I said, "I'll not only ride the horse buck naked to my apartment building,
I'll ride him up the front steps and through the lobby and into the elevator.
I'll ride him right into the apartment itself."
Bobby stroked his
chin for a few moments and finally said, "You got a bet."
I figured I was
$200 richer already, because the only thing that could beat me was a sense of
propriety, which I have never been accused of having. So the bet was on. Now
all we needed was a horse. Rocky Thornton, the bartender, stepped out into the
street and shouted, "Hey, horse!" but no horse came, so we started
phoning stables. As it turned out, nobody would rent us a horse, possibly
because they suspected we had been drinking. But the point is that when I say
you've never seen a tougher competitor than Bobby Boyd, I'm not just parroting
words about a teammate I don't really know. When Bobby finally accepted that
bet, he knew—I didn't—that the elevator in my apartment building was nowhere
near large enough to admit a horse.
Yes, once upon a
time football was fun. The feeling that the fun was ebbing began to creep up on
me in 1965, when John Unitas and I fell to reflecting on our training camp that
year. We agreed that for the first time the place had no zest. You had to
search high and low for a poker game. Players sat around checking their
investment portfolios. In the past, if the coach gave the team the weekend off,
30 players would get together for a party, but now, with a free weekend
starting, you would see them scattering like quail. The briefcase carriers had
taken over. We were now a team during working hours only.
If I seem to be
saying that in order to play pro football properly it's necessary that large
groups of players hang out in bars, you read me perfectly. Regardless of what
the Fellowship of Christian Athletes says, true pro football teams accomplished
half of their pregame preparation in bars. Each team had its favorite
after-practice hangout, a hangout being any bar where, let's say, six or more
players gathered. By the third round of drinks you actually could see men
getting themselves up for Sunday's game. For no apparent reason, except that we
talked football (and girls) endlessly, you would suddenly hear a lineman say,
"I'm going to block that son of a bitch all over the field!" Having
been immersed in the football talk, he was bringing his own little battle into
focus and committing himself.
took place at those hangouts. "When the hell are you going to start doing a
better job?" a player would demand of another. Players were taken apart
point-blank by their equals, and the team was the better for it. Today if you
confront a teammate, he becomes highly indignant. When a few players
occasionally get together, they talk about their Dairy Queens. If more than two
players meet after practice for a beer, the odds are heavy that at least one
wife will phone to say, "Now you be sure to be home on time because we're
going over to Green Spring Inn with the Braases." I'm not saying it's a
crime. I'm saying it's civil. Pro football was not designed to be played by
sane or civil men.
A couple of the
fine Baltimore players, neither of them totally sane, come to mind.
before he married, lived alone in an old frame house. Football obsessed him.
Usually he was the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave. Once or
twice a week he would stop off with the boys and have a beer (or, if he gave
himself over to abandon, a beer and a half), and then he would go home. How
many rooms that big old house held, I have no idea. Nobody I know of, except
Raymond, ever set foot in it. Raymond was a loner. Whenever I drove by his
house and pictured him padding around inside, I thought of the Charles Addams
people, but if I had to guess what Raymond was doing in there, night after
night, I would say that upon returning from practice, he sat down and wrote a
letter to his mother in Texas and then fixed supper and then, a riotous evening
ahead of him, turned on a projector and studied game films till bedtime. I ask
you, was Raymond Berry a completely sane man?
in a game against Dallas, as I recall, Raymond dropped a sideline pass because
the ball had been deflected by a cornerback. Raymond dived headlong and got one
hand on the ball but couldn't hold it. I turned to Jimmy Orr and said,
"I'll bet you Raymond will have me practicing that play with him all
week." Sure enough, when I showed up for practice I saw that a sawdust pit
had been dug off to one side of the field. At his own expense Raymond had
ordered a truckload of sawdust. "Let's go," he said to me. All week,
with sawdust coming out of our ears, we practiced diving catches of deflected
passes. I didn't catch one. Raymond, I seem to remember, caught two or three.
They made his week.
The first day I
reported to the Colts, in 1959, Bert Rechichar held out his hand and said,
"I'm 44. What's your name?" He never thought of himself as Bert
Rechichar. Had he been introducing himself to the President, he would have
said, "I'm 44." He carried a cigar in the corner of his mouth and,
being blind in one eye, which remained closed as he studied me with his good
eye, he gave me the feeling that if I hadn't met him in the Colts' dressing
room I would have guessed his occupation as hangman.