When they weren't standing on the practice field, sitting in a meeting room or lying on their beds, quarterback Trent Dilfer and center Robbie Tobeck engaged in some serious one-upmanship a few summers ago at the Seahawks' training camp in Cheney, Wash.
Dilfer struck first. After practice one day, he rubbed Flexall, a deep-heating topical analgesic, in Tobeck's shorts. Tobeck discovered it before he got burned. But still he retaliated.
At an outdoors store, Tobeck bought some coyote urine scent, a highly concentrated musky odor that hunters use to attract coyotes. He returned to the players' dorm at Eastern Washington University and smeared the scent throughout Dilfer's room - under the bed, along the floorboards, in the bathroom. That night, as Tobeck walked past the room, he smelled incense and candles burning and saw Dilfer, on his hands and knees, scrubbing his room with a bottle of bleach.
Welcome to the lighter side of training camp, where a little levity can go a long way toward breaking the tedious cycle that repeats itself day ... after day ... after day. Meetings that start early in the morning. Two-a-day practices under a broiling sun. Aching bodies immersed in tubs of ice water. Heads buried deep inside playbooks. Meetings that end late at night. "It's like Groundhog Day," Texans center Mike Flanagan says. "You see the same people at the same time wearing the same clothes every single day. You've got to have something to break up the monotony."
Playing pranks is one way to combat the wearisome pattern. Often, the targets of the tomfoolery are quarterbacks, and it doesn't matter whether it's a third-string rookie free agent or a six-year veteran with three Super Bowl rings.
As he lined up for a snap during a practice last year, Tom Brady noticed each of his linemen had a picture taped to the back of his jersey. The pictures, snipped from the pages of GQ, showed the Patriots' quarterback in some interesting poses. In one, he had his arms wrapped around a baby goat. In another, he lay on the grass, nuzzled by three dogs. Others showed him resting his Stetson-covered head on a knapsack, kicking back in a saddle on a horse and wearing a tuxedo under a coat with a fur-lined collar.
It was a good prank, but what made it great was that this practice was at Gillette Stadium, in front of a group of fans. Brady ripped the picture off the back of the player closest to him, center Dan Koppen.
"Mine managed to stay on a little longer," says left tackle Matt Light - who claimed he was forced to go along with the prank, although he was the guy wearing the picture of Brady holding the goat. "I would never do anything to embarrass a teammate of mine."
In 2003, his rookie season with the Ravens, quarterback Kyle Boller was being interviewed live by a Baltimore cable TV station on a patio outside the team hotel. Suddenly, he heard the roar of a diesel engine. From around the corner, about 25 feet away, a flatbed tow truck came into view, carting away Boller's brand-new Cadillac Escalade. Somehow, Boller maintained his poise and completed the interview.
"The last thing I was worried about was my car," Boller says. "I figured I had had my car towed before, and I can always get it back. I was a rookie. I wanted to be sure I got the interview."
The tow truck drove about 200 yards before it stopped and dropped off the SUV. Boller learned quarterback Chris Redman had been behind the prank. "He just said, 'Welcome to the NFL,'" Boller says.
New England linebacker Ted Johnson tells about a prank pulled on Drew Bledsoe, who was the Patriots' quarterback. According to Johnson, backup quarterback Scott Zolak and offensive linemen Max Lane and Todd Rucci went into Bledsoe's room and duct-taped several of his possessions to the wall. They also brought in a patch of sod, dug out a small hole and inserted a golf flag. "Those guys took it to the next level," Johnson says.
Apparently it didn't leave a lasting impression on Bledsoe, who now is with the Cowboys. A Dallas staff member asked him about the incident, and Bledsoe couldn't remember it happening.