On July 30th the Detroit Lions will begin training camp at their Allen Park headquarters, and once again, the team will announce a few dates when fans can watch the team go through its drills.
Older Lions fans will recall when the team practiced at the beautiful Cranbrook School grounds in Bloomfield Hills through the summer of 1974. Fans were welcome every day and at the end of camp enjoyed watching the blue and white teams face each other in a scrimmage game at Wisner Stadium in Pontiac or at the University of Detroit Stadium.
Of course the most famous camp at Cranbrook occurred in 1963 when writer George Plimpton tried out for the team and subsequently wrote arguably the greatest football book, Paper Lion.
Back then, fans were allowed to watch training camp everyday and after practice they would obtain autographs from the players.
Sometimes they were lucky enough to retrieve equipment and footballs and on occasion toss “The Duke.” Plimpton describes one incident in Paper Lion where one fan got a little greedy.
Quarterback Earl Morrall lined up several kids to go out for passes.
After several throws, one boy ran a deep route and Morrall hit him on the run. The kid kept running . . . and running . . . and running . . . and ended up stealing a genuine Wilson football.
In August of 1964 as a nine year old, I had the great fortune to attend camp one day when my Dearborn neighbor, assistant coach Bob Nussbaumer had his wife take me and my mother to Cranbrook.
I will never forget standing behind the ropes and watching my heroes, in their Honolulu Blue, running scrimmage plays. They were all there: Nick Pietrosante, Joe Schmidt, Gail Cogdill, Alex Karras, Roger Brown. All larger than life. When practice ended I carried two Lion helmets into the locker room and obtained numerous autographs. At the end of the day, Bob Nussbaumer drove me and head coach George Wilson back to Dearborn.
Occasionally I go back to Cranbrook and walk the grounds. I can’t help but gravitate to the football field just off of Lone Pine and think back about that training camp experience.
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