Other than war, there is nothing more traumatic, more hellish, than Two-A-Day football practices.
Especially if they were in Oklahoma, under the brutal, scorching, relentless August heat, circa 1972-1974.
I had not thought of Harve Collins in a million years. But when we drove by there recently on my ‘Merican vacation, memories came flooding back.
If I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I blame the blood, sweat and tears, the screams and the whistles. And the moldy jock strap.
Oh Dear Lord, not the moldy jock strap.
Even if the coaches watered the field in July, come August, it resembled the surface of Mars — hot, dead, no sign of life.
The perfect place to
torture coach high school football players.
Breakfast of Champions
As a Tiger, my two-a-day breakfast consisted of a jug of Gatorade, a piece of dry toast, and two Allerest.
Anything more, and it would have come up during wind sprints. Anything less, and I would have died of heat stroke, dehydration or hay fever.
You’d start with calisthenics, which were bad enough.
Then you’d move into drills, by position.
The quarterbacks would put on their pink dresses and go throw to the ends, before flirting with the cheerleaders and doing media interviews.
The rest of us — backs, linebackers and linemen– would then run drill after drill, smashing into each other, jumping over tackling dummies, slamming into the steel sled and driving it — and the coach on top of it — back, back, back, until, finally, he whistled.
Time and time and time again. Until the first upchucks, which meant it was time to start running plays.
If you were a “scrub” like me, not a starter, you might be on defense for a hour, as wave after wave from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd team offenses ran play after play right at you, without pause, unless the star quarterback got a hang nail and needed urgent medical care.
Then the scrubs, most of whom had muscles or chest hair, would then fruitlessly try to run plays against the first team defense,which consisted of werewolves, zombies and criminals who were just killing time before going off to prison.
In those less civilized times, coaches would punish you by denying you water. So if they thought you were dogging it — while carrying 20 pounds of equipment, in the 100-degree, 100-percent humidity, dust bowl — they would make you keep running and running and running until you started hustling.
About that time, one or two of the weaker scrubs would have died of heat stroke, and the vultures would by pulling them apart and eating them in the far endzone.
That would put the defensive coaches in a good mood, especially if someone had been so hard “right in the jewel box”, that he started to hurl.
You had to fight your teammates to get any water at all out of those awful old hoses. The water was hot and tasted like a dead lizard had been in the hose, but you gulped down as much as you could in maybe five seconds, before being pushed away by an angry coach.
Then you’d scrimmage for maybe an hour, frequently running the same play over and over and over until every player had a concussion, or the quarterbacks had soiled their little pink dresses.
That’s when coaches would really start to have their fun, “separating the men from the boys”, deciding who “had to squat to pee like a little girl”, who was “nothing but a dooberable” and deserved to “run until your legs turn into jelly.”
Yes, after practicing for two or three hours in the blazing sun, that’s when it was time for wind sprints. Up and down Harve Collins field. Fighting for air, but that was impossible, because in August, there is no air in Oklahoma.
Certainly not at Harve Collins Field, a place that will live in infamy, the place that prompted this riot of memories.
Including the “jock strap incident”.
I reckon it would have been a Friday afternoon in my Junior year.
We’d just finished the first week of the most sadistic, brutal, two-a-days I’d ever been through. We’d probably lost 100 men, maybe 200.
Every day was like playing in an oven. No, a volcano. No, a forest fire.
You get the idea.
This is what molded young men into 4-A, Boomer Conference, football players.
PTSD Locker Room
In my mind’s eye, I am back in the NHS locker room.
It looks like a bomb has gone off. Bodies are sprawled everywhere.
Some are naked and lying motionless on the cool cement floor. They are the lucky ones.
Sadly, the cool floor offers me no solace. I am a crumpled heap on the bench in front of my orange steel locker; exhaustion and dehydrated and concussion have killed me dead.
But, over time, somehow I manage to remove my pants and shoulder pads, and steam rises from them.
I have no energy to remove my half t-shirt, my jock or my tube socks. So there I sit.
My half t-shirt is dripping with sweat, sweat that kept me alive during wind sprints as I sucked it from my shirt, which smells like ammonia.
My tube socks are so filthy that I can actually tell if I have them on the wrong foot.
My jock strap? Don’t ask.
Nothing has been washed for a week; that’s 10 practices. Because, who has the strength to carry this disgusting sweaty mess home? Better to leave them piled in your locker.
I look around and, more than anything, I want to drag myself into the shower, to life-giving cold water. I see that some of my teammates have done this and been rejuvenated. I think they might live.
But, I cannot move. All I can do is sweat and wait to die.
Yet even in my last moments on Earth, I take comfort in one thing.
The enormously annoying Senior who lockers next to me is even worse off than me. He will surely die before me. And this is a truly wonderful thing.
This means that the 6-2, 225-pound gorilla — whose *name I cannot divulge, in case he has gone on to be a Supreme Court Justice, or maybe a mass murderer — will be unable to put his big, fat mouth right next to my ear and makes this noise. (Please, click on the link to fully appreciate this story).
He has made this noise directly into my ear, before and after every practice, twice a day, for a week. Why? Because he was always unbalanced, and two-a-days have turned him into a psychopath. He is well on his way to being All Boomer Conference.
Since I am 5-3 and maybe 120 pounds, including 10 pounds of sweat, I’ve had to tolerate his behavior, while considering my options.
Yesterday, I had decided that right before he started going AHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGAHH!!! in my ear, I would reach down, grab my helmet by the facemask and, with all of my might, smash it right through his big, fat head.
End of siren.
But, sadly, I realized there was a fatal flaw in my plan. The psychopath was really good — a two-way starter. If killed him, coach would get really pissed off at me, and I would never get any playing time.
So I had to tolerate it, day after day.
But today, since he is almost dead, there is peace. Yay.
Shower or Die
After maybe half an hour of watching my battered and bleeding teammates heroically struggle to the shower, drag on T-shirts and shorts, and stumble out, I realize that it is now or never.
If I don’t get up, I will die right here, in this disgusting, filthy, smelly, slimy locker room. And no one will ever know.
The coaches will just turn out the lights, lock the doors, and go home to their air-conditioned houses, to drink iced tea and dream up new ways to torture us.
So I summon every ounce of strength left in my battered little body.
I remove my half-t shirt and drop it. It lands on the floor like a wet towel. Sploosh.
I pull off my tube socks. They make a crinkling sound, as dirt clods fall from them.
And, drawing on my last reserve of strength, I try to remove my jock, which has literally cut into my waist.
It is so wet and moldy that it will not pull off like an article of clothing. I have to roll it down my legs. like a big rubber band.
But when I get it to my knees, stabbing pain from my cracked ribs paralyzed me.
I pause, take a few breaths, and then slowly, laboriously, hook one big toe into my jock and pull it down one leg. Then I use the other big toe to pull it off.
I am exhausted, but victorious, and naked, except for the tape on my ankles and knees, which is never going to come off.
Before heading to the shower, I try to flick the rolled up jock — which looks like a disgusting pretzel — into my locker. Because if you leave anything on the floor, the coaches go insane and make you run more wind sprints.
But as I try this, my leg spasms, and my jock is airborne.
Up, up, up it goes, in slow motion, like in a Stanley Kubrick film.
It makes a thud as it bounces off the top of the locker, and falls into the gap between our row of lockers and the one behind us.
And I think, “let the bastard rot.”
I bet it has.
* Kurt Sellers, who actually turned out to be a nice guy.
** Editor’s note: After googling, we decided not to including a photo of a jock strap, because, garf.
*** Editor’s note: We plan to write a blog explaining why all of this was worth it because we got to play at Owens Field and, in the OU locker room, we actually touched the silver shoes that made Joe Washington fly.