Posted: Friday January 5, 2007 9:48PM; Updated: Saturday January 6, 2007 1:44AM
A hypoxic tent simulates low-oxygen, high-altitude conditions of up to 8,000 feet.
The majority of Gonzalez's success, it must be noted, can be attributed to non-tent-related aspects: His sure hands, his high football IQ, his detail-oriented approach to the game, and his position-specific speed (he's "really fast in and out of his breaks," according to Florida defensive backs coach Chuck Heater). Gonzalez likes to remind people that the altitude adjustment is only "a part of the positive equation." But would he be the athlete he is today without it?
Lichter, who was formerly a private trainer in Cleveland, had worked with Gonzalez while he was a star at the city's St. Ignatius High School, and talked to the receiver about the tent while he was home on spring break in '05. Lichter had recently researched hypoxic tents for Denver Nuggets forward Nene, who was having trouble with the altitude in the Mile High City, and had been a former client while training for the NBA Draft a few years earlier. The effects the tent was having on Nene, Lichter said, addressed areas where Gonzalez had been trying to improve.
"Tony felt like he was fatiguing in the second half," Lichter said. "He's a real explosive guy, and explosive guys tend to fatigue quickly. He wanted to extend that period of time where he could repeatedly be explosive running routes."
Gonzalez talked to doctors and did his own research before becoming fully sold on Lichter's idea (which has also been adopted by athletes ranging from Gilbert Arenas, to Terrell Owens, to Lance Armtrong), and then convinced his parents to spring for the purchase. "I did my due diligence," he said. Gonzalez, you see, is not the sort of character who would recklessly adopt a strange theory. As a philosophy major with a 3.57 GPA, he's perhaps the deepest thinker -- and most articulate player -- on the Ohio State team. In Friday's media day he pontificated on everything from Plato, to his grandparents' escape from Cuba on the brink of the Castro regime in 1961, to his disagreement with the stance of a recent New York Times story on coach Jim Tressel, to his desire to attend Stanford Law School and eventually become a judge or politician ... to packing the now-famous tent for Arizona. "Thank god I brought it," he said.
Should Gonzalez's late-game prowess play a major role in Monday's result, this tent thing might catch on in college football. Heater, smiling, said that if the Gators have problems keeping up with Gonzalez, "I might go to the athletic director and see if we can get some funds towards [tents]."
And Smith, who will line up against Gonzalez, was curious about his foe's sleeping arrangement. He asked if Gonzalez used the tent to treat a health condition, and upon being informed that no, it was merely to enhance endurance, Smith said, "You've gotta do what you've gotta do. It shows you he has a lot of dedication -- and I might have to get myself one of those."
For now, Gonzalez is the only known college football player who uses the tent. On Sunday evening, just as he has done for the previous six nights in Arizona and the past two seasons in Columbus, he will retire into his strange, hypoxic bed. Then on the morning of the title game, he will unzip its flaps, and, in his mind and his red-blood-cell count, emerge with what could be an edge.