"[Vermeil's] training camp is very intense," Johnson said, back then. "You take a lot of pounding. I feel I've served my time."
Hell seemed normal to me after that first summer, and after a couple of Buddy Ryan's training camp (especially the first one in 1986), and after about the first decade of Andy Reid camps, which featured morning and afternoon hitting for 3 consecutive days at the beginning. Because of that, it is still a little bit odd to see what camp is today, shortened and softened by both common sense and collective bargaining.
After an 80-minute walkthrough Friday morning — no helmets, no pads, no nothing — former Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas was having the same problem.
"Practice is…over?" he bellowed, incredulously, as he stood at the side of the practice fields at Lehigh University.
Reid heard about it from Douglas afterward, and from another former player, WIP host Ike Reese.
"Yeah, Ike and Hugh," Reid said. "They were making fun of how easy it is now. But I told Hugh to go ask one of the guys he works with at ESPN, Mike Golic, what it was like. I'm sure Golic [who played on the defensive line for Ryan] would tell him how much harder he had it than Hugh. And the guys before Golic would tell Golic.
“That's the way it has gone. The older guys will always look at the younger guys the same way."
Reid still will hit in camp, starting Saturday. Almost nobody in the NFL offers a steady routine of live hitting and tackling in training camp, but the Eagles still will. It has been Reid's formula since the beginning and it was terribly interrupted last summer by the new collective bargaining agreement, which limits practice time in pads and helmets and mandates days off during training camp.
Did all of that lead to 8-8? Probably not. As Reid said, "Everybody else had the same problem." But it didn't help, either, and it led to a change for this summer's camp. The noncontact walkthroughs will be in the morning. The full practices — 2 hours, 40 minutes worth — will be in the afternoon heat.
Reid offered a bunch of reasons. One of the big ones is that this will give players a chance to hydrate and eat two meals before doing the big physical work of the day. It also will more closely mimic the Eagles' regular-season routine. It also was at least a tacit acknowledgement that after working them hard in the morning last summer, they really didn't get as much out of the afternoon walkthroughs as they liked. This way, the players will be fresher for the more cerebral part of the day and better fueled for the hard work.
"Believe it or not, the coaches kind of like the walkthroughs," Reid said. "It's a good learning period. And then, for the afternoons, what I told the team was that they were just going to have to maximize each snap. You can't take a play off, because there just aren't enough reps in the day anymore.
“It's all about focus now, all the time. Into the huddle, from the huddle to the ball, back to the huddle — just focus."
Back when, it was not about focus. It was about survival, and no one even pretended otherwise. One of the veterans of that 1982 Eagles team was left tackle Stan Walters. The way the story goes, Walters once sidled up to Vermeil after one of his typical 3-hour, two-a-day death marches and wondered about why it had to be so hard.
Vermeil said, "I haven't found the last three guys on the roster yet." Walters replied, "But why do you have to kill the first 42 guys to find them?"
It is the way they did it, and it is better now — smarter, safer, saner. Still, Reid always has had a little bit of Vermeil in his heart and he always will.
"With the exception of the punter, kicker and quarterback in this camp, they all better be into [the physical] part of it," Reid said. "That's part of the sport, and you can't get away from it. You've got to come out and you've got to endure it and work on it. You need to work on your blocking and tackling, because it doesn't get more important than that in this sport. The receivers when it is full contact and the running backs in the secondary level need to make sure they get used to playing there and playing fast."
Which they will, starting Saturday. Reid really knows no other way.
Contact Rich Hofmann at email@example.com. Follow him in Twitter @TheIdleRich. Read his blog at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/RichHofmann.