Packers' veterans, rookies see benefits of bonding in St. Norbert dorms

Lori Nickel
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers linebacker Blake Martinez speaks with reporters in July of 2016 outside Victor McCormick Hall at St. Norbert College, where he, along with other team members, stay during their summer training camp.

GREEN BAY – With five kids at home, Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby admits it is possible to get better sleep while he’s locked away for two weeks at training camp at St. Norbert College.

“Sometimes,” he laughed.

Kenny Clark doesn’t know much about the new beds that were installed in the dorm rooms, but the defensive lineman doesn’t have to worry about getting his rest during these dog days of August.

“Oh, I love the beds,” Clark said. “I wish I had that in my house.”

Gone are the days when the team roughed it under spartan conditions on springy beds in stuffy dorm rooms. When the Packers are camping out at St. Norbert these days, it’s mostly just to sleep at night, although they also have all the food and amenities to make them comfortable. They are not roughing it together and there are no complaints about the setup, so here’s the question:

Do the Packers really even need training camp at the dorms anymore?

Long-standing tradition

It’s one of the few traditions still alive from the 1950s — pre-Lombardi, even.

In the spring of 1957, then-Packers president Russ Bogda and then-coach Lisle Blackbourn first approached St. Norbert College in De Pere about the idea of moving the Packers from Stevens Point to St. Norbert. In the summer of 1958, coach Scooter McLean made the move.

Putting 100 players in a dorm back then made sense. Coaches needed to see what they were working with and who stayed in shape over the offseason. Players, who hadn’t seen each other much since the final snap of the previous season had to size one another up or, better yet, settle in as teammates with strong alliances to one another.

Now the Packers work together nearly year-round, with practices beginning in April and continuing until mid-June. What’s the benefit of two Packers rooming together during training camp?

Bonding, mostly. Players say this is still the time to connect, between the veterans and young guys, and also the different positions groups while adhering to curfews and bed checks.

“I just had a good conversation with (tight end) Jimmy Graham in the dorms,” rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said. “When we’re at the stadium it’s all football, but he and I got to talk about life, things you don’t get to talk about when everyone goes their separate ways.”

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“I remember being a younger guy and I took that time to connect with the older guys,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said.

There are no complaints about the setup at St. Norbert, just the inconvenience that it’s not home, really.

“The air conditioning, if it stays on, is good,” rookie linebacker Oren Burks said.

“The AC unit is very loud,” defensive lineman Dean Lowry said. “I actually wear ear plugs when I sleep.”

“But that’s all part of it. It’s camp, it’s a grind,” Burks said.

“When you travel, you’re not always going to have a perfect situation anyway,” Lowry said.

Creature comforts

Bringing their own pillows, fans, devices to watch Netflix, books and even Bibles helps some players settle in. Aaron Rodgers made it known that he also needed some creature comforts after checking in to St. Norbert.

“First, I had to talk to Matt Klein because he put me on a twin bed with a little TV in my dorm room, so we’ve got to get that figured out,” said Rodgers of Klein, the team’s director of travel.

Well, at least everyone gets the same new mattresses.

The Packers purchased a new sleep system last year, including custom-built mattresses by The Recovery Bed, according to Kelly Nass, director of Packers camp at St. Norbert.

They’re supposed to promote recovery by design and also by space. The Packers camp twin-size mattress is 48-by-84 inches compared to the average-size twin mattress that is 38-by-75 inches.

The team also purchased new sheets, pillows and comforters from Sheex Performance Bedding, which are supposed to keep the players’ temperature regulated during the night to help them sleep and recover better.

This investment by the Packers highlights the one thing the dorms are really needed for, and that’s rest. The players are up by 5 a.m. and even though they often finish practice on the field by 3 p.m., they’re still having meetings and film sessions at Lambeau. They don’t get back to St. Norbert until about 8:30 p.m.

“We’re not there as much as we used to be,” Crosby said.

“By the time we’re done playing, we’re so tired, we just pass out right away,” Lowry said.

Otherwise, the dorms at St. Norbert are spacious by dorm standards, with space for two people, desks, bookshelves and WiFi.

“I lived off-campus the last couple of years because I didn’t like the dorms,” said Burks, who played at Vanderbilt. “But St. Norbert’s are, honestly, a lot better than my dorms in college.”

They only have about a week left. The Packers conclude their 61st year in the St. Norbert dorms — the longest such relationship between a pro football team and a college in the NFL — on Saturday, when they move out and go back home.

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