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How I Went from Fleet Breakaway Threat to Hard-Running Blond to Solid-Socking Blond to Loose and Fun-Loving off the Field
Alex Hawkins
November 16, 1970
Or, the confessions of a pro footballer who played six positions in 10 years and did none of them justice
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November 16, 1970

How I Went From Fleet Breakaway Threat To Hard-running Blond To Solid-socking Blond To Loose And Fun-loving Off The Field

Or, the confessions of a pro footballer who played six positions in 10 years and did none of them justice

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"Listen," 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.

Confrontations 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.

Raymond Berry, 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?

Further evidence: 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.

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