by Jason Bellamy, Packers.com
Four years ago, on the Friday of his first June mini-camp as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Mike Sherman surprised his players when he cancelled practice, boarded the team on buses and sent them bowling.
In the years that followed, Sherman arranged team trips to play paintball and golf -- both times on Fridays in June mini-camp -- so that by this spring, veteran players expected that they would have another mini-camp fieldtrip. They just didn't think it would be Wednesday.
"That even got (the veterans)," eighth-year guard Marco Rivera said. "He kind of surprised us. He switched it up."
Sherman announced the special outing at the team's 9 a.m. meeting, and before everyone was bused to Ashwaubenon Bowling Alley, a draft was held to separate players, coaches and other football personnel into 28 competitive foursomes.
Captains were assigned based on their tenure in the league, starting with center Frank Winters, approaching his 17th NFL season, and ending with fourth-year veteran Steve Warren.
The purpose of Wednesday's event -- like the three before it -- was to build team chemistry, something that takes extra nurturing in an NFL where roster turnover is prevalent.
"Every year is a new team," Rivera explained. "Nobody really knows each other. We see them in practice, but we don't know their names, or we know their names, but we don't know who these guys are.
"Coach brings us down here, we bowl and you see some of the younger guys with the older guys. They're cheering, high-fiving. We get to know them. They get to know us.
"That helps to build (chemistry), and come (training) camp in July, we know them and they're a part of the team."
In that spirit, there was 10th-year veteran running back Lamar Smith drafting wide receiver/kick returner Antonio Chatman and offensive lineman Marcus Spriggs, all three players having been with the team for less than a week.
And there was sixth-year Packer Mike Wahle selecting newcomer Grey Ruegamer, while newcomer Al Harris took second-year Packer Najeh Davenport.
The draft wasn't limited to players, so quarterback Brett Favre used his first pick -- the second overall behind Winters -- on offensive coordinator Tom Rossley. Kicker Ryan Longwell drafted new special teams coach John Bonamego. Linebacker Na'il Diggs selected new linebackers coach Mark Duffner.
And together everyone bowled, laughed, competed and grew a little closer, just like Sherman had hoped.
Said safety Darren Sharper, who had fellow safety Marques Anderson and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell among his foursome, "I think after today there will be a lot more close relationships with one another on the team."
And perhaps, too, some respect for hidden talent.
Drafted by fellow tight end Tyrone Davis with the eighth overall pick, David Martin proved to be the most talented bowler of the group Wednesday, rolling a 210 that was near his all-time best of 236.
Still learning the game, Martin said he likes to bowl regularly in his downtime and even has his own bowling ball.
Another player who likes to roll the rock is rookie linebacker Shantee Orr, who wasn't selected in the 2003 NFL Draft, but was a surprise first-round pick (14th overall) by defensive back Bryant Westbrook in the bowling draft.
A big fan of the sport, Orr said he likes to bowl as much as twice a week in the offseason and was even heckled by roommate Eric Powell earlier in the week when he was caught watching a women's professional bowling event on TV.
On this day, a "rusty" Orr bowled a 170 that was well shy of his lifetime best of 247, but still better than most.
Apparently not an avid bowler, for example, is offensive line coach Larry Beightol. Sharper tabbed him the worst in the group, and even Rivera had trouble sticking up for his position coach.
"All I know is, I looked over one time and Larry Beightol was sizing up, threw his hand back and the ball went the other way," Rivera said. "He almost killed some guys sitting down, so he's dangerous."
Not so risky is the event itself, which seemed to give both veteran and rookie players many reasons to smile.