It happens every summer in NFL training camps from California to Florida and Minnesota to Massachusetts. When unusually large men are ordered to slam into each other at full speed twice a day for a week or two, fuses get short and so does your memory. Several years ago, then NFL Rookie of the Year Vince Young, the Tennessee Titans' quarterback, grew irate at the way one of his teammates on defence kept slamming his receivers to the ground with a bit more enthusiasm than he felt necessary.
When safety Donnie Nickey dropped receiver Courtney Roby with a choke hold, Young could take it no longer, charging down the field hollering and cursing. When Nickey put his hand on Young's chest to slow him, the young quarterback hauled it off and smacked him in his helmet with a haymaker, causing players from the offence and defence to leap in and head coach Jeff Fisher to feel his heart leap. In the heat of the moment, Young had completely forgotten the unprotected hand he had swung into the unyielding helmet of a teammate was the same hand paid millions to throw passes. He and Nickey soon were laughing about the altercation, but the safety refused to apologise, that not being a trait of most NFL players.
"Someone comes at me I'm not going to back down," he said later. "I don't care if it's Vince or President Bush. That's just instincts coming out." Aggressive instincts and testosterone overload have led to many a training camp fight between otherwise jovial and friendly teammates. Last week three separate fights broke out at the New York Jets' summer training camp in upstate New York, with the leading running back Thomas Jones taking a swing at a tackler named James Ihedigbo after feeling there was a wee bit too much aggression in his play. Two other fights soon followed among other disgruntled Jets' teammates, at which the head coach, Rex Ryan, called them all together and reprimanded them?but not too much.
"Hey, we had a little rock 'em, sock 'em robots out there," Ryan joked. "It always happens this time of year. You've been through a few days and you're tired of getting hit and of doing all this kind of stuff." Added the Jets' defensive end Jamaal Westerman: "We're still teammates off the field but on the field its offence v defence." Training camps open with two or three weeks spent ordering teammates to tackle each other, grab each other, smack into each other. It can get on your nerves, and when it does fists usually start flying. After an appropriate amount of time coaches blow their whistles and then a certain protocol has to be followed before things come to an end.
"Offensive players pull off defence players and vice versa," Ryan said. "The reason you do that is your buddy can get another shot in on somebody. You don't pull off your guy so he gets hit." The former New England Patriot safety turned TV analyst Rodney Harrison recently admitted he got into it several times with the Patriots' All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady. Brady being The Franchise, Harrison was smart enough not to hit him but he let him know where he and the rest of the defence stood on things.
"I got into it a couple of times with Brady," Harrison admitted. "We screamed [at each other]. As a defensive leader you're going to get into it with offensive players." Normally it is with offensive players wearing different colour jerseys, but during training camp there is so much physical play between teammates that at times somebody just snaps. "If this is how you go against your teammates OK, well, let's see how you go against your opponents," said the Jets' Ihedigbo.