What’s it like to be on a major college football team on game day? From experience, may I share some thoughts with you?
Whether you are playing at home or away, you would stay in a hotel, perhaps on campus, perhaps not. Coaches want total control of your mind and spirit, absent distractions, from late Friday afternoon to Saturday kickoff.
Friday night was spent with a stress-free team dinner, replete with kidding around and camaraderie.
After dinner there was a current popular movie shown, team members only, in the hotel’s ballroom. Coaches left to go over last minute game details. After the movie, usually a Western or a frothy comedy–chosen by the head coach–all players would report to their rooms, two players per, for a 10:30 lights out curfew.
The only time I ever saw just one player in a room involved a reserve lineman who had a double re-deviated septum, exacerbated by a flattened and engorged proboscis, which would have made his fellow lineman sleep in the tub with the bathroom door closed because of the noise of the thundering buffalo in the room.
Coaches performed room check at 11 pm. Some players slept immediately upon hitting the sack. Some studied. Running back Bill Chorske studied. It paid off for both him and me. Bill graduated from Minnesota and went on to get an MBA at Harvard from whence he rose to be president of Medtronic Europe. I can attest to his diligence in that I had one of his company’s Pacemakers installed a number of years ago, and it still works as smoothly as a well executed screen pass.
Point of pride here. Every senior on our football team graduated on time and held an important position in his community and/or the business world.
You were expected to be at the breakfast table for steak and eggs at 6:50 am. Not 7:00 am.
At 8:15 am, everybody assembled with their position coaches for a final review.
“Charlie, the ball is between the forties and number 47 goes in motion. What do you do?” “I call Rocket, coach, and all linemen will slant away from motion while the secondary goes into a three-deep.” “Right. Team, you listen to Charlie all game. He won’t steer you wrong.”
Similar conversations are being held with other team units, clearing up any confusion after a long hard week of physical and mental preparation.
The team bus would leave the hotel at 11:00 am for the trip to the stadium. There was very little talking on the ride, everybody getting prepared for the game. We’d arrive at the stadium at 12 noon, go to our lockers, and start dressing.
Requisite during the next hour was the obligatory stop at Lloyd “Snapper” Stein’s taping table. Nobody could tape ankles faster or tighter than “Snapper.” When he finished with you, you felt better, not only because you imagined yourself immune to a turned ankle, but you felt you could also beat Seabiscuit down the stretch in the Santa Anita Handicap, so positive were Snapper’s spoken thoughts on that day’s game.
So skilled was “Snapper,” eighty years later, the pride of Two Harbors, Minnesota remains the only person in college football history to have been head trainer for three successive National Championship teams, the 1934-35-36 Golden Gophers.
After taping, everybody went out on the field, sharing the gridiron with the opponent, practicing catching, punting and kicking, visibly connecting jersey numbers of the opponent, to this point, just that, a number. More often than not, that opponent looked exactly as described by the coaches all week. Occasionally, though, they looked even better, and bigger, and faster.
Twenty minutes to kickoff, we went back into the locker room for a fifteen minute recital by the head coach of “The Seven Game Maxims,” directions, if followed, that would lead to victory. Those ‘Maxims,’ recited still by hundreds of coaches eighty-five years after their inception by Coach Robert Neyland at Tennessee, are so insightful they act as a roadmap to victory.
At 1:55 pm, the Minnesota marching band would welcome us back onto the field with “The Minnesota Rouser,” as stirring a fight song as there is in college football. You were now ready to play!
At 2:00, a referee blew a whistle, a game began with a kick-off, and the better prepared team–given both squads were fairly equally skilled–would win, while 65,000 fans exulted in Gopher heaven.
Hut one, Hut two!