On a warm and muggy August evening, the Colts held their Friday Night Lights practice at Grand Park in Westfield.
As the players ran through drills on the field, those who came before them watched from the sideline.
“Excited to have those guys back,” said Coach Frank Reich. “It really stems down from the Irsay family. It is a family business. And we want that feeling here amongst our players. And so, we welcome them back all the time.”
“It’s the foundation,” said former wide receiver Reggie Wayne. “These are the guys that laid the bricks. Seeing them on the sideline and catching up with them, it’s awesome. These are my brothers. Whenever they’re around, it’s definitely going to bring a smile to your face.”
Wayne was there in a dual role – as alumni player and volunteer coach.
“I’m on both sides of the fence,” he said.
And the night practice brought back some memories for him.
“Tonight was the first time where I actually missed football. It was actually the first time. Just coming out here – I know when I was playing, every time at camp when there was a night practice we would always get amped up because this was the closest thing we’d get to a game.”
Memories like that keep them coming back and bond them for life.
“Playing ball is a really short part of your life, but it’s a really important part, said former offensive lineman Ben Utt. “All of us have a connection back here.”
“During your playing days and after your playing days, it’s kind of hard to speak to regular civilians about what we go through. So events like this, I wish could happen a lot more,” said former kicker Danny Kight. “It’s the best kind of therapy that we can have.”
“Just seeing all the faces that we haven’t seen,” said former long snapper Justin Snow. “Just for us to be here together again and enjoying this and to be welcomed back – it’s long overdue.”
Like Snow, many of them had their families with them.
“With my kids growing up and seeing their kids, comparing ages and what are they doing in sports,” he said. “It’s fun for us dads to compare notes. ‘What does your son do? How fast does he run?’”
Former offensive lineman Charlie Johnson brought his wife and two sons back with him.
“We took them to Brownsburg and showed them our old house, they don’t remember because they were too young. We drove by the complex. They don’t remember any of that, so that was kind of cool. They were excited about seeing all that.”
And Johnson was excited about connecting with his old teammates.
“It’s a brotherhood. It’s something that we shared,” he said. “We won a lot of games when we were here. It’s something we can’t forget.”
Former center Jeff Saturday was at practice a few days earlier. But it still felt like a family reunion for him.
“I walked in and it feels like home. I see all my guys and with Frank being back here, it’s a special place, special guys,” he said. Just a lot of love and great feelings when I got here.”
Training camp is where a lot of memories are made. And the players couldn’t help but notice how things have changed over the years.
“My first year we were in the old dorms at Rose-Hulman. My feet were hanging off the bed, mattresses were terrible – all in all, you can’t really complain, but these guys have got it pretty good now,” said former offensive lineman Ryan Diem. “No offense to those wonderful institutions, but the facilities here are top notch.”
Training camp at Grand Park is a far cry from bunk beds and community bathrooms.
“It was a big, huge shower and after the first five or six guys went, it would fill up with water and you were always showering in six inches of water,” said former center Stan Eisenhooth of his days in the old dorms at Anderson University. “As sad as this sounds, you hoped the guy you roomed with got cut so you could slide both beds together and then you had a double bed.”
“Sometimes us old guys, we like to say, ‘Oh, it was tougher back then.’ Let’s just put it this way, it was different,” said Reich. "The hard work is the same – and year round. It’s a full-time commitment.”
“We had to have an offseason because we had to get a job,” Eisenhooth laughed.
It’s the evolution of the athlete and athletic training said former cornerback Marlin Jackson.
“Why shouldn’t these guys be comfortable when they’re busting their tail all day? Quality rest leads to quality production when you come out here on the field for practice,” he said.
“I’m not mad at them,” said Kight. “I’m rooting for them. Looking for some great things from these guys this year.”
Former offensive lineman Joe Reitz isn’t mad, but he is a little jealous.
“I think it’s cool just the way the guys walk in and kids carrying helmets and walking with them after practice, there are some neat traditions that are starting here in Westfield and I think you’re only going to see this grow from year one,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to what it’s going to be like two, three, four years from now – just how wonderful the camp experience will be.”
Traditions are about embracing the past while creating the future.
Over the years, the names and faces of the Colts players have changed, but one thing has not.
They’re part of the Colts family – for life.