The evening was closing. All of the boys had been given medical examinations and most had finished their weight tests. After that would come a general team meeting, and then they would go to their assigned dorm rooms and curfew would be at 10 o'clock. In the morning would come the speed tests and then lunch, and then the afternoon and the first workout. But all that was nothing. All that was just something to be done. Because after that, the next morning, would begin the two-a-day workouts, and that was something to be endured with all the will and strength and character a man could get up. It was a workout in the morning and another in the afternoon. And each was two hours under a Texas sun in August. It was two hours with your muscles failing and your breath coming in gasps and cotton in your mouth so you couldn't spit. It was two hours of hit and hit and run and hit and tackle and hit and hurt and gasp and sweat and hit and run and hurt. It was two hours with a coach yelling, "Move, dammit! Get out of there! Move! Stick your head in there! Move, move, move! Speed! Hit!"
It was two hours in the morning when all you could think of was lying down and dying. You had to go to lunch, even though you knew you couldn't eat, but you had to go because training table was mandatory. It was sitting there, trying to get something solid down, and then, finally, dragging yourself off to your bed. And lying down and finding you were too tired to sleep. Then the clock speeding by, and your roommate swinging his legs off his bed and saying, "Well, guess it's time to go get taped."
And back out in-the afternoon and the little thoughts starting to enter your mind about quitting. All you had to do was walk away from the pain and the sweat and the grind. The afternoon dragging on, and the cotton and the pain and the resolve growing. You won't quit on the field. You'll finish the practice and hang it up right then. Finally, the last horn and the wind sprints and a shower and gulping water as fast as you can get it down, and then the evening training table, still unable to eat much, and then back in your room and in bed. It gets dark and you laugh softly and say to your roommate, "I don't see why they want to run a bed check." And your roommate laughs just as tiredly and answers, "They really fix it so ain't nobody going to go out for a beer."
The team meeting that first night was very low-key. With the first game a little over three weeks away there was no point in trying to fire anyone up. The head coach just stood there and talked quietly about what he expected from everyone in the room. Most of the players looked bored. They'd heard it all before. A few, the sincere ones, listened intently and made little vows within themselves.
The head coach was Bill Peterson. He was in his first year at Rice University after being lured away from Florida State by a very lucrative offer. He'd left a winning record at Florida State and he intended to establish one at Rice. But he was not feeling too hopeful about this first year. He'd inherited a group of athletes recruited by other coaches and they did not impress him. They would have impressed you or me but they did not impress his trained eye.
He looked out at them, thinking to himself that he was in for a long, hard season. With his mouth he said, "Now, I want every man in this room to believe in himself. I believe in you. The other coaches believe in you. You've got to start believing in you. You've got to think one thing—win. And you can win.
"I'm going to ask one thing of you. I'm going to ask you to think about football. See? For the next three months I want you to think about football. And nothing else. See? I want you to put that girl out of your mind, and everything else. I don't know what else you like besides girls, but give that up. Give up everything but football for the next three months. That's not so long. You do that and you can be winners." He stopped and took a cigar out of his pocket and stuck it in his mouth. For a long moment he chewed on it as he looked around the room. "You want fun? I'll give you some fun. Winning is fun. I've been a winner!" For the first time his voice rose a little. "What about you? Have you been winners?" He bore down heavily on the word. "Have you? I hear you haven't."
A few of the boys looked down at their hands.
"Well..." he said, letting the word hang. "You can be winners. If you want to. But you make up your mind what that's going to mean."
He stood up there, a big, bluff-faced man of about 50, talking to a roomful of boys, near-men and men. He stood up there in a checkered sport coat, with a cigar in his mouth, leaning his elbows on a lectern and stabbing his finger out at them as he talked. "Every man in this room has got to play! Every man has got to reach down and get himself something to help this ball club! Now, I know how to win. Do you want to win?"