- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
He'd put sugar in the salt shaker of his high school and college teammates, hot sauce in their fruit juice, baby powder in their helmets. But no, he wouldn't go this far, would he? He wouldn't, for the sake of a guffaw and his renown as a prankster, invent a criminal past. His freshman teammates at Miami had learned not to fall asleep in team meetings. He'd shave their heads. How delicious, for a change, to be the ambusher instead of the ambushed.
Funny, you could never get him back. You'd wait for him in the showers with a bucket of cold water, but he'd anticipate the plot, peer around the corner and duck away. "Like an arsonist," recalls Miami Norland High teammate John Eaford. "Mr. Elusive. He'd be there, but he wouldn't be there. He'd come to my house, but I never went in his. He'd tell me to honk the horn and he'd come outside."
See, that would be the only way to reach air so thin from asphalt so cracked. Compartmentalize. Segregate past from present, like colors from whites in the laundry, just in case they bled. Divvy the personal and professional into separate boxes, lock 'em up, gulp the key. You don't live with loved ones. They're sorrow waiting to happen. You drop by to see your children and their mothers, watch some TV together, play some hoops, cards or Scrabble, take them out to eat. You call them from the office at the crack of dawn, before any of the coaches or secretaries arrive. You visit your diabetic mother on Saturdays, make sure she's taking her meds, pay some of her bills, after your team's on-field business is done.
You forbid your eldest son, Xavier, to play at Miami. That's blurring lines. You tell your guys to hit him in the mouth when you play against his team, Florida International, so they don't blur them either.
You teach your players the compartment trick. "You don't tell anyone what we do here," you order them. "Not your mother, your father, your sisters, your brothers, your girlfriends." Nor drag their addictions, their pregnancies, their unemployment, diseases or despair to the practice field or study hall.
But, Coach, they'd protest, it's so hard to focus when....
No, he'd insist, pitiless as pavement. Dead surer than any other football coach alive that this was life and death. Go see and support your family members, he'd tell them. Don't hoard your pain, as he had. "Only a few," he'd say, "can handle that pressure." Talk it out with him or someone else you trusted. But you can't think about your sick, dead or troubled loved ones when it's time to focus on books and ball because that's the only way you really can help them: Build a mind and a career and become your family's rock.
How? You will it to happen. That's what he'd learned when he'd hit puberty, when the sheer heft of his life project, the enormity of self-creation it would require, began to reveal itself. God, he'd nearly blown it, gorging himself with pancakes and grits and eggs and macaroni and cheese and wondrous coconut cakes that he painstakingly baked from scratch—anything to fill the hole inside him in that empty house after his two eldest brothers were banished, his sister moved out and his mom was working double shifts to afford the house they'd moved into, having fled the projects in Liberty City just before the riots that engulfed them in the '80s. That's when Randy—40 pounds over the Pop Warner weight limit, growing too large to squeeze through his one escape route—learned that you can't have your dream and eat your coconut cake too. That's when he discovered the muscularity of will.
He had one summer, three months, to lose those 40 pounds. He scissored holes for his head and arms in a black plastic trash bag, pulled it over his sweats and ran for miles each day beneath the merciless Miami sun. He slashed 38 pounds and still found himself, on the eve of games, a pound or two over, starving himself that night and the next day, then sweating in the trash bag in his coach's car with the windows up and the heater blasting to make the pregame weigh-in.
He willed himself to wake up every school morning at six, without an alarm, in that empty house. To wash and fold and iron his clothes on Saturdays, to polish his shoes and clean the house, to impose order on chaos. To study game film while his high school teammates were in study hall, to compile folders of notes on their opponents' tendencies, to offset his deficiencies in speed and size as a linebacker through anticipation, technique and cunning. To become so adept at seeing things before they happened, in order to avert the next calamity—one had to be coming—that he became the smartest player on every field, the one everyone turned to when things were spiraling out of control, the one telling teammates what was coming next and how to counter it, the one always on the headsets with coaches upstairs, the one whom Jimmy Johnson drafted in the 11th round—after Johnson made the jump from the Hurricanes to the Cowboys following Randy's senior season—in order to teach his bigger, faster pro linebackers how to play the position.