Mon, 9 May 2005
As you can imagine, game day in the NFL is a special time for players. I thought I would give the listeners/readers a taste of what it was like. I guess the logical place to start this adventure is the night before the game. We would all meet at an area hotel about 5:30-6 pm the night before the game we then would check in and relax for about 1 hour or so. Then we would have a team dinner...this is when the boys would load up on a grand assortment of food. When I first came into the league steaks (yes plural) seem to be the food of choice. As time went on guys seemed to eating less steak and more pasta (Damn Nutritionists!). This was no place for the timid, regardless of what was the emphasis, there were massive amounts of food being consumed. All this was followed by the ice cream dessert station...Banana Split heaven.
After the gluttony we then went into meetings and tried not to fall a sleep. In the beginning of my career this was pretty simple stuff...coaches would just give a speech to the team and then we would break off into groups by position...the offensive line would take a meeting room, the defensive line would take another and so on. As the years passed this simple meeting turned into a mini film festival, complete with highlight films with all the bells and whistles. Didn't have to worry about falling a sleep during this iMax presentation...LOL
Then it was off to our rooms usually about 10 pm with bed check at 11pm we would try and get phone calls and the ticket situation all figured out. If the NFL wanted to increase productivity a simple way would be to have one guy in charge of acquiring and distributing tickets for the players. It is not the players can't handle it...it is the timing. The whole ticket situation comes to a head right before the game, when the players should be concentrating 100% on the opponent, many would be on the phone trying to dig up tickets for their guests or making phone calls from the locker room making sure their guests were squared away. It seemed that it was the skilled players (anyone that can score a TD) that had the most demand from friends and family for tickets... so I guess what I am saying it didn't affect me personally that much...
Bed check-Not much to report here---Coach knocks on door, whoever is closest to the door answers, coach peeks in room and checks around, coach says good night and leaves. Most of the time they didn't even bother entering the room. I could tell coaches hated doing this chore. I am sure they had to draw straws for this task. I never heard of anyone from the teams that I played that would try to sneak out the night before a game. But training camp is another story... Flash back of the Ben Gazarra Show...it was like a jail break at times.
Ok, to save some space and time here is the material I go over in the podcast...check it out
Ok let's pick this up again at the locker room after I have studied playbook, been taped, stretched, and even grazed with my fellow offensive linemen on the field. After I returned I would then put my jersey on my shoulder pads. Now this sounds like a simple process. But for an offensive lineman it was anything but simple. You see nothing puts the fear in the minds of an O-Lineman more than being grabbed by the defensive lineman. Because once he gets a hold of you ..put a folk in you, your done. It doesn't matter in the running game but the passing game is where it makes a big difference. So linemen would go to extraordinary lengths so they would not be grabbed. The following is my jersey process/ordeal ...
Step 1: Go to the trainer get a bottle of rubbing alcohol and get a towel from the shower room. Step 2: Pour the alcohol on the towel and rub down shoulder pads to take off any sticky tape residue from last weeks game. Step 3: Let dry and then put on the two way or carpet tape on shoulder pads...the more the better. The idea was to get as much area covered as possible. Step 4: Remove backing from tape and then carefully put jersey on the pads. Since the jerseys were always sized small it was even difficult to get the jersey on and that was without anyone being in the pads. Usually started with one shoulder and then the other, then the chest plate and finally the back. I always checked to see that neck hole was centered and name on back of jersey was on straight. But as Ron Propiel says ..and that's not all...Step 5: If we were at home I would take the shoulder pads into the sauna and turn the heat to high and leave them in for about 5-10 minutes. The dry heat would melt/cure the adhesive on the tape nicely and then I would take another towel and rub down the pads for a good seal. The jersey and the pads became one, there was no way anyone was going to grab me today. This trend was set by the Pittsburgh Steelers and was soon copied by everyone. WD-40 became a staple to every equipment man. Not to fix rusty equipment but to spray on the O-Line jerseys to make them extra slick...man it was out of control. Today even the D-Line has the tight jerseys...big D-linemen look like stuffed sausages in those things. The NFL began cracking down on the WD-40 and so that practice was eliminated as the jersey companies began making those tight jerseys direct from the factory. If a shoulder pad company wanted to improve their pads a simple fix would be to build in velcro on their pads. One part would be attached to the pads and the other would be sewn directly to the jersey on the should areas, chest plate and back plate....These would go like hotcakes. Every O-lineman would want them. Watch some company will take my idea and make big $$$ ..oh well
PS ..if you try the Sauna thing...make sure it is a dry sauna and not a stream bath.
After I had jersey on pads I would visit with the QB and discuss any different calls or keys that would be used for this game. This time was used to build QB's confidence and gauge where he was at mentally for game.
When team bus arrived the locker room became electric. Players would quickly get dressed in t-shirts and shorts and then head to training room for last minute touchups on their tape jobs. Some players would put on on their headphones and rock out to their favorite tunes while studying playbooks. Others would begin to make the transformation from a mild mannered Clark Kent type of character into a raging maniac. Some players would joke around while others became deadly serious. Each guy had his own method of getting ready. I always felt I played better if I just was myself and stayed somewhat calm.
Our coaches usually made their rounds visiting their players and made sure the guys were good to go for the game. Sometimes they would get all their guys together and discuss any last minute changes to the game plan. All these things were designed to eliminate mistakes on the field. I think for the most part it did help get everyone ready.
About 2 minutes before the start of the game the officials would make a quick walk through of the locker room. I was never quite sure what they were looking for...maybe foreign objects. LOL
Then the head coach usually had the last word before we said the pre-game prayer. He usually would talk to team captains and tell them what we would do if we won the coin toss (almost always we would choose to receive the ball) and which goal we would defend if we lost. Then he would give the keys to victory speech. Nothing magical, he would just state what we needed to do to win. No dumb penalties, eliminate turnovers, rush for X amount and remember to finish strong and believe that no matter what happens on the field we would find a way to win in the end. Occasionally the coach would have an impassioned speech....but this was few and far between, I think if felt the team wasn't ready to play. He would become emotional, but usually the team was ready to go
Then the team chaplain would come in for the team prayer...The team prayer was always comforting to me, we had guys from all the the country some guys from the city , some from the country ... but this was a time when you could feel the power and unity of the team...This was when it was apparent that the whole of the team was greater than the sum of the parts ....and then that illusion would be destroyed when someone would scream let's kill them and off we would hit the field.... LOL
Then it hit you like a ton of bricks...60-70,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs. The excitement generated before the game is something that cannot be explained it really has to be experienced and you never get tired of that feeling. You feel as nothing can stop you and you become transformed into another person. for a short time you feel bullet proof. Unfortunately this feeling only lasts until the first play...then it's back to being Clark Kent.
Player introductions were held moments before kick off, When I played for Cincinnati the offense was introduced far more than the defense ...but the rolls were reversed in Philadelphia, probably because our defense in Philly was quite a bit more dominant than our offense. It was quite a rush to be introduced as a player I just tried to think about picking up my feet high so the turf monster didn't get you. Nothing is more embarrassing than being introduced taking a few steps and falling on your melon.
After introductions everyone line up for the National Anthem and the game was soon underway.