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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

The Secret Is, There Is No Secret

In the summer of 2005, my family stayed at the Napa Valley Marriott on a vacation to Northern California. Upon arrival, we were surprised to learn that the property was also playing host to the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders Training Camp.

A section of the property had been designated for the players, coaches, and staff to live, eat, and practice for the roughly one month before the start of the season. Being the sports fan that I was, I wanted to get a glimpse of the team practicing. Earlier that spring, Randy Moss had been dealt away* from our hometown Vikings and was now a Raider. Surely, I thought, I'd get to see him.

The Raiders had other plans.

They surrounded their practice fields with tarp-covered fences that had to be at least 12 feet high. Security guards patrolled all the entrances.

Seeking to get creative, my mom and I went up to the second level of the hotel, and walked to the end of the corridor nearest the practice fields. We opened the door into the stairwell, where there was an ice machine - and a panel window looking out onto the field! For a brief moment, I was watching the Oakland Raiders practice.

My euphoria didn't last long.

After what felt like mere seconds, the door on the first floor opened into the stairwell. A Raiders employee made his way up the flight of steps to let us know in no uncertain terms that practice was closed to the public.

This was 2005. I was 12 years old. There were no smart phones to take videos. Why did they care?

Not to be deterred, I tried a different route. Late in the evening, players would occasionally leave the Raiders' designated wing of the hotel and pass through the lobby, presumably on their way out to dinner or to meet a friend. I printed out a Raiders helmet on an 8.5"x11" piece of paper and taped it to a piece of cardboard. If a player walked through, I'd ask for an autograph.

A Raiders employee shot that down as well. Interacting with their players was not allowed.

Again, why did they care?

The Raiders operated their Napa Valley Training Camp like it was CIA Headquarters. Clearly, I surmised, they must have some top secret plans for the season.

They went 4-12 that year.

2-14 the year after.

It wouldn't be until 2016 when the Raiders would have their only winning season since I traveled to Napa, going 12-4 before losing in the Wild Card round of the playoffs to the Houston Texans.

That summer of 2005, I also went to Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp, which was held in River Falls, Wisconsin, about an hour's drive from where I grew up. The Chiefs let fans watch their entire practice, and sent full position groups to sign autographs afterwards.

Kansas City went 10-6 that year.

The Chiefs didn't care if anyone watched them run plays. Any opponent would have plenty of game film on them anyways. Instead, they focused on how well they could execute those plays.

The Raiders cared if anyone (literally, anyone) watched them run plays. Maybe that was a distraction from getting better at executing them.

It's sort of like training a distance athlete. There are no secrets. It's about understanding the context of the demands placed on the athlete and prescribing what will best prepare them to meet those demands. Then, it's about executing on that intention as optimally as possible.

*In exchange for Napoleon Harris and picks that would be used to draft Troy Williamson and Adrian Ward. What was billed as a "blockbuster" trade was a dud for both sides. On a brighter note, Harris went on to have something of a political career in his home state of Illinois, being elected as state senator.

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