Readers have asked me what it’s like in the hours preceding a football game. The first comparison I’ll make is that it’s a lot different than when I played.
Back then when teams walked together towards the stadium, they would wave or shake hands with fans who lined the street leading to the field.
Now all the players wear head sets listening to some goofy music while totally ignoring fans who just want to wish them well.
That is the height of rudeness, making the players look boorish.
I am surprised coaches tolerate such action.
You first get butterflies when you reach the locker room and you become part of a scene that is hurried and harried, yet pensive and hopeful.
If a game starts at two, by one, you are in the locker room. The first order of business is to get your ankles taped, a ceremony hated by all because they are taped so tight they hurt. They are supposed to hurt to protect against a broken or bruised ankle or instep sidelining you during the game.
While the backs are being taped, the interior linemen are in another room, going over their assignments. It takes longer for them to do that because they are, with few exceptions, not as bright as the skill position players. Nor are they as handsome.
They then switch, the burly behemoths commencing to be taped while the skill guys just chat amiably with each other. When the linemen are all taped, they let out a collective grunt and join the skill guys for a last minute pep talk by the head coach.
The talk is the same every game. It is called “The Seven Game Maxims.” They are a set of rules which, if followed, guarantee success. They have been around for nearly a hundred years and are as true today as they were when first spoken at the University of Tennessee by General Neyland, a revered name in college football. It is sixty years now since I last heard them and I can still recite them from rote memory, when requested, although those requests are becoming fewer each year.
The butterflies really kick in when you exit the locker room to enter the packed stadium. As soon as the crowd sees you running in, they start cheering, the band plays your school’s fight song, and if you are the man designated to return kick offs, as I was, you hope you lose the coin toss so your opponent will have to return the kick. [Deferring to the second half hadn’t been invented yet.] Cowardly, you say? Nay, self preservation, knowing all eleven opponents are aiming for you, and you alone.
When the game starts, in spite of 65,000 people yelling, you are so focused on the game, you feel like you did when you played in high school.
Except the locker rooms are a lot nicer now with individual stalls so big they could double as summer cottages on peaceful northern lakes.
Yet another place where the players could wear those dippy dopey ear phones.
Hut One, Hut Two…