"Now, Lawrence," Vermeil says, "you know that wouldn't have happened if you'd worked out as hard in the last month of the off-season as you did the rest of the time."
"Had to take care of business, Coach," Phillips says quietly, seated at his locker.
Vermeil bends down and puts his hands on Phillips's shoulders and his mouth four inches from the player's ear. "The only business you have to take care of now." he says in a near whisper, "is being the best football player you can be."
Wrong. Phillips has one more chore to take care of before Vermeil gets him back for good.
Thursday, July 17 St. Louis
All season long, Vermeil will make little concessions to the '90s. In Philadelphia he never had to excuse a player for 28 hours so he could finish his community service in order to avoid going to jail. But late yesterday, hours before veterans were to report to camp, Warren spirited Phillips out of his dorm and drove him to St. Louis. Today the player will complete the 80 hours of off-season service he was ordered to perform after his probation violation. He presents himself at the city morgue to do manual labor. He and Warren are ushered into a room where the coroner unzips a body bag.
Inside it lies the corpse of a woman riddled with 16 bullet holes, most around the groin. She was shot outside a riverboat casino, reportedly by an angry boyfriend. Phillips has never seen anything so gruesome. "Her poor family," he says. He and Warren see other bodies—one of a man who overdosed on heroin and another, badly decomposed, of a man found in the woods.
Warren and Phillips skip lunch. On the way back to camp in the afternoon, Warren pulls into a McDonald's drive-thru. Phillips orders nothing. Still too shaken.
Friday, July 18 Macomb
At 10 a.m., 80 players report to the practice field for the first full-squad workout. First they take a conditioning test. They must run the width of the field (53 yards) and back twice in 38 seconds, rest 90 seconds, do it again, rest 90 seconds and do it a third time. Afterward even some well-conditioned players are dying. Wideout Isaac Bruce, spent, lies spread-eagled on the ground.