Let's take a journey together, and go through my first day of Chargers training camp.
I pull up outside Chargers Park and immediately notice the picture in the window. It's the one of Cromartie, wearing powder blue, intercepting a Peyton Manning pass while nearly parallel to the ground. Great picture, but I had to laugh at having him out front when the team doesn't seem too happy with him as of late.
I ask around and everyone is pointing me in the right direction. I get my credential (a wristband) and walk in as the team stretches. For notes about what I saw as I walked around training camp, check here and here. I talked to exactly two people during the morning practice. Eric, who was working "security" and keeping journalists off the grass, and Bill Johnston, the Director of Public Relations for the Chargers and the man who decides which media is in and which isn't.
So the first practice ends and I'm following a group of journalists. Bill had told me that after practice Norv would be talking "at the podium" and the locker room was open. Okay, cool. So I follow the group of journalists to a Q&A with Norv at the podium. I had a couple of questions ready but never spoke up. I may be able to write, but confidence in an unfamiliar land is not a strong-suit of mine.
After Norv is done I walk into the locker room. If you've never been in an NFL locker room, it is incredibly intimidating. The players are grouped together by position and talking to each other, or dancing to the blaring music. They're also all naked or in the process or getting naked, except for Philip Rivers (who seemed to be dressed 30 second after practice) and LT (who I didn't see in the locker room at all). I'll admit, I panicked. I had questions prepared in my head instead of on paper, but suddenly my brain froze. All of my favorite stars are not only right in front of me, but they're all naked!
At one point I saw that Merriman was all alone (a rarity for a quote-machine like him) and started walking towards him. Half-way there he starts undressing. I know, as an aspiring journalist, that players give interviews like this all the time, but I can't possibly imagine introducing myself to "Lights Out" while he's like that. So I wound up grabbing exactly one "exclusive" interview after the morning practice, with Kassim Osgood. He was very friendly and didn't punch me in the face when I asked "Do you really think you can play Safety in the NFL?" So that was nice of him. After finishing with Kassim I turned around and three-quarters of the team were gone. Uh-oh.
I walked out of the locker room and found the PR intern that had helped me get my credentials when I had gotten there in the morning. I asked her where everyone's going. "They're all going back to their hotel to eat lunch and relax before the afternoon practice." Crap. I had missed this big opportunity. I asked if I would have an opportunity to talk to the players before the second practice. No dice. So what should I do? "Go have lunch if you don't have anything else planned. Come back at quarter-to-four."
The next couple hours were filled with moping. I had chickened out. It's not something I do often, and I was pissed about it. The only thing that was keeping my spirits up was knowing that I would probably have another shot at it after the afternoon practice. So I got my spicy chicken sandwich and 2 tacos from Jack In The Box (best chicken sandwich anywhere) and psyched myself back up. I also called my wife, who told me that if I came all this way and didn't take advantage of it she'd make sure I never heard the end of it.
So, the afternoon practice starts and I'm feeling better. This time I'm talking with other people there, just as a way to kill time and trade stories. I wind up chatting for about an hour with a camera guy for Channel 4, who surprisingly has never heard of Gaslamp Ball. He was really nice though and gave me exactly what I was looking for: reputations. He went down the roster for me, letting me know which guys were easy interviews and which guys to stay away from. There was only one guy labeled a primadonna, so that's good. This was all the ammunition I needed.
Cut to the end of the 2nd practice. All of a sudden I'm terrified again. I walk into the locker room behind Acee and he catches Rivers (who, again, seems already dressed) and they talk like old friends. This does nothing to encourage me. I walk into the locker room and walk around it once or twice (I must've done it 50 times after the first practice) before finally saying "Screw it, I really have nothing to lose." With that being said, I grabbed the guy that was at the top of the Channel 4 guy's list of "Nice guys/Easy Interviews".
I asked Luis Castillo, who was dressing into regular clothes but was still taped up, for a couple of minutes for some questions. He said "I have to go do this charity thing." I was dejected. I was crushed. "Why don't you walk with me and we'll do it while we walk?" Hell yeah! So that's exactly what we do, and because he knew I wasn't done yet Luis even stopped to stretch and re-tie his shoes so I wouldn't get lost in the sea of kids waiting for him. Great, great interview that was mostly centered around his career and his health.
So with some confidence I start walking back to the locker room and almost walk straight into Nick Hardwick, another guy towards the top of "the list". Even though he still had on his pads and everything, he took a couple of minutes to answer my questions and give me some of his background. We even joked about our wives and our tattoos before it was over.
These two interviews taught me something: shaking hands with a lineman while his hands are still taped stings. They also taught me that the team is not made up of big, scary, mean guys. Rather they're just like normal guys, most of them more than willing to chat you up if they're not doing anything, they just have really big bodies. As somebody who is probably 5'7", I did a lot of looking up.
So now I'm probably walking around with a smile on my face. I have momentum, I can't stop! I walk backinto the locker room to try and find the guy I've been looking for all day: Shaun Phillips. Not only did I want to hear his stance on English, Merriman, Rivera, etc. but he's also a Philly guy so I wanted to trade stories about cheesesteak.
Lucky for me, Shaun's sitting right at his locker. I ask him if he's got a few minutes and he says "REAL quick, I gotta run." He didn't rush me at all though, at one point he ran away mid-answer to grab something a few lockers down and made sure to tell me "I'm not leaving, stay right there." He seemed excited to start the season, but when I turned around after finishing the interview, I found somebody who just about radiates when you talk about week 1. Shawne Merriman.
There's a picture in the UT today of Merriman and English. Merriman looks huge in the picture, his muscles are bulging. The picture can't do him justice. I think he assumes I have a lisp now because I stumbled over all my words so bad. However, out of all my interviews nobody was more welcoming (and they were all very welcoming) than Shawne. I even asked about his Twitterberry and he told me about how it never seemed to work, and if it did he'd be tweeting twice as much as he does now. I recommended he switch to an iPhone and we ended talking about tattoos (yes, again).
That was about all I could handle. Once again my brain froze, but only because of the sense of euphoria I felt. I figured that was enough, since most of the guys were gone anyways. I walked out of the locker room and was told by 3 different members of the Chargers staff that I looked like I was "on cloud nine." And I was. Not only had I gotten over the fears that were holding me back in the morning practice, but I had gotten some really great interviews with some of the best Chargers players.
So, I'm going to attempt to do much of the same from FanFest today. I intend on being on the field and in the locker room afterwards. Tweet me if you're there. I'm going to try to transcribe the interviews tomorrow and get them up as quickly as possible. Stay tuned for that. The pictures I took will either be up on Sunday or Tuesday.
Also, we'll be doing a meet-up of the BFTB writers and fans tonight at
7:30pm 6pm at the Gaslamp Tavern. All of the Gaslamp Ball guys are cordially invited, just because they usually bring trouble with them (and because I've always wanted to watch a Padres game with them). So, loyal BFTB readers, will you be there?