The good times and money are only a short distance away. Training camp will be over, and league play will begin. The pressure will keep growing, the nervousness will not stop, but nobody minds walking to the bank with a nervous stomach.
I am certain also that when the training camp does end I will feel an accompanying sadness that will belie all the complaining I did during the camp's duration. I will not delude myself, or anyone else, by saying that the sadness comes because I miss the hard work and the nervous anxiety. The day that I gain some enjoyment from being hit in the throat with an elbow, or from seeing a friend heartsick because of having been cut from the squad, I will know it is time to quit football.
Yet these things, too, are a part of the something that is missed when camp is over. It is the feeling of having experienced pain and weariness and mental anguish and having met each in a way that made you feel good afterward. Perhaps you did not meet and answer every challenge in a way that would be considered noble the first time it was encountered. There always came a second chance. And you were better prepared the second time because you had done a little soul-searching and decided what is important.
There may have been a time when you became so tired during a game that you loafed until you no longer felt the ache in your chest and sides. Then you were disgusted with yourself for having done so. The challenges must be met with honor if you intend to go on respecting yourself. Existing on a steady diet of challenges, such as a training camp provides, makes a person nervous and tense. I sometimes long for the day when I can relax completely. But when? After my football career is over, then there will be the challenges that must be met in everyday life.
I believe that someday I will be thankful for the lessons of self-discipline that were learned while playing football. And sometimes I wish that every boy in America were given the opportunity to spend a few weeks in a training camp. Not because I think it is important to be an athlete, but because it would serve as invaluable preparation for the day when they set out to make a niche for themselves in this competitive world. They would learn early that it takes hard work to become a success. They would learn that when there are setbacks, and when you are knocked down, you must get up. If they saw only the value of this—getting back up again—then it is certain that their chances for accomplishment in any vocation would be enhanced.
And in the space of just a few weeks, they would discover the greatest value of all: having close, trustworthy friends. Friends you can confide in, joke with, share success and failure with. This is what I shall miss when training camp ends: the close companionship and the continual laughs that occur when 50 guys are together. I will miss the daily card games with Lowe, Wright, Kocourek, Harris, Ladd, Faison, Hadl and McNeil. I will miss the "world problem solving" sessions with DeLuca and Coan; the arguments that Lincoln and Ladd go into each noon as they played off for the World Pingpong Championship; the singing and guitar-playing sessions with Norton; the sound of bare feet outside after bed check, which meant that somebody was sneaking out for a late date. When I think of all these things, camp seems to have been one big laugh. However, this will not slow me up in gathering my clothes, books and other belongings and making the trip home. And if any of the players should pass me and say:
"Isn't this great? Leaving this place—boy, I thought it would never end. Isn't this great?"
"It sure is," I will agree. If I say anything else, he will think that I have run under one kickoff too many.