Reporter Matt Rudy suited up last week for the Throwbacks Training Camp, a one-day fantasy workout session in Canton, Ohio.
Ray Nitschke is chrome bald. He has a funny hitch in his gait. His fingers are battered and crooked. He's got a cigar jammed deep in the side of his mouth and sweatpants pulled up far past his waist. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is paying the 59-year-old former Green Bay Packers linebacker and five other gridiron greats to spend the day with 40 starstruck campers, running drills and talking about the old days.
But Nitschke is going insane. He jabs a finger at me and smacks a tackling dummy. "You hate this guy!" he screams as he throttles the red sled. After this rudimentary lesson in the forearm shiver, he turns us loose on the dummy. Six hamstring pulls later, our group moves on to Otto Graham and Precision Passing. Graham, who won 10 league or division titles with the Cleveland Browns, has a lower-key approach. He is, after all, 74.
The camp is one of five organized by the Hall and scheduled to be held at various sites around the country this fall. For $250, any male or female masochist over 18 can hit the field with the likes of Graham, Nitschke, Deacon Jones, Gale Sayers and Paul Warfield. Sayers, the Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago Bears, leads the Running to Daylight session, complete with agility drills and sprints. Warfield, who starred at wide receiver for the Browns and the Miami Dolphins, demonstrates curls, posts and slants, and effortless one-hand grabs. Jones, an end on the Los Angeles Rams' Fearsome Foursome defensive line, hosts Kill the Quarterback, which turns out to be more diatribe than diagram. "I don't care if you have God back there at quarterback," Jones says. "If we do what we're supposed to, he's looking for another kind of work."
Just then, Nitschke bellows at a camper for some misstep on the field, and Jones flashes a heavy-lidded grin. "Lombardi used to yell at Ray all the time," says Jones. "He's been waiting his whole life to use it on someone else."