You have heard of safecrackers who sandpaper the tips of their fingers to develop supersensitivity. Well, I do somewhat the same thing. Before a game I rub my fingertips against something rough, like an unfinished concrete wall, to make them tingle. I also bite my nails—not from nervousness but to get the blood in my fingertips circulating better. Playing basketball helps pass catching. You handle the basketball out on your fingertips, too.
I have learned to play in short sleeves no matter what the weather and in spite of bone chips from taking falls on unprotected elbows. Sensitivity again. The bare skin of the arms is sensitive; jersey sleeves are not. When the ball comes in and hits skin your reaction is immediate, your judgment is improved and most likely you can hold the ball. It is like the difference between catching the ball wearing gloves and catching barehanded. With a pair of gloves on, you can't catch a thing.
I have another reason for not wearing long sleeves. See how far you can reach in a suit coat. The sleeves bind you in the shoulders. A long jersey binds so much that it takes an inch or two from my reach, which would mean a lot of passes dropped that could be caught.
In the matter of physical survival, the biggest thing I have learned is not to struggle with the big boys. Whichever way a tackier wants to take me is the way I am perfectly happy to go. I fall like 175 pounds of spaghetti.
Unfortunately, that technique is not foolproof. In 1959, for example, my jaw was broken when a defensive halfback rapped me from the blind side as I was running a pattern. By the time it healed I had played six games. I couldn't risk having my jaw wired. It wouldn't have taken a very hard knock to cut my mouth to pieces. So it was soup through a straw for six weeks.
At my weight I can't afford to be a cream puff. The time Bill Pellington knocked me out I came to while a couple of players were walking me to the sidelines. They told me later that I had been singing the Oklahoma fight song, Boomer Sooner. Maybe I was. I have always had great admiration for Mr. Wilkinson. What really bothered me was that it was only my first pro game. Some people were already saying that I had made All-America only because I played for a great Oklahoma team. Now they would be saying the Eagles had drafted a man with a glass jaw. I didn't want that kind of talk to start. I got back into the game after missing four plays and played the rest of it.
In 1960 I was still alive and beginning to understand how to play the flanker position. That was the year we won the championship, but as the season started none of us suspected what was coming.