SOMETIMES IT PAYS TO KICK
As a punter for the Cincinnati Bengals and a weekly sports columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Pat McInally has faced blitzing linebackers and frenzied deadlines. But nothing, he insists, is more daunting than room 254, for 10 summers his spartan digs at the team's summer training camp in Wilmington, Ohio. In a recent column titled WHATEVER ITS INADEQUACIES, ROOM 254 HAS A CERTAIN CHARM, McInally wrote that the room had the listless, doldrumy air of solitary confinement.
"Each July as I step through the door, I am greeted by the exact same bareness," he said. "The bed is one of those small, metal-framed, mesh-wire 'spring' models undoubtedly invented for prisons.... [It's] covered by permanently starched white canvas being passed off as sheets and one thin blue blanket which can be seen through and is unfortunately only slightly larger than a bath towel."
Still, McInally admitted, "through all that's happened over the past decade, the wins, the losses, the first-round draft choices, the retirements and the coaching changes, the one constant has been old room 254."
A day after the column appeared, McInally showed up for this year's camp. When he opened the door to his room, he found the bed covered with a hand-sewn quilt and half a dozen stuffed animals. A red velour bathrobe, a pair of fleecy white slippers and a corncob pipe rested on an easy chair. Cheery framed posters and prints hung from the walls. A festive hooked rug covered the floor. There were balloons clustered on the ceiling. Scattered around the room were a plate of cookies, flowers, a lamp, stationery and a banner saying: WELCOME HOME, PAT.
In fact, McInally's warders were so nice they didn't even mention that the room McInally has been staying in all these years is 251, not 254.