The Giants are getting ready to report to their 14th and perhaps final camp at the University at Albany Sunday. If you ask me, I’d be surprised if they don’t continue to go up for at least that first week or 10 days because Tom Coughlin loves the team-bonding aspect of it. Then again, they’ve just built this beautiful facility in the Meadowlands that has the field space and other amenities needed to feed 80 players and the front-office, coaches, scouts, and trainers that have always accompanied the team northward. Besides, that new field house will come in very handy on rainy days. No more substituting walkthroughs on the Albany Recreation and Athletic Center basketball court for real drills.
I know a lot of you guys took in at least some of camp every year. Tell ya what. I’m going to share some of my fondest and most poignant memories of camp, and you tell me yours. Could be a restaurant, an afternoon at Saratoga before hitting the night practice, something you saw happen on the field — anything. I won’t say this is our farewell to Albany. Just a way to spend some time reminiscing on a nice summer’s day.
Here’s my top 5:
1. BRIAN WILLIAMS: On the third day of camp in 1997, another reporter and I decided to hit the practice field earlier than usual. Nice morning, we were bored in the press room, so we headed out. As we approached the field, there was the affable center flat on his back, hands to face, the most ungodly sounds I’ve ever heard a human being make. Turns out he’d been poked in the eye during a rudimentary, pre-workout warmup drill. Early estimates put him on the sidelines two, three days, then a week or two. But double-vision persisted, and it was eventually determined he’d fractured his orbital bone, among other issues. He was out two years. He finally came back in 1999 for one last season, but he was never the same. Good guy, too. Sad.
2. JEREMY SHOCKEY: We should have known what was coming with this guy when he showed up for camp late as a rookie in ’02 and then, at his first dinner, got into a punch-out with Brandon Short. Seems the linebacker demanded the reluctant Shockey to sing, a usual rookie hazing ritual. Shockey eventually followed orders, but not before he prefaced things with, “This is for Brandon Freakin’ Short!” or something to that affect. Short went after him, and Shockey wound up with a mouse under his eye. Sure wish I was there for that one, but we’re not allowed to eat with the players.
3. TIKI BARBER: I loved Tiki. Always willing to fill your notebook, as long as he had a full stomach. He often wouldn’t do interviews until after he’d eaten, which was okay because then he’d stand there for a half-hour fielding any and all questions. Always interesting and well-spoken.
4. THE CANNONBALL: Special teams drills can be as dull as any others unless they’re knocking punts out of bounds. You kind of have to keep your wits about you, or you might wind up embarrassing yourself as I did in the 2001 camp. Strong-legged Rodney Williams had just rocketed one toward us reporters. I figured, let me catch this one. Had it all lined up, too, until I saw it coming down like a cannonball. I ducked. It missed me. Another inch to the left, though, and they’d have called for the paramedics. That got a good laugh from the players and my colleagues, who didn’t let that one die for a long, long time.
5. STRAHAN AND GRAGG: Scott Gragg was a mild-mannered left tackle, perhaps way too nice to have to go up against Michael Strahan in pass-rush drills. Used to have a perverse enjoyment seeing Strahan torture him verbally as he repeatedly blew by the tackle. I remember hearing distinctly one play, “Don’t be sad, Gragg!” to which Gragg responded with a dirty word. They did get into it physically once or twice, with predictable results.
There were others, but you get the picture. Now share with me your memories.