BACK IN THE DAY…
HOW DID WE EVER SURVIVE?
It was the summer of 1974 and the first day of “two-a-day” practices. I was beginning my sophomore year and today was my first high school football practice. I arrived early with my brother and his senior friends, excited about the adventure awaiting me. As I made the long walk from the parking lot to the gymnasium, I could feel the heat rising from the pavement and the sun beating down on my head. This had to be the hottest day of the summer! When I opened the door to the gym, a rush of hot air hit me in the face as if to say, “Welcome to Hell Week!” The term “Hell Week” was a caveat Coach Nordman adopted years earlier to describe the fun that awaited us. Once inside, I made the long trek down a hallway adorned with oversized pictures that told of past gridiron glories. I’d seen those pictures before but today they seemed to speak to me. I could sense the tradition, the expectations, and the responsibility I had to uphold the program’s high standards.
At the end of the hallway, I found my teammates. The sophomores were crammed into a small “hot box” they called a locker room. As I sat there dripping with sweat, my thoughts soon drifted to the glory I would find in the upcoming season. I’d been waiting for this day my entire life. I started playing football at a very young age. The previous season I played 9th-grade ball at the junior high, but now I’d arrived! High school football! As far as I was concerned, this was the big time and I was here to make my mark. I felt anxious not knowing what to expect, but I knew I was ready and nothing could stop me!
Suddenly, I was rudely awakened from my football fantasy by the sound of a steel door crashing into the wall. A big and slightly overweight coach burst into the room, screaming, “Let’s Go Rookies!” We grabbed our helmets as fast as we could and scurried out of the locker room and into the hallway.
Immediately, we were greeted by another coach barking out orders at the end of the corridor, “Get over here! Now!” We raced down the hall, fell in line, and awaited the next command. “Open,” he roared, dumping a couple of white tablets into each of our hands. “Wash those down at the drinking fountain before you head up to the practice field.”
Do what? … “What the heck are you talking about and what is this stuff anyway?”… Those were my thoughts of course, not my words. We never questioned them because they were the coaches. So, we did what we were told, having no idea what we were taking. The rumor was that the coaches were giving us “saltpeter” designed to quench our desires and keep our focus on football. Well, I can’t say I ever believed that, but it’s the story the seniors fed us and the one we passed on to the rookies the following year.
When we arrived at the practice field we strapped on our helmets, gathered for a quick “pep” talk, and embarked on a short run. When we got back from our leisurely jog, the screaming began. “Move it,” was the number one request of the coaches, and “What are you doing?” the most often asked question. After getting us into eight symmetrical lines, another angry-looking coach led the warm-up routine. We were instructed to bounce while performing our stretching exercises. I recall the coaches walking through the ranks screaming, “BOUNCE – HARDER”. After stretching, we began a two-and-a-half-hour practice in which we were not allowed to take off our helmets, unbuckle our chinstraps, or get a drink of water. At the end of practice, our coaches reminded us not to go onto the field without taking our salt tablets… “Yea and saltpeter.” The coaches explained we were being acclimated to the hot weather so helmets stayed on, chinstraps stayed buckled and water was consumed prior to practice. We were told the salt tablets kept us from dehydrating so we didn’t need water!
That’s the way things went back in the day! I’ve talked to many players from my era and others who tell similar stories. Today we know that bouncing while stretching can lead to a muscle pull or tear. Salt tablets actually accelerate dehydration, as does wearing a helmet and withholding water. I can also say that I don’t remember anyone ever being taped! It makes you wonder how we ever got through it, but I suspect coaches (despite all of our advances in sports medicine) will continue to make mistakes that may prove to be detrimental to today’s student-athlete.