|Every man for himself|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
(Editor's note: Road Dog has a second cousin, or nephew, or something like that, one of those Alley I.-type relatives who just appear, like mushrooms after rain. Dog's boy is called Pronto Pup; he's at an NFL training camp, trying to make a team, and filed this report.)
For now I'm here to tell you what NFL training camp is really like, not that cleaned-up stuff on HBO, or in the newspaper. Think that stuff's on the real real? Nah. The guys, they know when the red light is on. Acting like they might be sem-i-civilized. Please.
I went to Notre Dame.
Notre Dame of Northwest Pennsylvania.
To us, Kutztown State was Michigan.
Left ND-NP four years ago. Hit the Redskins, Raiders and Ravens camps the last three years, but they had corners. I fired my agent for hooking me up at camps where Champie Bailey, D. Green, Smoot, McAlister, Wood and all them guys made me look worse than I was. Told Ma her boyfriend didn't know what he was doing.
I play corner. I carioca. I backpedal. I cover. I engage. I stop the ball. I run as fast backward as I do forward. I got invited to camp as a free agent because I busted this 4.35 40 when their D-coordinator came to Philly, looking at some loser, outta Temple.
Normally, I run something like 4.5, just fast enough to get me a job at Burger King. I'da been hell in 1971, though. But I got a jump, a rolling start, and got away with it; I know this girl, see, dead-ringer for Beyoncé Knowles, and I got her to go sit up in the stands and wear a short tight red tube dress and go, "Woo Woo!" when I was about to run, and D-coordinator was distracted, like I figured.
How did I get a dead ringer for Beyoncé to go with me anywhere?
I lied. Said we were shooting a rap video. How else?
The first thing you need to know about NFL training camp that nobody tells you about is the puke. There's a lot of it, on a daily basis. You know puke? Vomit? Hurl? Upchuck? Corn chowder? It's pretty much everywhere. It's hot as hell down here. And most guys, they might work out on the weights in the offseason because it looks good to be all cut and swole -- and they gotta do something to work the creatine and crap off -- but they won't do much running.
So when they get run to the point of death by some new coach coming in trying to prove a point ... here come the puke. Some guys puke because they are nervous. Just in line and all of a sudden start giving it up, decorating your back. It ain't all from running gassers in the heat. Some of it's nervousness. Some guys hurl because that's how they get ready. Some of it is the pressure.
Pressure will cook a ham. So will heat. None of this is ideal.
What would be the ideal NFL training camp?
For me, it would be rooming with Shannon Sharpe. Shannon Sharpe is the funniest dude in the League. He can make a brick laugh. Head coach? Spurrier, because I don't play offense, so he don't care what I'm doing, and he runs a light camp, comparatively speaking. Place? Maui. OK, Santa Rosa, in Cali. Gets hot, but some places are ridiculous. The Cowboys, down by San Antone? The scorpions and gila monsters stay in the shade down there.
There's tricks to surviving the first round of cut downs, after the first week of two-a-days. What are two-a-days? Two-a-days are what will kill you if you don't pace yourself through them. Think I'm kidding? I give you Korey Stringer. I give you J.V. Cain. And dying ain't no way to make a living, boy. Coaches, they say you'll pass out way before you actually die, but I don't know, and I ain't really trying to find out. Gotta know your own body in the NFL, your own tolerance levels for heat and fatigue. If you think they're looking out for you, think again. I work off this theory, learned at three other training camps: If you feel like you're dying ... you are.
So you gotta be heads, smart about when you lay your body on the line. Now, you get a young, gung-ho coach who just got paid a few mil to come and turn it around, you ain't nothing but an example to him. He'll send a stampede at you, say, "Run it again," while some big dude gets your ass in his crosshairs this time, after you just used your best evasive move against him first time. Watch you get blown up for the hell of it, just to see the look on the vets' faces.
Then there's the other rookies and free agents, the older veterans scared that the rookies and free agents will take their jobs. That's pretty much everybody who has a bull's-eye on your chest.
I say up front when I hit the dorm that I ain't the greatest tackler in the world. I don't say it like I'm scared. I say it like I'm an athletic aristocrat. I sniff when I say it. Then first hit I make in camp, I try to make it so it will be the last. I try to un-string him. I pick out a guy, another rookie, a medium-sized rook who looks scared, and I try to knock him back to Indiana. I sell out on him. If I knock him and me out, all the better. They revive me, pat me on the butt, and from then on they say, "Sick ass Pronto Pup, he crazy man."
See, tackling ain't what they pay me for -- if they get around to paying me at all. I cover. That's what I do. I cover. They say the more things you can do, the more valuable you make yourself, the less likely you'll get cut. Know this guy who holds for placekicks, snaps for punts, volunteers to bust the wedge on kickoffs, plays both safety positions, can fill in on the scout team as a receiver, troubleshoots videotape machines, is a masseuse and a master mechanic, in case a bus breaks down. "The more you can do ..." he says. The more you can do, what? I cover. That's what I do.
Helps if you've got some compromising photos of your position coach and another assistant coach's wife, if you can set that up. It's not as hard as you might think. Just as good as being versatile.
It's like being in the French Foreign Legion. You can get to likin' guys if you want, but when the Turk comes for 'em, gotta forget 'em quick. Can't waste emotion. Can't waste nothing. Gotta keep every ounce of energy for two-a-days, nutcrackers, fights, puking, screwing around with PlayStation, or the vagrant honey if one is dumb enough to come around there unescorted by the Marines, gotta be right for all the dumb pranks or practical jokes insecure veterans are always laying down, the silly weight-lifting (I cover, I don't pull off the front end of trucks), the full-pad scrimmages ...
At training camp, ice baths in galvanized tubs qualify as heaven.
You tell me.
Gotta have the right kind of coach. Anybody fond of nutcrackers, "Oklahoma" drills, ain't really me. I'm a buck-eighty soaking wet. What I look like taking on some 300-pound water buffalo pulling guard, shedding that load, then getting in front of Ricky Williams, knees high, point to prove, nothing to fear from my buck-eighty?
Position coach talking 'bout, "Get your butt up under you!" Why don't you come out here and get your butt up under you? I'm diving at his ankles. If I miss, I miss. But I live to miss again.
In drills, gotta be smart. When you're in line, gotta count off and see who you'll pair off against. Pair off against the right kind -- you can make it. Pair off against some cowboy -- you can get hurt.
Gotta see who you'll match up with. If you're in the Colts camp, you don't want to end up matching on Marvin Harrison. Marvin will break your ankles off. It was Marvin who showed me Deion was through. Sucked Deion in, then blew by him, and Deion couldn't recover. Deion still my boy. Most corners of my genny cut theyself all up in Deion's image. Me, I just feel out the position coach first. I ask him who he likes. Whoever he says, that's my new hero.
Food? All you want. Most guys puke it back up anyway.
You definitely don't want to get on the bad side of an LB sporting a ridiculous neck out of a funhouse mirror, with relationship issues.
Hard enough living with one male roommate. Try 80.
That's my report from the first week of camp. Will I make it? If both the starting corners are in a car wreck, and the nickel back catches a knee, and the dime back is blown up by Ricky Williams in a scrimmage, or something else cool like that, I got a chance.
Like I said. Pressure will cook a ham.
So will an NFL training camp.
Don't know why you'd laugh.
It ain't all that funny.
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."