When they weren't standing on the practice field, sitting in a meeting room or lying on their beds, quarterback Trent Dilfer and center Robbie Tobeck engaged in some serious one-upmanship a few summers ago at the Seahawks' training camp in Cheney, Wash.
Dilfer struck first. After practice one day, he rubbed Flexall, a deep-heating topical analgesic, in Tobeck's shorts. Tobeck discovered it before he got burned. But still he retaliated.
At an outdoors store, Tobeck bought some coyote urine scent, a highly concentrated musky odor that hunters use to attract coyotes. He returned to the players' dorm at Eastern Washington University and smeared the scent throughout Dilfer's room--under the bed, along the floorboards, in the bathroom. That night, as Tobeck walked past the room, he smelled incense and candles burning and saw Dilfer, on his hands and knees, scrubbing his room with a bottle of bleach. Welcome to the lighter side of training camp, where a little levity can go a long way toward breaking the tedious cycle that repeats itself day … after day … after day.
Meetings that start early in the morning. Two-a-day practices under a broiling sun. Aching bodies immersed in tubs of ice water. Heads buried deep inside playbooks. Meetings that end late at night.
"It's like Groundhog Day," Texans center Mike Flanagan says. "You see the same people at the same time wearing the same clothes every single day. You pretty much know that at 7:15 this guy is going to walk by my locker and fart. You've got to have something to break up the monotony."
Playing pranks is one way to combat the wearisome pattern. Often, the targets of the tomfoolery are quarterbacks, and it doesn't matter whether it's a third-string rookie free agent or a six-year veteran with three Super Bowl rings.
As he lined up for a snap during a practice last year, Tom Brady noticed each of his linemen had a picture taped to the back of his jersey. The pictures, snipped from the pages of GQ, showed the Patriots' quarterback in some interesting poses. In one, he had his arms wrapped around a baby goat. In another, he lay on the grass, nuzzled by three dogs. Others showed him resting his Stetson-covered head on a knapsack, kicking back in a saddle on a horse and wearing a tuxedo under a coat with a fur-lined collar.
It was a good prank, but what made it great was that this practice was at Gillette Stadium, in front of a group of fans. Brady ripped the picture off the back of the player closest to him, center Dan Koppen.
"Mine managed to stay on a little longer," says left tackle Matt Light -- who claimed he was forced to go along with the prank, although he was the guy wearing the picture of Brady holding the goat. "I would never do anything to embarrass a teammate of mine."
In 2003, his rookie season with the Ravens, quarterback Kyle Boller was being interviewed live by a Baltimore cable TV station on a patio outside the team hotel. Suddenly, he heard the roar of a diesel engine. From around the corner, about 25 feet away, a flatbed tow truck came into view, carting away Boller's brand-new Cadillac Escalade. Somehow, Boller maintained his poise and completed the interview.
"The last thing I was worried about was my car," Boller says. "I figured I had had my car towed before, and I can always get it back. I was a rookie. I wanted to be sure I got the interview."
The tow truck drove about 200 yards before it stopped and dropped off the SUV. Boller learned quarterback Chris Redman had been behind the prank. "He just said, 'Welcome to the NFL,' " Boller says.
New England linebacker Ted Johnson tells about a prank pulled on Drew Bledsoe, who was the Patriots' quarterback. According to Johnson, backup quarterback Scott Zolak and offensive linemen Max Lane and Todd Rucci went into Bledsoe's room and duct-taped several of his possessions to the wall. They also brought in a patch of sod, dug out a small hole and inserted a golf flag. "Those guys took it to the next level," Johnson says.
Apparently it didn't leave a lasting impression on Bledsoe, who now is with the Cowboys. A Dallas staff member asked him about the incident, and Bledsoe couldn't remember it happening.
One quarterback who has carte blanche is Brett Favre. He'll pull his share of pranks, but you better not try to make him a victim. "He's the king," says Flanagan, who played in Green Bay from 1998 to 2005. "You don't really want to mess with him."
Not surprisingly, the biggest victims of practical jokes are rookies -- especially ones who refuse a veteran's order to carry his equipment, bring him doughnuts or sing in the cafeteria. The Jets' Dewayne Robertson, a first-round draft choice in 2003, felt he was immune to honoring such traditions. And he paid a price.
Veteran offensive linemen Kevin Mawae and David Szott went rabbit hunting one night with Szott's new automatic BB gun. After several misfires, they shot a hare. Not sure what to do with it, they brought it back to the locker room and hung it up behind Robertson's practice jersey.
"The next day, as we were getting ready for practice, we just watched as he sat in his locker, unaware of the rabbit hanging there," says Mawae, now with the Titans. "He finally saw it and freaked out. He knew who was behind it, but it was pretty funny to Dave and me. We began calling him 'Rabbit.' It stuck for a while."
When guard Steve Morley didn't fulfill one of his rookie duties during the Packers' camp in 2004, Flanagan decided to teach him a lesson. Flanagan called a local garage and arranged for a mechanic to come out and tinker with Morley's Ford Explorer. Later that day, Morley found his car up on blocks in the players' parking lot, and the vehicle's wheels and tires were in his locker.
"He didn't know what to do," Flanagan says. "I let him stew on it for most of the day, then I gave him the (garage's) phone number, and they came and put them back on for him."
Some rookies have had the audacity to turn the tables and play pranks on veterans. Last year, Benard Thomas, an undrafted defensive end in Jacksonville's camp, put laxative bars in the defensive linemen's candy jar. Everybody ate one and got sick, including assistant coach Ray Hamilton. "That was pretty ballsy for a rookie," Jaguars linebacker Mike Peterson says.
At the Saints' camp in Thibodaux, La., in 2001, undrafted rookie wide receiver Anthony Collins planted a 7-foot boa constrictor in the locker of veteran receiver Joe Horn. "Everybody knew the snake was in there except Joe," Saints special teams ace Fred McAfee says. "He pulls one of his jerseys back, and the snake is sitting there. His eyes got big. If he were a cartoon character, he would have turned white."
Collins never made it with the Saints, but he wound up playing in the Arena Football League -- appropriately, it seems -- for the New Orleans VooDoo.
Sometimes, players prey on coaches. Take the case of Eagles linebacker Shawn Barber and Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt, who were with the Chiefs in 2003.
Vitt is known for taking a break during his meetings to tell a joke or a story. One time during camp in River Falls, Wis., the topic was fear. Vitt told the Chiefs' linebackers he didn't fear anything -- except bats and rats.
A few nights later, Barber was at a gas station when he spotted a mechanical bat with red eyes and wings that flapped. Knowing Vitt would be in meetings late, Barber brought the bat back to the coaches' dorm and found Vitt's room, which was open. He attached the bat above Vitt's bed, turned out the lights and closed the door.
When Vitt returned to the dorm that night, he was in a cranky mood. He was tired and expecting his room to be hot because the air conditioner had not been working. As he neared his room, he heard a funny noise. Thinking it was the air conditioner and ready to give it a kick, Vitt flung open his door. What he saw was a pair of red eyes flying around. He bolted down the hallway and nearly knocked over another coach.
"What's wrong?" asked the other assistant.
"There's a (expletive) animal in my room," Vitt roared. "I'm going to kick somebody's butt."
Vitt related the tale to his players the next day. Although Vitt never confronted him, Barber found the bat in his locker a few days later.
Patriots players have been known to plant special pens, remote controls and computer mice designed to give off low-voltage jolts. One time, the offensive linemen buzzed an assistant coach who touched a faux mouse during a meeting. "It shocked the snot out of him," Light says. "Then he grabbed it again, thinking it might have been a malfunction. The second time, he figured out what was going on because half of us were on the floor."
A few other examples of how players have relieved the monotony in training camp:
<LI>Some Ravens teammates "stole" Alan Ricard's new Escalade, parked it a mile away on a hill and put a sign on it: "For sale, $50."
<LI>49ers players bought whole fish at a grocery store, opened the air- conditioning vents in tackle Kyle Kosier's room and stuck the fish inside. "Three days later, the air in the room had gotten so foul and disgusting," center Jeremy Newberry says.
<LI>When the Lions trained in Saginaw, Mich., a few players discovered a slab basketball court and threw sand on it. They then raced around the court in golf carts.
<LI>At the Giants' camp last year in Albany, N.Y., one mischievous player put live frogs in some of his teammates' garment bags and crickets in their dorm rooms.
<LI>When Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen was a rookie in 2004, teammate John Welbourn stole the seat off his bicycle, which forced Allen to ride standing up during the entire camp. On the final day, Allen found the seat stuck in the ground.
<LI>A favorite prank is for one player to steal another player's car keys, roll down the window and place a brick and some broken glass on the seat, leaving the impression the car was broken into. "It always raises a nice response," Texans center Steve McKinney says.
<LI>Punter Josh Miller once caused a bit of panic at the Steelers' camp in Latrobe, Pa., when he got hold of a security guard's walkie-talkie and pretended to be an airplane pilot needing to make an emergency landing on the team's practice fields. "All of a sudden you see 87 yellow shirts spring into action," says Miller, now with the Patriots. "The guy on the walkie-talkie is saying, 'You can't land it here. The Steelers are practicing.' " Apparently, punters really do have too much free time.