I’m a sucker for the enshrinement speeches during the NFL Hall of Fame ceremony. Usually they are full of wisdom, humility, humor and GREAT football anecdotes. I could listen for days about the adversity and the triumph and the “old times” when “Coach Lombardi told us to …” (I mean, Dave Robinson can say that phrase! Come on, that’s awesome) … It’s just a great glimpse into the roots of the game and how some things are SO different today and yet, of course, so eerily similar.
Head coach Bill Parcells entered the Hall of Fame last Saturday, and in his speech, he talked about the locker room. Since many of you will never actually enter an NFL locker room, I thought I’d use some parts of his speech to give you a peek inside, based off my experience with the Chargers.
“[Steve Young] said that the locker room is a great laboratory for human behavior. When he said that, it just kind of hit me. I said, you know what? This guy’s right. This guy is absolutely right.”
Amen, Bill. It is. It’s as if a scientist took a swab of the general male population and then put it under a petri dish for study. Some players are gregarious, while some are quiet and stay turned to their locker most of the time, on their cell phone; some players keep very neat and organized lockers while others have lockers that would make their mothers weep; some guys throw stuff on the floor and let other people clean it up, some find the trash can. That sort of thing. It’s a place of contrasts. You have all kinds of ethnicity, upbringings, weights, sizes, intelligence levels, etc., and somehow they all mesh into one brotherhood because …
“The only prerequisite for acceptance into that locker room is you’ve got to be willing to contribute to the greater good, and if you are willing to do that, you are readily accepted. If you’re not, you’re pretty much quickly rejected.”
Two case studies for this: Manti Te’o (accepted) and Jared Gaither (rejected). ‘Nuff said.
Now we’ve got some rules and regulations in the locker room. But they’re not written down. But after you’ve been there just a couple of days, you know what they are. If someone should deviate and violate those rules, you find out that there is a judge and jury in that room and they act decisively. Their decisions are final, because we don’t have any appellate courts in there. Okay.
I remember last season, when a rookie divulged to the media that coaches told him he would be starting Sunday after an injury occurred to a veteran at his position. He was just being honest. He didn’t technically do anything outside of the rules. Within minutes, another veteran pulled him aside and quickly schooled him on what to say (or not say) to the media before the coaches had officially made their decision. That’s just a small example of how, like Parcells says, there are unwritten rules. Guys are protective of each other and protective of their space, as they should be. It is THEIR SPACE. Us media are just visitors, like guests in a house where we never feel totally comfortable. Because it’s not. your. house. It’s home to the players. It’s business to the media. It’s not a place to “hang out” or plop on a couch (especially females … well, the ones who are professional. That’s another post for another time).
Now we’ve got a wide range of emotions in this place, ladies and gentlemen. We’ve got happiness, we’ve got humor, practical jokes, hilarity, success, achievement.
Ohhh, yes. Especially in football, where losses ache for a week, and players live in a glass house of emotion. A bad practice, a bad play, a fumble, a missed tackle, a mental mistake — All of those contribute to very testy players. Not always, but usually. And you can’t blame them for that, really …I mean, this is their job. Some are more sensitive than others. As a reporter, you have to have tough skin. You can’t take things personally.
There are hilarious moments too … There were a lot of those when Jacques Cesaire and Antonio Garay were in that locker room. Chairs were always being flipped, things were shot across the room and practical jokes were popular. It’s a place where Philip Rivers will blast his iPod and you’ll hear mostly country (including some Taylor Swift … He says his daughter likes it, but you’d be surprised how many guys in that locker room know all the words to Miss Swift’s music) … and then the next day, some hard core rap will be playing and five players will be dancing in the middle of the room.
Then we’ve got that momentary time of exhilaration where you hoist that championship trophy over your head, and I don’t know what happens, but some mystical blood kinship is formed, and although it’s a fleeting moment, that kinship lasts for the rest of your life.
No, Bill. The Chargers don’t know about this magical moment. Trophy? Blood kinship? What?
Now, on the other side of that locker room there’s darkness. There’s defeat. There’s despondency, there’s pain. You see those players carrying those IVs on to the aircraft after a mid-summer or early season game in a hot weather city, and they’re carrying their own IVs on to the plane and the trainers are rushing to pack them in ice, and they can’t sit in their seats because they’ll cramp up, so they’ve got to lay in the aisle. Ladies and gentlemen, they don’t put that on television, but I was there to see it. There is pain. There is injury. There is tragedy, and even death.
Geez, one just has to think about Kris Dielman. Suffered a concussion, kept playing, got on a flight, suffered a seizure. It’s a warrior sport. It’s for warriors. Every time I enter that locker room, guys are bruised and banged up and wrapped with ice packs. I respect their hard work and I feel lucky to have the privilege to watch these players prepare and practice and put it all on the line. Day in and day out, to get a glimpse into their extreme focus, discipline and mental strength, as well as their utter disappointment or exuberant elation … Well, it’s almost like being let in on a secret.
After watching Saturday’s ceremony, I went back and watched Michael Irvin’s speech. Man, I love that speech.
In light of recent news events, I thought what Irvin said here is extremely telling:
We had the best, and I’m telling you the very best, and I’m willing to take an argument with anybody on this, strength and conditioning coach in the world. His name is Mike Warsick. He has six Super Bowl rings. Six, people. Twice he has won three Super Bowls in four years, once with us and now with the New England Patriots. So if anybody wants to take an argument, I am a debater. I am here and ready.
Mike Warsick, you are, man, the very best. You put me back together from that knee injury. As we always tell each other when we say good bye, MissPaw (phonetic), which means may God hold you till we see each other again.
Who thanks their strength and conditioning coach anymore?? I mean, to put him in your enshrinement speech and gush like that?
There have been at least a dozen season-ending ACL injuries in the NFL since the start of this year. Chargers wide receiver Danario Alexander is the latest victim. The Chargers alone have had three ACL injuries since May. The season hasn’t even started yet. NOW … These have to be coincidental. There’s no rhyme or reason to the rash of league injuries … Different teams, different coaches, different practice styles, some are veterans, some are rookies, etc. But I will say that, in talking to players throughout the years, there is a limited knowledge of how to take care of their bodies. Some guys know how. Others don’t. Some get complacent over the years. It seems so simple, right? These are professional athletes! But it’s not that simple. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
I leave you with Mr. Michael Irvin, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a few years back. He made quite an impression on me.
Look up, get up, and never give up.