— On the surface, late July and early August NFL training camps are all about the players and coaches getting ready for the season. New players try to jell, from rookies to free agents to those acquired via trade. But it’s also an opportunity for fans to get reacquainted with their favorite team — and with their favorite players.
Best of all is that attending training camp is absolutely free. Most teams enable fans to watch practice from a close distance, which provides opportunities to get autographs from players and coaches.
How to get those autographs? Glad you asked.
The easiest way is to arrive at the facility early and often, and to become familiar with the layout. You’ll be in competition with other fans for autographs, so it’s essential to be in the right place at the right time. Also ask other fans where they recommend to be standing once players finish practice. If some don't respond, simply follow their lead to their standing spot.
Your best bet to scoring autographs is after practice. This is when players are more relaxed; they're cooling off or heading to the training room. Expect some rejections — some players may be too hot, sweaty or too aggravated by a poor practice to sign autographs.
The formality or informality of autograph proceedings depends on the team, the facility and on the individual player. For example, some teams and players may only sign after morning sessions. And it could be a smooth, relaxed affair getting an autograph, or it could be a challenge, battling other fans, particularly for star players.
For example, the Broncos traditionally sign autographs after practice in the south end zone with players split into groups by position.
For teams who don't use this approach, just park your caboose near an individual player as he heads back to the locker room. Wear gear of your favorite team so you look like you’re a loyal fan and not some greedy autograph hawker. Also, to have success, know the name of the player and make sure they can both hear you and see you. Finally, be polite. Treat the player as you'd want to be treated.
If you failed to get an autograph, be patient. Some players will sign after they shower and leave in their street clothes. Keep an eye out for where the players park or where the main entrance and exit to the facility is located. But also keep in mind that if they’re training on a college campus, you might catch them near the dormitories or where they’re staying, outside the cafeteria or just in passing.
There are other ways to get autographs.
Many teams organize and host fan fests or autograph sessions where players are seated and signing away. The Bills have had an autograph tent for kids 14-and-under where nearly every day after practice four different players autograph one item per child.
Many teams announce in advance on their website days which individual players will be signing on a particular day. Usually every player will participate in one organized autograph session per camp. Keep in mind that since these organized sessions are scheduled after practice, they can always be altered due to injuries or cancelled due to bad weather. Occasionally, but rarely, an organized autograph session will take place before a practice.
All set? Don't forget sunscreen, comfortable walking shoes, a hat, and bottled water. And most of all, don’t forget to bring the items you want autographed, workable pens and a enthusiasm for enjoying all the intimacy that is NFL camp.