn't just one guy. 'Where's such-and-such?' 'He's gone,' " he said. "I think that's not as prevalent today. But that just shows you this game isn't for everybody. And it doesn't mean those guys were any less talented, simply that the grind was too much."
Ferguson was reminiscing but he wasn't complaining. I asked him if the two-a-day time was better, worse or merely different than today's training camps.
"This is a different time," he said. "I think you learn through both periods. I think you learn how to rise through your challenges. I'm sure there was much value in training to a point where every day becomes kind of a challenge to yourself, like 'Can I do this?' The thing is, not everybody can."
D'Brickashaw Ferguson could and did. And now he feels "great" and "energized" and "sound" and ready to tackle 2014, one practice a day at a time.