Ask anybody who has played college football what the toughest part of it was, and, to a man, they will say it was the dreaded two-a-day practices that began fall football.
Dragged away from the somnolent summer of beautiful beaches into the maelstrom that was fourteen days of football, twice daily, in searing heat, using muscles and tendons that had been six months in hibernation, was neither for the weak of limb nor the sane of mind.
That first morning, at 5:15, when large men who, four weeks hence, I would will my first born to for protecting me from the enemy in a bunkered pocket of pass protection, trudged beside me on the walk across campus to the field for the first practice of the season, we were far less the Golden Gophers than we were that unruly lot pictured in the opening scene of “Les Miserables,” hungry, hurting, and haggard.
It wasn’t the first day that did one in, though, but rather the second. Muscles and tendons awakened on day one got even twenty-four hours later when they attacked us, the unwary, with a vengeance not seen since the dark ages, a twinge here, a tear there, a fearful sprain growing, all the while with a thirst inside us that guzzling gallons of water could not abate.
After morning practice, a walk to the Student Union for a breakfast fit for a regiment of His King’s Finest, as much as you could eat. Civility emerged, questions asked as to summer jobs enjoyed, courses to be taken, comments as to the wisdom of recently added coaches, as camaraderie returned.
After breakfast, we would break down by position for meetings at 9:30. Quarterbacks with the head coach asking, “Okay, when they line up this way, what do you do?”
Linemen, both offense and defense together, this being in the pre-Vietnam era of one platoon football, asked to recite by rote the defensive signals last spoken of in spring practice.
As 11:00 am approached and eye lids began to droop and drop by the dozens, we would be sent back to the Union for a light lunch and then to the dorm for the much anticipated hour-and-a-half-nap, before practice in pads began anew at 2:30, the blazing heat of the day slowly following the sun westward, always a bit ahead of us, offering scant comfort.
Dinner at the Union would be followed by guys going to sleep no later than 8:00 pm, the better to be prepared for the next of those fourteen straight terrible Two-A-Days.
The third week, students began coming in for the fall semester and we practiced but once daily. It was time to become true student/athletes. We played nine games back then, rather than the twelve played today. It is with no small pride I recount that every single starter earned a degree. Now, barely half do. That is shameful.