This week marks the start of training camp across the NFL. Ahh the memories! Many of my readers know that my husband, Patrick, played in the league for 6 years. During that time, I kinda had to hold my tongue…I couldn’t say too much, for fear that something could be misconstrued and would reflect poorly upon my husband. Now that we are two years removed from the league, I’m opening up and sharing what training camp is like for the women behind the men, the NFL wives and girlfriends AKA NFL WAGS.
Training camp is a high stress time! Most wives and girlfriends – and even the players – dread it. I can’t speak for all organizations, but I can speak on how the Steelers and the Titans do things. Both require their players to live in a designated area for training camp. For the Steelers, the organization sets up camp on the campus of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA – about an hour and 15 minutes outside of Pittsburgh. This was extremely difficult because the guys are SO far removed – making it more difficult to see their families. It was also tough on the guys because they had to live in dorms and walk the entire campus to get anywhere…training camp in Latrobe is pretty much like being back in college for the guys! The Titans camp is set at their training facility in Nashville, but the guys are required to stay in a nearby hotel. The big con with this was that the hotel had no WIFI in the rooms, so to Facetime, guys have to go to the lobby where there really is no privacy. Organizations require players to stay in a designated location so they know where their players are each night, plus it’s a way to take out the distractions of daily life and put their focus on football. The one positive of it for the guys is after a long and exhausting day, they don’t have to commute back to their homes.
All teams have open and closed practices. If a practice is open to the public, then it is open to family to come as well. As a family member, if you want to go to a practice, your significant other must put your name on the visitors list. Upon arrival, you must check in and are escorted to a designated area for family in the shade. I always enjoyed this because it was a great way to see and talk to friends! The practices are long, hot and honestly kinda boring…it’s not at all like a game, so the enjoyment came though seeing friends there for me.
After practice, you can spend about 15-20 minutes with your guy…this is if he wants to eat into his hot tub/cold tub/relaxation time AND if he doesn’t have to sign autographs. The Titans had scheduled signing days for each player which made that day a bust for seeing your man. In Pittsburgh, there was a giant hill leading from the field to the locker room that was lined with fans wanting photos and autographs. Guys could choose to stop and sign or walk by all the people screaming their name begging for them to stop…!
Point blank, the guys are hot and sweaty from practice, they are tired mentally and physically from nonstop football…they are happy to see you, but they are also happy to see you go so they can finally relax before the next round of meetings starts. It was a lot of travel time and not a lot of personal time when going to practices – but the women do it because that little bit of time is worth it to them when they and their children are missing their man!
Camp lasts nearly a month. During that time the guys play their pre-season games. I always LOVED going to pre-season games because I actually got to see Patrick play at line backer instead of just special teams! It was exciting, but also extremely nerve wracking, knowing his spot on the team relied on his performance. Patrick was never a lock. He was always a bubble player, meaning each year his name was always being tossed around as being on the chopping block. He took training camp and pre-season extremely serious as he knew this was his time to prove his worth on the team! Being the wife of a bubble player isn’t easy…I had to work so hard to not let his bubble burst from a bad day at practice or a missed play during a game. I had to will myself not to kill the time away from him by reading the message boards that would infect my mind with the opinions of others. I also had to push my own fears for the future aside, to be confident for him – all while still trying to keep it real with him! Major juggling act that these days I don’t so much miss!
After a game, the guys get their day off of the week. They fly home right after the game and usually get home sometime after midnight. Patrick would usually be pretty sore so we’d spend his day off vegging out in front of the TV or relaxing in the pool. The guys have to be back at their dorm or hotel by a set curfew time.
During camp, many of the women get together at various times. I hosted the kickoff to our Bible Study one year and another year a pool party as a way for the new girls to meet some of the veteran women. Some would organize for us to work out together, while others would have play dates with their kids. I think the most special to me though was a group of us that got together and prayed for the guys safety before going to see them at camp and before games. You see, NFL WAGS are NOTHING like what the shows on TV portray them as – at least not from my personal experience. There was no cattiness, and fighting, and there was no competition amongst the women. Yes, it made for some different types of friendships, knowing your man and your friends man could be competing for the same job, but there was also an understanding behind it knowing that there wasn’t really much you could do about it. The competition on the field never affected any of my friendships or relationships off the field, and the same goes for Patrick and his teammates. Just like NFL players are a brotherhood of men looking to come together as a team and win, NFL WAGS are a sisterhood of women who are in a similar place wanting to support and uplift their significant other. Not everyone becomes your best friend, but you do make a few life long forever friends from it, and for that I am so thankful!
At the end of camp, football is a job. It’s a man’s livelihood, and it’s a families provision. These guys are competing against their friends, banging up their bodies day in and day out with very little down time. The reality is that 53 men are going to make the team leaving 37 other men without jobs. Many of these guys have wives and children to provide for, and many have not a clue of what comes next for them after football. Getting cut can result in getting picked up by another team and having to up and move within 24 hours time – leaving the woman behind the man to do all the packing and moving herself. Getting cut can result in weeks of sitting and waiting for the phone to ring from a team wanting you to join them, or it can result in nothing. We’ve experienced both and I’m going to share more about that and my personal reflections and stories from camp in my next post!
To all of our friends still in the league – we wish you safety in the weeks to come! Ladies, hang in there…you’re gonna get through it, just like your man is!
Be Blessed + Be A Blessing