Colts had it tougher

A look back

Sure, this Ravens camp might be hard, but old-timers faced steamy endurance test

August 13, 2008|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun reporter

Word from Westminster is that this is the toughest Ravens training camp in years. Contact drills are up. Rest time is down.

In "Camp Hardball," even the team's golf cart has been overworked, hauling off players hobbled by shoulder, knee and ankle injuries.

What do the old Baltimore Colts say about that?

Ha!

"I remember one training camp when we never got water breaks," said Ordell Braase, an All-Pro defensive end who played for the Colts from 1957 through 1968. "There were no liquids on the field. [Coach] Don Shula would dehydrate the hell out of us.

"Shula was old-school then. His mind-set was: Forget your thirst until you've gotten in shape."

Tongues dragging, players sometimes crept over to the trainers' table in search of liquid. When no one was looking, they'd raid the ice bag used to treat swollen ankles.

"If Shula saw somebody chewing ice, he'd go ballistic," Braase said. " 'Get away from that ice, dammit!' he'd say."

Yet the players survived.

"All through practice, you'd think, 'If I can make it to the locker room, I'll be OK,' " Braase said. "Then we'd head out afterward for a few beers."

Shula became Baltimore's head coach in 1963, replacing Weeb Ewbank. Despite having led the Colts to consecutive NFL championships in 1958 and 1959, Ewbank ran more humane training camps at Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College. Art Donovan, the team's Hall of Fame defensive tackle, saw to that.

"He [Ewbank] would tell me I had to do more push-ups," said Donovan, not prone to overwork. "I said, 'Weeb, do you want a gymnast or a football player?'

"I think I did 13 push-ups in my 13 years."

"Donovan controlled Weeb," said Don Joyce, a defensive end and Pro Bowl player. "If [Ewbank] thought us linemen weren't working hard, 'Fatso' could talk him out of it."

The ploy worked until Donovan's father, who visited camp each year, decided the Colts' linemen were getting off easy.

"Coach, you're not working those guys hard enough," said Arthur Donovan Sr., a well-known boxing referee. "I've been meaning to tell you that for five years."

Impressed, Ewbank had the linemen work harder.

"That was the last time Fatso invited his father," Joyce said.

Fifty years ago, unlike today, most players shrugged off minor injuries in camp, Gino Marchetti said.

"Normally, you didn't tell anyone unless your ankle swelled so much that you couldn't run," said Marchetti, the Hall of Fame defensive end (1953-66). "Your mentality was: 'I'm No. 1 and I don't want anyone else to get his foot in the door.'

"Back then, there were no sure things. You played from year to year. No long-term contracts. No agents advising guys not to play in camp if they hurt a little bit. The whole attitude is different now."

Would Marchetti rather have played today? Absolutely not.

"I loved going to training camp," he said. "Some days you bitched like hell, but the next day you'd be ready to go. I loved seeing all of the guys and going out after practice to hear Fatso tell stories.

"You know what? The beer tasted better than it had all winter long."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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