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Camp Cookout Seahawks’ Return Stirs Memories Of Unbearable Heat And Unparalleled Success

I trained the first day of Seattle Seahawks training camp, July 9, 1976, in Cheney. That didn’t make up for one of coach Jack Patera’s mandates:

No water on the field.

“We did up-downs for a while,” said Dave Brown, a defensive back who had come over from Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. “And there was no water on the field. Coach didn’t believe in having water on the field, and for years that was the case.”

Eventually Patera let the players drink. But, as Jacob Green recalls, one day under a blazing Cheney sun in the early ‘80s, the best defensive end in Hawks’ history lost his cool.

And the players lost their water.

“I was calling the ballboy over and he was giving water to some guys who hadn’t even practiced,” said Green, still sheepish at the memory. “So I grabbed the ballboy and the water. After that, Jack said there was too much confusion and he took the water away.

“A lot of the guys got mad at me.” Ballboy included.

From the inaugural season in ‘76 until 1985, the Seahawks trained in Cheney, honed the art of fake field goals and set the foundation for the franchise’s most successful seasons.

After a decade in distraction-filled Kirkland, the Seahawks return to Eastern Washington University on Wednesday with a new owner, a new stadium on the horizon and the hope of tapping into that special something that Cheney provided in the past.

Ask former Seahawks about Cheney camps and prepare for an outpouring of memories, pranks and humorous stories, all of which helped create unusually tight-knit teams.

Cheney is where a young Dave Krieg caught a lucky break when Steve Myer was injured, where Steve Largent perfected his precise patterns, where Gov. Dixy Lee Ray nearly made a tackle, where assistant coach Jerry Rhome chewed out Pete Metzelaars’ dad. Or so Rhome thought, but more on that later.

“There was something about Cheney that gave you that old gridiron feeling,” Green said, “like old-time football.

Unusual opportunities

Oppressive heat. No water. Limited entertainment.

“The big joke is that there are two watering holes in town and the coaches will be at one and we’ll all be at the other,” quarterback John Friesz said, adding a laugh.

Many players used to dread coming to Cheney. Not Dan Doornink. The Washington State grad carved his niche as Mr. Dependable there.

“Jim Zorn and I would take a 15-mile bike ride after the second practice of two-a-days,” said Doornink, a doctor in Yakima these days. “Sometimes we’d get up and go fishing before practice. Where else can you do that?”

Kenny Easley used to play golf at 5 a.m., then tee off on teammates at 9 a.m. practice. Video games were becoming popular and many Seahawks passed their time zapping space invaders. Some players tossed down a few beers after practice. Late-night card games broke out in their dorm rooms.

But really, players didn’t have much spare time. There was always the next practice, meal, meeting. And that blasted 11 p.m. bedcheck.

“It was pretty easy to get in trouble for guys who were trouble-prone (in Kirkland),” Doornink said. “It was too easy to be distracted over there.”

Coach Dennis Erickson, University of Idaho’s coach at the time, used to visit Cheney to catch up with Vandal turned Seahawk John Yarno and pick up coaching tidbits. From the sidelines, Erickson believes he saw that often unrecognizable element known as chemistry.

“The guys had such a closeness, and you could see it as a coach,” he said. “That was just when they were starting to do some really good things.

“As I talked to the players that were in Cheney, those were probably some of the closest groups of teams and players. That’s what you want to develop if you’re going to win.”

Brown agrees.

“Some guys were happy about camp coming to (Kirkland) because it was closer to home,” said Brown, now a Seahawks assistant coach. “But training camp is training camp. You’re away from your family and you have to concentrate and work at football. In Cheney, we were away from everything.”

After Cheney camps, Seattle’s record was 71-83, including three playoff wins. After Kirkland, Seattle was 80-97 with no postseason victories.

“Coming from Houston, the heat wasn’t really a factor for me,” Green said. “But it certainly helped us in conditioning. We were in better shape than a lot of the teams we played.”

Aw, the heat.

“It’s the closest thing to misery when you knew you had to go full speed in a drill and the defensive guy knew the play,” Doornink said.

But Doornink relished the benefits.

“It was a good feeling having accomplished a day of practice,” he said. “The thing people don’t realize is maybe 40 percent of what’s going on in training camp is mental, 60 percent is physical. More guys get cut not because they can’t do it but because they can’t figure it out.”

Fans often a plus

Friesz didn’t visit Cheney camps when he was a youngster in Coeur d’Alene, but he already likes the notion of spectators.

“In Kirkland, our training camp isn’t much different than regular-season practices,” he said. “It’ll be nice to have some fans so if you make a great play, the people clap. The thing about it is families can take their kids out and watch something kind of special and it doesn’t cost them a dollar. It provides, possibly, a memory to last a lifetime.”

Memories clog Doornink’s mind. Like the time assistant coach Rhome was fed up with a heavyset, belligerent fan.

“Zorn and Largent rigged it to make Jerry think it was Metzelaars’ dad. Metzelaars was a rookie. So Jerry apologizes to the guy after making a nasty comment,” Doornink said, “but it wasn’t Metzelaars’ dad.”

One time, Ray, the governor at the time, was viewing practice, a publicity stunt no doubt. “Coach Patera was feeling a little guilty, so that day he stopped practice and we all had a Popsicle - like a prisoner-of-war video where they show ‘em getting good food.

“Anyway,” Doornink continued, “one of the plays goes toward the sideline where she (Ray) is watching. And there are some players tumbling around and some of her aides in suits get knocked down. I can still remember (defensive tackle) ‘Heartburn’ Hardy yelling, ‘DON’T HURT THE GOVERNOR!’ from across the field. We were all rolling on the ground.”

At another camp, Doornink recalls quarterback Myer rolling on the ground in pain after being tackled.

Enter fresh-faced Dave Krieg.

“When Dave was a rookie, it was kind of a joke because he was like a ballboy. He came in just to throw enough balls in practice so the other quarterbacks wouldn’t ruin their arms,” Doornink said.

“He’d drop back to pass and Jerry (Rhome) would have to tell him where to throw it. But as time went on, Dave had a knack for making plays, throw it sidearm or just out of reach of (defensive) guys.

“In the last scrimmage before preseason, Myer got hurt and never played again. That allowed Dave to make the team. We all thought it was hilarious, but lo and behold, Dave becomes one of the all-time quarterbacks in the NFL. If Myer hadn’t gotten hurt, I guarantee you that Dave would have never thrown an NFL pass.”

Attempts to contact Krieg were unsuccessful. Now with the Oilers, he was en route to his 18th training camp.

The scientific approach

Rookies should expect the usual hazing - toting the veterans’ food trays and being forced to sing at the dining hall.

“Yeah, I had to sing my fight song (from Texas A&M), but I would sing so bad they didn’t want me to sing any more,” said Green, who, like Doornink and several former players, plans to visit this summer’s camp.

When it came to surviving Cheney camps, though, Doornink was probably the king.

“I had it timed to the second where I’d go to lunch, eat, get into bed at 12:01 for a nap, get out of bed at 1:01, get taped, stretch for an hour, drink just the right amount of Gatorade, because if you drank too much, there were no bathrooms and if you didn’t drink enough, you’d get dehydrated out there.”

He could probably sell that information to the 80 incoming players. Charge ‘em a little extra, Dan, and include some water.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 4 Photos (1 color)

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