Training camp ain’t what it used to be. Just ask an old player. They’ll be happy to tell you.
Of course, that is exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers have been doing. They have talked a handful of veterans from their history in recent weeks to shed some light on their own training camp experiences—all of them, for over half a century, spending that time in Latrobe—and the common theme is that today’s players wouldn’t understand what they went through.
Not even just because of the rule changes that have been enacted over the course of the last couple of rounds of negotiations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but also, in Merril Hoge’s case, because of his coach: Chuck Noll.
“I thought Chuck Noll was so great at preparing the player before the fire hit”, Hoge said about his head coach’s practice during training camp. “And he was a great evaluator if you could handle the fire. That’s why he did what he did in practices. That’s why he did what he did when you worked out. He wanted to find out if you could handle it”.
It should go without saying that not every player is able to handle it: the heat, the intense, frequent workouts, the hitting, the injuries. “Based on his evaluation, he figured out if you could handle it”, Hoge said of Noll. “He poked and he prodded”.
And “there were times I wanted to wring his neck”, he said, recalling one incident in particular during the training camp of his second season after he led the team in multiple statistical offensive categories. He came into camp in good shape, but quickly got banged up.
“I came into camp, and I hurt my hamstring, separated my shoulder, hurt my ribs, and I’m a wreck second week of training camp”, he recalled. “We were warming up in the afternoon practice, and we were just throwing go routes warming up, and I was standing in line ready to go, and he’s standing over here, five feet from me, and he’s not even talking to me”.
Instead, “he’s looking at the fans talking to himself, and he’s like, ‘man, the media kept asking me is Merril going to be a flash in the pan? And I sure didn’t think so, but they might be right’. And I’m like, how dare you? Most people wouldn’t even be out here. I’m a train wreck out here. I was so mad”.
That is a similar motivational tactic that current head coach Mike Tomlin likes to employ, fueling his players with negative headlines that he no doubt deliberately picked up on for exactly that purpose.
Although instead of doing so passive-aggressively with a deliberate eavesdrop, he would simply bark out to the player that so-and-so writer said you’re not going to have a good season this year.