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WE HAVE A NEUROTIC IN THE BACKFIELD, DOCTOR
Joe Jares
January 18, 1971
Professor Bruce Ogilvie (left) and his partner Thomas Tutko show teams how to avoid mental blocks by tackling psychological hang-ups
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January 18, 1971

We Have A Neurotic In The Backfield, Doctor

Professor Bruce Ogilvie (left) and his partner Thomas Tutko show teams how to avoid mental blocks by tackling psychological hang-ups

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A couple of years ago the New Orleans Saints had an umpteenth-round draft choice from a college in Texas. This big stud, a lineman we'll call Stephen Austin, was doing surprisingly well and had impressed Coach Tom Fears and the staff with his behavior and attitude. Then, with the rest of the rookies in the Saints' training camp, he took a test devised by the club's two consulting psychologists, Drs. Bruce Ogilvie and Thomas Tutko of San Jose State College.

"The doctors told us we'd have the results within two weeks," says Fears. "Three days later we got a call at our San Diego camp. They said we were sitting on a keg of dynamite with Austin. They said he was the kind who might walk out of camp any moment. They were calling to give us early warning."

The young man's test scores, according to the psychologists, showed that his self-confidence was low, he was becoming moody and depressed, he could not adjust to harsh verbal criticism, he punished himself when things went wrong and he couldn't sustain effort when things were not breaking his way.

"After they had finished," says Fears, "I thanked them and said, 'Stephen Austin walked out yesterday.' "

In 1967 the Saints had a rookie from Xavier, an end we'll call Dan Abramowicz, whom the psychologists and most other people had never heard of. Abramowicz was a lowly 17th-round draft choice, but his test scores made him sound like a combination of Frank Merriwell and Attila the Hun. Ogilvie and Tutko concluded that if this guy had a shred of physical ability to go with what was inside him, he'd be an All-Pro. Abramowicz became the leading pass receiver in the NFL.

Ogilvie and Tutko—known to their athlete subjects as The Shrinks—are not infallible when it comes to picking out potential champions. A few seasons ago they sized up a rookie defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers as definite pro material.

"We watched him out on the field in a two-on-one drill," Ogilvie recalls. "He was alone against two big tough veterans who were just killing him. It got to the point where they had to prop him up on a three-point stance. The coach would give the signal and off he would go, and he'd get creamed. He'd get up on his knees and his head would be flopping to one side. But he wouldn't quit."

"He had all the traits. So you know what happened?" Tutko continues. "He didn't make it because he didn't have lateral mobility. Now what the hell do we know about lateral mobility?"

The Shrinks are not in the predicting business anyway, nor are they really headshrinkers. Their Institute for the Study of Athletic Motivation was set up to help coaches handle athletes. "The factors which motivate an individual to athletic competition are unique for each participant," they explain. '"We believe that improved individual performance will result if the coach and each athlete he works with are aware of these psychological drives."

"They can't tell you if a man's a football player," says Bob Shaw, assistant coach of the Chicago Bears. "The coach still has to do that. But they can tell you if he's tough, if he can take tough handling, if he has desire and leadership. They can even tell you if he'll choke in a tight situation. They can tell the coach how to motivate individuals and the whole squad. By studying the psychological profiles, the coach will know how he can get through to his team. They can even tell you whether a guy should be playing offense or defense and which guys should be on the suicide squads."

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