1. Never Wear Another team’s Gear.
In my first ever training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers i walked into the locker room wearing a Philadelphia Eagles t-shirt given to me by Ron Jaworski (like me a Buffalo native). LC Greenwood immediately let it be known to me that wasn’t gonna fly in a Steelers locker room. The offending T-shirt went missing as i recall.
2. Walk Behind a Superstar.
Back in the day at Saint Vincent’s, they didn’t have much, if any security. So the fans could roam all over the campus and walk with the players as they went from locker room to dining hall to dorm. In 1980, on the day that the vets reported to training camp, there were around 15,000 fans present. Walking anywhere was like covering yourself with honey and running through swarms of bees.
The key was to wait for a Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris etc., to walk out of the locker room and head towards the dining hall. Then follow at a distance. For a rookie like me, you might as well have been a ghost.
3. Happiness in Camp Is Only a Dry Jock Strap Away.
Back in the day they didn’t believe in washing the uniforms after the morning practice during two-a-days because hey, we were just going to funk them out all over again. So we had to wear wet stuff for the afternoon practice. Talk about chaffing…
4. If You Don’t Want To Sing For Your Supper, Hustle Off The Practice Field.
I learned early on that if i ran off the practice field after the afternoon practice, i could get to the dining hall and zip in and zip out before the vets (who made you get up and sing if you were a rookie) got there. My plan worked well until a scorcher of a practice left me dragging during the second week of camp. I got to the dining hall a little too late, got caught and now I’m scarred for life.
5. Never Underestimate An Old Guy.
Jack Ham was into the twilight of a Hall of Fame career when i checked in as a rookie. During a practice Jack lined up on a play where i knew i was going to trap him, and i was practically salivating and licking my chops over the thought that i was gonna pulverize him. Didn’t quite turn out as i expected. I think Jack’s helmet number is still imbedded in my chest to this day. Ouch.
6. Be Careful Of The Company You Keep.
After the first day of practice, myself and a half-dozen rookies were “coerced”into replenishing our body fluids by Gerry “Moon” Mullins at a local watering hole as per instruction by head coach Chuck Noll, (water though, is what Chuck was talking about replenishing).
After we got back to campus and headed for chow, Tunch Ilkin, myself and a few other rookies found ourselves shuffling single-file past Coach Noll at the door to the dining hall, trying not to breathe on him while he glared disapprovingly at us, and which of course, sent Moon into gales of laughter.
Said coach knowingly, “Beware of the company you keep.”
7. Don’t Underestimate A Smaller Guy.
During an afternoon practice we ran a P-39 G-O. I pull from the left guard position on a sweep to the left. No corner force, turn up and go get the strong safety. Strong safeties ain’t that big, can’t be that tough, right?
Hell-ooo Donnie Shell…
As i turned north and south Donnie hit me so hard he set a Saint Vincent College body tossing record with me. Six and a half feet from launch to re-entry i believe. Landed right by Chuck Noll’s feet. Yep, didn’t see that one coming…
8. Fights Get you Noticed
Twenty minutes into my first practice with the veterans i got into a Pier 6 brawl of a slugging match with defensive tackle Steve Furness. When they broke it up the entire hillside (4,000-5,000 people) watching the practice gave us a standing ovation. Tough way to get noticed, i tell you (read that last line while you hold your tongue).
9. Can’t Fix Stupid.
I learned how to tape down my jersey onto my shoulder pads with two-way tape by watching the vets. I didn’t bother asking, i just watched them and tried to imitate. However when it came to putting the jersey on, and it fitting correctly, well it was a different matter.
The second half of a pre-season game we played in Atlanta, my jersey was so goofed up my right arm went numb from the armpit to the finger tips from a lack of circulation.
I thought i was coming down with some sort of exotic disease during the course of the game. Try holding onto a rampaging rhino when the right side of your body isn’t checking in with command central.
10. Who needs a mouth guard?
During a blazing hot preseason game in Dallas, i was in the huddle during a time out on the field. I had played punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return teams with a couple -three quarters or so of guard. While contemplating whether my mouth guard had just melted into the roof of my mouth, or it just seemed as if it had, i arched my head back and spit out my mouth guard.
Never wore one again.