INDIANAPOLIS —Almost four decades ago, it was a physician that sparked Dave Hammer's interest in a career in athletic training.
Since that time, Hammer has worked diligently to improve his craft and work his way up the ladder within the Colts' training staff, earning the respect of his peers, as well as the countless players and coaches he's worked with, along the way.
And, perhaps fittingly, it was the NFL Physicians Society that recently acknowledged Hammer for his efforts.
Hammer last week was named the 2018 recipient of the Fain Cain Memorial Award, which identifies the NFL's Outstanding Athletic Trainer of the Year.
"It was definitely a very unexpected surprise," said Hammer, who received the award at the NFL Team Physicians Scientific Meeting and Symposia at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Hammer's career with the organization spans almost 40 years. A member of the undergraduate athletic training curriculum at West Virginia from 1977-82, and then a grad assistant at Syracuse from 1982-84 — where he earned his Master's degree — Hammer first spent training camp with the Baltimore Colts in 1981 as a member of the team's summer staff.
Hammer would serve with the club during parts of the next three seasons before being named assistant athletic trainer in July of 1984, shortly after the team made the move to Indianapolis. In 2006, Hammer was promoted to associate head athletic trainer, and in 2009, he was named the team's head athletic trainer.
But Hammer isn't the only member of the Colts' training staff with noted longevity within the organization. Assistant athletic trainer Dave Walston is entering his 26th season in Indy in 2018, Erin Barill this year is entering his 16th season with the Colts and 13th as director of rehabilitation, while Kyle Davis, another assistant athletic trainer, is entering his 10th year with the club. The staff is rounded up by Kellen Norris, who enters his fifth season as a full-time assistant athletic trainer in 2018.
Hammer believes he has the best staff in the game. For example: Walston recently was also presented with the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society's (PFATS) Tim Davey Award as the AFC Assistant Athletic Trainer of the Year.
"I think the key to our longevity here is multi-faceted," Hammer said. "First, we have the trust of our players; without that no amount of work is going to get them better. Second, we have a staff that has different strengths and weaknesses and we maximize the strengths of the staff. Lastly, this all means nothing if management and ownership doesn't believe in you and trust that what you are doing is the right thing to do."
The Fain-Cain Memorial Award was established in 1998 to recognize an NFL athletic trainer "who best reflects the virtues of a certified athletic trainer and displays the highest level of professionalism," according to the NFLPS. It's named for Dr. Thomas E. Cain and Dr. Robert H. Fain, both of whom were noted longtime team physicians for the Houston Oilers.
Former Colts head athletic trainer Edward "Hunter" Smith, the only other member of the organization to receive the award, was named the Fain-Cain Memorial Award winner in 2009.
Much like the team on the field, an organization's medical staff must work closely together in order to provide the best care possible. It's an effort appreciated by those doing whatever they can to stay on the active roster each week.
"Athletic trainers were certainly very important to me during my professional football career, helping me stay healthy, helping (with) what I call preventative maintenance to keep you from having an injury," legendary Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said recently, according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association. "And it's certainly very important at the youth level and the high school level, keeping the kids safe — it's important we keep our game safe every year. So they're very important."
Manning personally named Hammer and Steve "Greek" Antonopulos, now the Denver Broncos' director of sports medicine, as two trainers who made a positive impact on his career.
And although he never seeks the spotlight, Hammer said he's proud to have been named this year's Fain-Cain Memorial Award because it's a reflection on his entire staff.
"No individual award — in a team-oriented sport at least — is accomplished without great people working around them," Hammer said. "All our assistants, interns and doctors have played a part in this. It also is extremely beneficial to work in an organization that has so many good people to work with and a loyal, supportive management and ownership."