Every year about this time, we can anticipate the arrival of at least one or two letters that read something like this: "Listen, with all the activity in baseball, auto racing, track and field, boating, golf and tennis, why is it that you have to rush into the pro football season almost before the training camps open?"
To some it probably does seem as though professional football is shouldering its way into the sports scene earlier and earlier each year. And SI has been, we admit, a party to the intrusion. So far this month we have run two pro football covers—Johnny Unitas and Tommy Prothro's play-book—and four stories, including two this week involving the Kansas City Chiefs: a photographic essay on their first days in camp (page 26) and one man's account of his involuntary departure (page 32).
How come? Well, in addition to the letters of protest, we get quite a few more from readers delighted to see a few shoulder pads poking through the midsummer haze. But the main reason is that pro football, like Mount Everest, is there, and like most sports these days, it is no respecter of seasons. A Karl Sweetan incident is news whether it happens in July or mid-April. Johnny Unitas' tips on how to throw a football are most appropriate now, when all the Unitases of tomorrow are beginning to groove their arms and sharpen their eyes for the season ahead.
And there is yet another reason. Professional football's impact on the total sporting scene has increased greatly in the past decade. "When SI started," says pro football writer Tex Maule, "there were only 12 clubs, most of which started camp in late August. They played four exhibition games and seldom created much excitement before midseason.
"Today that's all changed. For one thing, we have 26 clubs now, and the training camps are opening in mid-July. As far as that goes, the players and coaches and owners can make news anytime, and often do. We simply don't have time during a 13-week regular season to cover all the off-the-field activities of the sport. One way or another, pro football is with us the year round."
Maule admits he is a biased observer, having been on the beat for 16 years now and loving every minute of it—except for those he inevitably spends in Minnesota's unheated press box in December. "Because the game blankets the country, there are more people each year becoming interested in the sport, and their interest scarcely dies once the Super Bowl is over. As a magazine, I think we have a responsibility to respond to this interest," Maule concludes.
At the moment, therefore, SI has four members of its pro football staff either at training camps or packing their bags to begin gathering material for our Sept. 18 pro football issue. Maule will make a swing through the Western Division camps (with a stop in Azusa, Calif. where filming is in progress on a movie for TV based on his pro football novel Footsteps). Ron Reid will visit camps in the East, and Mort Sharnik and Joe Marshall will survey progress in other divisions. Their reports will be supplemented by correspondents on the scene who will keep us advised concerning last-minute trades, injuries or defections as the publication date nears for the pro football issue.
All in all, it sounds like preparations for a guest who comes early and stays late.