Craig: After dirty jobs, training camps a labor they love

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2012 - 9:39 AM

Tending pigs and working in sewers are some of the dues Vikings have paid before the big time.

MANKATO - August has arrived with daily reminders that preparing for an NFL season is a long, sweaty, stinky, exhausting and painful proposition. It's also nowhere near being the worst working experiences that most of the Vikings' players, coaches and personnel men have had in their lifetimes.

Once upon a time, these were working stiffs making meager wages while only dreaming of NFL stardom. They were flipping burgers like Kevin Williams, washing cars 12 hours a day like Antoine Winfield and laying sewer pipes, which Christian Ponder did without rock-star status or a $20 million blind-side protector the summer before his senior year at Florida State.

"You think this is hot?" Ponder said. "Try replacing sewage pipes while standing on blacktop during the summer in Florida. Now that's hot."

Way too many of Ponder's teammates dealt with manure. Lots and lots of manure. The kind of manure that smells even worse than 3-13.

"Worst job?" asked Jared Allen, the NFL's reigning sack king. "Cleaning stalls for my dad on the ranch in [Los Gatos,] California."

How much did Pops pay?

"Just the right to live in his house another day," Allen said.

Meanwhile, linebacker Chad Greenway was growing up in Mount Vernon, S.D., as the son of possibly the two hardest-working people in the history of farming. Chad much prefers taking on fullbacks in a 96-degree heat index than setting the alarm for 4:30 a.m. so he can load the pigs for market.

"Who's tougher, an NFL player or a farmer?" Greenway asked. "A farmer. Any day of the week."

Neither Greenway nor Allen, nor any other Viking with manure on his rsum, can top the tale told by their general manager, Rick Spielman, who worked on a pig farm in Carbondale, Ill., during the summers that he played football at Southern Illinois University.

"I did everything no one else wanted to do," Spielman said. "In the mornings, the pigs that were inside the barn, I had to go in there when it was over 100 degrees and shovel all the ..." um, well, you know.

"They'd put 10 pigs in a pen," Spielman said. "They were the ones that weighed about 220 pounds, right before they were shipped to market. They don't move. All they do is lay in that pen and sleep and ..." um, well, you know.

"It would be 3 feet deep," Spielman said. "And I had to scrape it into a gulley and then shovel it out to a tractor so they could use it as manure."

Football was easy

Spielman's first day on the job came with a warning.

"You think you're this big, tough football player, that nothing fazes you," Spielman said. "They tell you you're not going to be used to the ammonia smell. This pen only got cleaned once a day, so you can imagine."

Thankfully, no.

"Well, my first time in, I get my shovel and take my first swoop," Spielman said. "That ammonia went right up into my nose. I went down. Fell right into the ..." um, well, you know.

"I could tell you my pig breeding story, too," Spielman said. "But that's not one for the newspaper."

Paul Wiggin, a Vikings personnel consultant, remembers working in a brickyard in Stockton, Calif., as a kid during the 1950s.

"My brother and I'd handle 20,000 bricks a day," Wiggin said. "My hands and my midsection were never stronger than when I worked in that brickyard. You'd wake up and say to yourself, 'Today, I'm going to go lift another 20,000 bricks.' Oh my gosh, how I looked forward to football practice starting in those summers."

Center John Sullivan worked for a mason in Old Greenwich, Conn.

"I was running the wheelbarrow, mixing concrete and just being miserable in general," Sullivan said. "I'm very happy in the NFL. Very blessed."

Scott Studwell, a former Vikings linebacker and now the team's director of college scouting, cleaned storm sewers in Evansville, Ind.

"Yeah," he said. "Sometimes, it would get a little dirty when you had to go down in and crawl around."

Child labor

Winfield remembers those 11-hour days at his uncle's car wash in Akron, Ohio. There was no collective bargaining agreement protecting teenage car washers at the time.

"Days seemed like forever, so practice doesn't seem so long now," Winfield said. "I've lived my dream for 14 years. And I keep getting to live it, even at my age."

Coach Leslie Frazier's worst job didn't include back-breaking work or falling in ... um, well, you know. But it did freak him out.

"Worst job I ever had was, oh man, having to clean up the graveyard in Columbus, Mississippi," Frazier said. "I'd have to clean around the headstones. Weed-eating, getting rid of the ant beds and stuff like that. Minimum wage, whatever that was back when I was 14 years old."

You've heard the expression, "Whistling past the graveyard"? Well, young Les spent eight-hour shifts "whistling through the graveyard."

"Looking around, it was an eerie job for a young man," Frazier said. "Real eerie."

Frazier laughed at the memories. Then he thought about his favorite eye-opening memory.

"Going to Afghanistan and seeing our troops this year did it for me," Frazier said. "Putting their lives on the line every day, and the sacrifices they were making. There were days when it was 120 to 125 degrees. You're up in the mountains, 7,500 feet above sea level.

"If NFL players could see what these soldiers go through daily, man, you'd never, ever complain about coming to training camp. Matter of fact, you'd probably be like, 'Man, I can't wait to get there!'"

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 1
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: N. Karns 5
Cleveland - WP: C. Kluber 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: A. Swarzak 2
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas - WP: S. Tolleson 2 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Street 1
Philadelphia - LP: M. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Doolittle 8
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: I. Kennedy 8
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: C. Bergman 8
Cincinnati - WP: A. Simon 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: L. Lynn 2
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 37 FINAL
Carolina 19
Chicago 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Washington 1
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Calgary 1 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Edmonton 0 FINAL
Calgary 1
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close