Too hot for football?

Published 3:10 pm Friday, August 19, 2011

This has been one of the hottest, driest summers in decades, and tragically we’ve all read about several high school and college football players who have died from heatstroke or its effects as a result of preseason practice for the teams. Sad.

Most of us menfolks have been there, in our salad days, for better or worse. I remember August two-a-day practices when Coach Woolley stood at the LHS dressing room door passing out salt tablets, making sure each player swallowed them as we went out the door. There would be a big water cooler under a shade tree, but too many visits to it during practice would get you labeled as a “Sister Dorothy,” in Coach Barrett’s lingo. A few years later, at Ole Miss preseason practices, I don’t recall there being a water cooler on the field, though there probably was one there. I never recall any player getting woozy from the heat, though most of us would have been ashamed to admit it if we had felt thataway, truth be known. That was the mindset back then, for better or worse. Maybe it was why the Rebels were Number One then?

When fellow Rebel footballer Paige Cothren published his books on Ole Miss football several years ago, I was first in line to get one. Though Paige was an All-American fullback nearly a decade before my arrival at Oxford, many of his stories were about guys with whom I played, and those books are still worth me re-reading a couple of times a year, they bring back so many great memories. Yet I will never forget when I finished “Walk Carefully Around The Dead,” about our Freshman Coach Wobble Davidson, laughing all the way through it, and handed it to Betsy, saying “You’ll love this!” She was a Rebelette (majorette) and Top Six Beauty at Ole Miss then, and knew most of the football players who were my teammates, so I was sure she’d enjoy the stories.

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An hour later she stood up and threw the book at me, declaring, “This isn’t funny! This is why you’re like you are! It’s not right to keep playing when you’re hurt, or to joke about getting your bell rung so many times like you’ve done. This is how come you sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies just getting out of bed!”

Paige had discussed “playing through the pain” of a broken foot, as well as other injuries to himself and teammates during games or practices, although we many times stayed on the field. We viewed ourselves as “T-U-Double-Uff Tough” back then, and it was to some extent expected of us, as players. After all, there was someone right behind you just raring to get a chance to show that he was better than the guy playing ahead of him.

I am NOT saying that this prevailing attitude was right, I’m just saying that it existed, and we accepted it as the norm. No one forced me to play football, after all, but those of us on the field wanted that first-stringer’s job and would go to any lengths to get it. And for the brief time I had my shot at first-string linebacker, I dang sure didn’t want to come out of the game just because of a li’l ole broken thumb, which would have given Pre-Med Fred his chance to replace me, and once that happened Coach Wobble wasn’t going to just hand me the position back after the thumb healed. Tape that sucker up while the offense is on the field, and I was ready to go back in after we had scored!

I am thankful that this type mindset is discouraged nowadays, if it is. Ask any older college football player if it was worth it, and we’ll probably say that it was, unless it’s the week of that first cold spell, when the broken thumb and the separated shoulder and the reconstructed knee are hurting almost enough to keep us out of a deer stand or duck blind.

We don’t watch much TV, but I saw a CSI episode showing what happens to a human brain upon severe impact, and the lasting effects of concussion (I’ve had five major ones) that scared the heck out of me. Helmets are better nowadays.

It ain’t sissy to say something to the coach when you’re hurting or woozy or getting too hot in this unnatural heat wave, guys. If you don’t, you may regret it, and it may haunt you for the rest of your life. Take care of yourself while you can!