Friday explained that players who wanted to strengthen their leg muscles often wore the metal plates in their shoes in the early part of training. You could tell when they came in from running with them—"sort of like gimpy hens," he said.
"Great," I said. "You mean to say they would have let me play the game tonight wearing those things?"
"Probably not." said Friday. "They'd all like to see you do well, but it's hard for them not to kid around. They'd have had a good laugh afterwards, and if you didn't do so well you would have had a good excuse. Now you haven't got an excuse."
I laced on the shoes and hurried out to the parking lot, where the bus was waiting. The first bus, with the rookies in it, had gone. Ours was a strange busload—all of us in uniform, the offense in blue jerseys, as I was, and the defensive players in white with blue numbers, the big shoulder pads filling the seats out into the aisle when the players sat two abreast and swaying almost across to the seat opposite when the bus rocked around a corner.
It was relatively quiet, conversation low, the players staring out the windows, their minds on what they would be doing in an hour or so. Occasionally someone would call out, "Get it up! Get it up, offense!" and a few players would stamp on the bus floor with their cleated shoes, the tension beginning to rise.
I sat alone, trying to clear my mind and get my plays straight, visualizing what I had to do with each—the 26 near 0 pinch, the 42 (which made me wince, thinking about it), the 93 pass play, the 9 slant-out to embarrass The Badger, and the 48 flip play. Then Jim Gibbons came down the aisle and sat with me for a while. We went over the plays together, keeping our voices down so the defensive players would not overhear. In front of us Paul Ward, a big, 250-pound defensive lineman, knew what we were whispering about, and he turned and leered over the back of his seat. He was a big, blond, friendly ex-marine who had a degree in physical education, and he was writing a postgraduate thesis on isometric exercises, which he practiced, straining against immovable objects. At the training camp I would come around a corner and find him in a doorway pressing out against the sides with his palms, his face flushed with effort. He was always trying to get me to do the exercises, which I did to humor him, grunting in doorways, and he would say, "Great, great! But you must do it every chance you get. Look for places to stand up and practice it."
"Hey!" he said over his seat. "Which of the two plays you know are you going to run against us?"
Gibbons said: "Two? This guy knows the whole book—secret sessions after practice—plays you haven't even heard of, and you'll be seeing them from flat on your kisser, you better believe it."
The joshing did not last long. We were in the outskirts of Pontiac—the traffic heavy, much of it moving toward the stadium. It was dusk outside, and the blue antiglare tint in the windows darkened the bus. The driver kept the lights off. The bus turned, and we maneuvered slowly through streams of pedestrians, ticket-holders who would look up, annoyed at the bus in their midst, expecting to see a fan club from Ypsilanti, perhaps, with colored plastic hats, and seeing instead the Lions themselves, the big shoulder pads flush up against the windows, gaping then and pointing.
The players were on edge now. A few tight comments were leveled at the bus driver, who had made a wrong turn and gotten us blocked in the crowd a few hundred yards from the stadium. He lifted his hands off the steering wheel finally with a hopeless shrug of his shoulders and opened the door. We clambered down and trotted the short distance to the stadium, the crowd hearing the sounds of the spikes on the macadam coming up on them, turning and dividing to let us by—always with the acquisitive stares, the mouths half open as if something was to be said, some verbal accord to be reached, though we ran between walls of silence marked only by an occasional call to someone recognized. Whoever was in the lead, Joe Schmidt, I think it was, ran us up under the overhang of the stadium, then down a sloped incline of a corridor and finally out to the field.