Near the end of another routine team meeting Thursday, Coach Jack Pardee casually announced to his Redskin players that curfew that night had been extended an hour. Instead of having to be in their rooms by 11 p.m., they could stay out to the bewitching hour of midnight. t
To hear the cheer that went up when he sat down, one would have thought the team had just won the Super Bowl, or that missing fullback John Riggins had returned to camp.
"At this point in camp," center Bob Kuziel said, "an extra hour seems like an awful long time."
In an era when the new liberalism in sports has altered almost every aspect of pro football, training camp stands as one of the few institutions in the game that remains relatively untouched.
Camps are long, unbending, hot and grueling. Players unanimously both hate and dread them. Coaches tolerate them, because, they maintain, this annual summer of forced labor is the only way to prepare a team for the regular season.
But are training camps, at least in their present form, really necessary? Could a team be just as well prepared through some other, less restrictive method? Is there a real need to spend five weeks in a college dorm, two players to a room, with almost every moment governed by some rule?
"I don't think so," said Pardee, who has lived through camps both as a player and a coach. "There are just certain things you have to teach a team to be ready for a 16-game schedule. It means a lot of hard work over a short period of time.
"I would hate to think of playing a game without being as prepared as we are after training camp. It just wouldn't work out."
Pardee remembers when camp was even worse than it is now. Before the extended 16-game schedule, clubs would spend eight weeks, not five, in preseason training. When Pardee was with the Rams and George Allen was the Los Angeles coach, he went 25 straight days one summer before Allen gave the club a day off.
"Now that was overdoing it," he said. "But if the fans want to see the kind of high caliber football they are accustomed to seeing in this league, you have to have a situation like training camp."
Boot camp. That's how training camp is conducted by most NFL teams. "It's like the Army," said one Redskin, "even to being cut. That's like shoot and kill. One day your roommate is there. The next, 'The Turk' got him. He's gone, bam. No note, no warning. Like losing someone in the tranches."
Discipline is the foundation upon which camps are built. This is the time to see if players can take the strain and constant regimentation.
Can they show up for meetings on time? Can they be in their rooms by curfew? Can they practice at a certain level twice a day, day after day? Can they remember on the field what they learn in the classroom? Can they endure five weeks of football saturation?
"It gets easier the older you get," linebacker Pete Wysocki said. "You learn not to fight it but to accept it. That makes it easier. No one likes it really, but you put up with it."
You are told when to eat, when to sleep, what to wear. You must stay in the dorm. You may not have pets. You can't go home to your family every night, even if the family comes to Carlisle. Everyone dresses in white practice outfits, everyone exercises with the same kind of vocal cadence you hear in Army training films.
There may not be drill sergeants monitoring every step, but assistant coaches sometimes can be almost as harsh. Step out of line, make too many mistakes and the criticism will come, loud and clear.
"I think you have to learn a sense of team unity," Wysocki said. "Training camp gives you that. You learn about each other.
"Certainly by the end of camp, you know what the morale problems and the personality problems are going to be. There won't be any mystery there."
Rookie Kevin Turner was told what training camp was going to be like, but he says until "you go through one, you have no real idea what it means.
"You just get overwhelmed by football. You eat, sleep and drink it 24 hours a day. I sometimes even dream about it. You have a bad practice in the morning and you don't have a lot of time to recover and make up for it in the afternoon. The pressure can grow on you."
One day, perhaps, a coach will come along and say, "This is crazy," and make wholesale changes in the way camps are conducted.
He will do away with the summer retreat style. Instead he will hold workouts at the regular-season training facility.
He won't require the team to stay in the dorm night after night. He will cut down on the number of weeks and the quantity of two-a-day workouts.
"But don't hold your breath," said quarterback Kim McQuilken. "Camp is a necessary evil. It's been this way for so long, that it's going to be hard to change. Who is going to be the first to try something else?"
The risk factor is a major obstacle. If you experiment with camp and the team has a mediocre season, the negative feedback would be enormous. It would take a maverick with an iron constitution -- and a solid, long term contract -- to break the mold.
Some clubs already have done away with the away-from-home site. Tampa Bay and Miami, for example, practice at their home base, but the players still are subjected to the rest of training camp regimentation.
"In Chicago, we were just a block from our normal practice fields and just two blocks from where I lived," Pardee said. "The main consideration isn't so much location but where can you feed and house the players and have the facilities to conduct meetings?
"I don't think anything that much different would work. We get done most nights at 9:30 or 10. If you leave then to drive home, you'd almost have to turn around and come right back for breakfast at 7. I think it would cut into concentration and into the amount of work we can get done.
"This way, you can concentrate solely on football."
Certainly, some form of camp is necessary, both for rookies and veterans. The coaches must have enough time to evaluate the rookies while the veterans have to regain their football form.
"I would hate going into a season without being throughly prepared," said linebacker Dallas Hickman. "You need camp for practice. The repetition is what gets you prepared. How do you defeat a bob block? You do it by seeing it all the time and learning to recognize it. Then you react by instinct. You don't develop instinct by not seeing it.
"And you have to get into football shape. As hard as you may work out in the offseason, you aren't ready until you go through two-a-days. Anyway, this is our job, it's what we are getting paid to do. No one likes it, but I think it sets the stage for the season. Look at our camp last year, it was a really good one and we continued it throughout the year."
However, another player sees a five-week camp in isolated Carlisle "as a reflection of the single-minded attitude of management. They have designed a setting where they can watch your every step. It's like being in kids' camp again, but that's how football has always been conducted."
To a veteran like Wysocki, now in his sixth season, training camp conducted at home is appealing, but he isn't sure whether it would work out in the long run.
"The family guys would really like it," he said. 'I think it would reduce the loneliness. But maybe the only way you could bet things shaped up right is to get us together like this and force-feed us.
"What happens here is you get down and there isn't a quick way to get up. You can't go home and talk it out and them come back. There is no way to shorten the process.
"A lot of guys get drained by what I call worry energy. You get tired on the field, for sure, but you can get even more tired mentally. You can't afford to let nerves and worries drain you so much it hurts your performance."
But that is one of the major drawbacks assoiated with having such an isolated atmosphere. Small things tend to get blown out of proportion. An unfavorable story in the newspaper, a sarcastic comment from a coach, an unnecessary shove from a teammate. Suddenly what once would have been ignored becomes the basis for a shouting match or a fight.
You have to make sure you stay at an even keel," said safety Mark Murphy. "You get so tired and you wonder how you are going to make it through another afternoon. Would night practices make it better? Prabably, but you need lights of course. The heat can take its toll. But everyone understands that and you make allowances for it."
Perhaps one way to improve camp would be to give more importance to the mini-camps many teams hold in April and May. Right now, Pardee uses those three-or four-day workouts at Redskin Park to go over material that he knows he can't cover here.
"Without minicamps," he said, "you couldn't live with a five-week regular camp. As it is now, we still won't have everything in by the time we break for Redskin Park. But with the minicamp, we get a heat start that allows us to come up here and get to work right away."
But in the future, minicamps could be used on a more extensive basis and increased in length. The work would come in shorter, more tolerable doses, and then the more physical, hitting stage could be done during a modified summer camp.
Of course, the NFL Players Association would have to cooperate, and so would management. But 10 years ago, who thought football would even have something like a minicamp? Or free agency, for that matter?
"It's funny thing about camps," said punter Mike Bragg, who is attending his 13th. "I always look forward to them, like I did this one. You are anxious to get back to work and to get the season going.
"Now, I can't wait for it to end. I'm counting the days and calling home and telling them I'm almost done. The cycle never changes. They're all forgettable."