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One of these trainers is Joe Kuczo, attached to the Washington Redskins. At 9:30 one morning early this season Kuczo's gleaming, antiseptic training room under the D.C. Stadium stands is already full of Redskins getting ready or being gotten ready for an 11:30 practice session. In one corner of the training room a lithe running back is carefully shaving his legs with an electric razor, while an enormous lineman waits his turn to do the same. Nor is this a fetish peculiar to these two. Though bulging with muscles and often scarred, the gams of every player in the room, from calf down, are as hairless as those of a beauty queen. The reason for this is immediately obvious. On each of three surgerylike tables sprawls a Redskin, while a trainer binds his ankles and lower legs with strips of adhesive tape. From July through December this is almost a daily getting-ready ritual: putting on the tape in the morning, taking it off in the afternoon. For the tapees, it is clearly a matter of shave or suffer.
The ankle-leg wrap is the basic foundation bandage of a football player, and applying it is certainly the basic move of a trainer. For Kuczo and his two part-time assistants (one of whom is Tom McKenna, the head trainer of the Washington Senators), lacing 50 rolls of tape a day around 80-some legs is almost an automatic process. "If it moves, tape it," is their motto.
Kuczo's own way with an ankle is not so much to wrap it as to sandwich the member. A layer of grease and gauze pads goes against the skin. ("I used to have trouble with blisters," he says, explaining the pad-jelly recipe, "but doing it this way we'll go sometimes a whole season without a blister from wraps.") Then he lays vertical strips of tape up the leg and binds the whole shebang round and round with a cast of tape. This creation is called a speed tape job, requiring about two minutes a limb to apply. McKenna and a young assistant trainer tape the Kuczo way, as do a number of others across the country who have learned Taping I and II working under him.
After the 80 or so legs are lashed up, the trainers turn to fancier work. Kuczo spends 10 minutes on two custom tape jobs. A protective pad is laid meticulously on the expensive foot of Charlie Gogolak, the place-kicking specialist. Tom Goosby, a guard with a fractured lower rib, is swaddled in bandages until he looks like a fly caught by a spider that can spin tape-and-elastic webs.
There are four defensive backs with assorted ailments. The number of wounded in this specialty group is apparently not extraordinary. "We get more of them than linemen," says Kuczo, plopping one of the contingent, Tom Walters, into a whirlpool. "They're smaller men, and when they hit and get hit they've got more momentum than big linemen. And they have to be in real good shape or they're not effective at all. A couple of steps slower for them may mean the ball game. Now, take a lineman. He can have a hamstring pulled from here to breakfast. He couldn't run 100 in 20 seconds, but he doesn't have to. We'll tape him tight and he'll give the coach a pretty good game, or at least part of a game."
Three of the backs—Walters, Paul Krause and Jim Shorter—are suffering from aches, pains, bruises and stiffness of a sort which, though not serious medically, could be serious in the two-steps-and-there-goes-the-ball-game sense. Kuczo has at them with unguents, tape, whirlpools, diathermy, ultrasonic-sound machines and other devices. "Twenty years ago we were rubbers," he says of his trade, manipulating the complicated dial panel of a gadget that sends prickles of presumably healing sound into sore muscles. "Now we're automated. With these machines, cortisone shots, muscle relaxers and antibiotics, you hardly do any rubbing at all. Oh, once in a while, maybe before a game, I'll work on Sonny [ Jurgensen, the Redskins' veteran quarterback], but not for any real reason, just because he's at the age where it feels nice to him."
The fourth back, Rickie Harris, a slender, normally speedy corner man, has a thigh sufficiently sore to make his participation in the forthcoming game doubtful. Together, Kuczo and Harris, as intent and detached as mechanics peering at a defective drive shaft, examine the leg.
"It's some better," says Harris as Kuczo rotates the limb. "Going forward it's good, but backward it hurts. Here," he points assuredly to a spot six inches above the knee, "a little deep."
"Rickie, I'm going to tape it pretty good today. Watch your cutting out there. It's wet. Do what you can and check back," Kuczo says and proceeds to encase the leg in ointment, gauze and tape.
"That's going to slow me, Joe," Harris protests of the constricting bandage.