Packers players have water readily available to them during practices.
It was almost a year ago, July 31, 2001, that a 27-year-old Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman named Korey Stringer collapsed at a training camp practice in Mankato, Minn., only to die from heatstroke a few hours later.
Stringer was the first player in NFL history to suffer such a tragic fate, yet was only one of four football players to die of heat-related causes last year alone, another being Northwestern University defensive back Rashidi Wheeler.
Their deaths brought an increased focus to the dangers of heat exhaustion and dehydration, and are among the reasons the Packers have erected a 'cool tent' in the southeast corner of Clarke Hinkle Field. The tent, equipped with cooling fans and a horse trough filled with ice water, is designed to offer immediate relief for any player who might find himself falling victim to the heat.
"I think you'd have to call it a precaution," said Packers head trainer Pepper Burruss. "We've heard so much about heat preparation and precautions that we think we've been prepared in the past, but we're always looking to micromanage and see what else we can do."
During Sunday's morning practice, when the temperature on the field ranged from 86 degrees to the low-90s and the heat index wandered between 91 and 96, Burruss said conditions under the tent remained 14 degrees cooler. And while the staple technique for the medical staff will still be to monitor players' hydration levels through pre- and post-practice weigh-ins, the tent stands for the simple reason of, 'Why not?'
"This is all just part of our preparedness, and it's not meant to imply that it's a thousand changes," Burruss said. "We think we've had a lot of this right at our fingertips before."
Already the tent has come in handy. Sunday, rookie defensive end John Gilmore became its first visitor, although Burruss said the time under the tent was purely precautionary and that a fatigued Gilmore was only exhibiting side effects of a sinus condition.
More popular was the tank of ice water in which Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Scott Frost shared turns after practice solely to freshen their legs. Although the Packers' new facilities in Lambeau Field also offers a cold tank for therapeutic use, Burruss said if the outdoor tank continues to remain popular because of its convenience, he will likely add more.
Since training camp began, Burruss has already addressed the team twice about the importance of staying hydrated, but not even a year removed from Stringer's landmark death, he knows that getting players to admit that they are suffering ill-effects from the heat could still pose a challenge in what is a 'tough-guy' sport.
That's why he's giving the players all the facts. If it seems farfetched for a player to feel that his life is at risk, he should at least know that his job might be.
"This is not about the tough-guy mentality," Burruss said. "The thing we want to hit home with these athletes is that this can effect your performance, . . . your decision making, your concentration."
Besides, even if a player is reluctant to call himself out of practice, Sherman has given Burruss the authority to take any player out of practice he deems necessary.
Said Burruss of Sherman, "He's 100-percent onboard with this, he just wants us to appraise him of what's going on. Do we expect him to cancel practice? No, but might he alter it, give us a formal break, change the dress of the day? -- those are all options."
As training camp continues and the heat rises, the Packers won't turn a deaf ear on any protective options, especially if it means preventing another tragic incident like Stringer's, in which one was definitely too many.