"Sure it is today. That's the idea. This is Thursday, remember? You get paid for Sunday. We want you to go to Pittsburgh."
"Time," lectures Kuczo, taking as his text Harris' leg. "That's what counts. His leg would have healed in two weeks or so naturally, but that would have meant he missed two games, at least. We're trying to steal time. As soon as a boy is hurt, we start thinking about how soon we can get him back. If there's bleeding in the muscle, you pack him with ice right on the field. As soon as you get him back here you start with sound, heat and exercises, trying to work out the soreness. You give him as much help as you can with tape. If I can get a boy back even a day or two earlier than we thought when he was first injured, I feel proud, sort of like I've made a big play, scored a point or something."
When he is finished with the walking wounded, Kuczo gives some attention to men on the injured reserve list, a designation which means that for medical reasons and because of league rules they will not play for at least a month. One of the long-term rehabilitative cases is Tom Michel, a young running back who has not played a minute for the Redskins because of an injured knee. Michel is a square, stocky, soft-spoken boy who wears on his knee a fairly common athletic badge, a broad red welt of scar tissue, the by-product of corrective (hopefully) surgery. You do not see as many cut knees as shaved legs in a locker room but you see a lot of them, the knee being a particularly vulnerable athletic joint. (In all sports, the failure of the knee has probably curtailed more careers than any other type of injury.) "Sometimes it seems like football players should get their knee cut before they ever try to play," says Michel ruefully.
Michel takes daily therapeutic laps up and down the ramps in the stands. Sometimes he feels that he has almost made a career of stadium sprinting and dealing with trainers and surgeons. Signed by Minnesota out of East Carolina College, Michel played four games as a rookie for the Vikings in 1964, tore the ligaments in the knee and sat out the rest of the season. Corrective surgery left the knee still weak in 1965 (" I could do 100 in 10 going straight out, but I couldn't cut right," explains Michel clinically), and he was released by the Vikings. Returning to Washington, his home town, without any NFL affiliation, Michel spent a good part of the 1965-66 winter hanging around Kuczo's Georgetown University training room. "I was shy about it," says Michel, a very earnest young man, "but Joe said if I wanted to work he'd give me as much work as I could take. He did. He had me lifting weights with the leg, doing exercises and running, and the knee felt great."
The knee seemed great enough for the Redskins to sign Michel as a free agent prior to the season. Two weeks into preseason training it popped again and Michel went back to where he had been for the better part of three years—the training room. "It was a freak," Michel says sadly of his latest injury. "I was cutting good and my cleats caught. It could have happened to anyone. I understand that's what happened to Johnny Morris of the Bears this year."
"There was no connection between this and what happened to him before," says Kuczo, flexing the scarred knee. "And it is going to be as good as ever. You know why?" The question is asked rhetorically, exhortatively, enthusiastically. "Because this boy really wants to play football. It's like everything else in life. If you want something you've got to work for it. How does it feel today, Tommy?"
"Strong, Joe, really strong," says Michel and hustles off to the stadium steps.
"That," says Kuczo admiringly, "is the kind of boy you pull for. If some of these hotshots had his attitude along with their talent and knees, they would be alltime everything."
A few minutes before practice time, Otto Graham, the Redskin coach, stops by the training room. Harris, the limping corner back, is pulling on his pants over the heavily taped leg. Graham nods at Harris and looks at Kuczo. What is on the coach's mind is so obvious that there is no need to speak.
"He's coming along," Kuczo says carefully. "If nothing happens in the next 48 hours, he should be able to run almost normally. Maybe he could take it a little easy on that wet field today."