"I can tell time with it," he replies.
In other seats are Bob Fletcher, a 27-year-old kicker-punter from Canada, and Don Schwartz, a 27-year-old safety who was cut by the St. Louis Cardinals in the middle of last season after four years in the NFL. Fletcher is amusing because he ends half his sentences with "eh?" and sounds like one of the McKenzie Brothers of the Great White North. Schwartz is reserved, polite and a trifle glum. He gave up a new job in real estate in Seattle to try out with the Blitz. If he makes the team, his wife will have to leave her job as a designer for a Seattle ski-wear company. I tell him that I've probably watched him play on TV. "I'm nobody," he assures me.
As we wait in line for our physicals, we talk. Isn't it weird to be on a team that's never played a game? What are the other teams like? Won't it be bad for the league if one team is much better than the others? Is the money for our salaries really there? Trumaine Johnson says he has heard that the Blitz must average 23,500 tickets per game to break even. Other players nod, some apprehensively.
The results of the physical exams hold no surprises for most players. But for me they do. I have 20/15 vision, which is nice. But X rays of my ankles show that both are debris-laden and arthritic. I can't point my toe properly when I punt because a bone chip is in the way. My left knee hurts because it's loose. There is, says the doctor, "crepitation" under the kneecap.
What he means is that I'm getting old, reaping a delayed harvest. It's too late to wonder if football has been worth it.
At our first team dinner the players are introduced to the Blitz staff. Dr. Diethrich stands behind the microphone and tells us how he has "wanted to win" his whole life. After dinner and a few words from Allen, we separate by position for meetings with our respective coaches. The defensive backs crowd into a conference room with too few chairs. There are 18 of us, and as Secondary Coach Dick Walker looks us over, he shakes his head and says, "Men, we're only keeping seven or eight of you."
The players glance at one another. A lot of them had believed that the level of skill in the USFL would be little more than semi-pro and that they, even with their limited dossiers, would tear it apart. I'd thought that, too, way back. Then I realized there are more football players in America than 10 new leagues could handle.
Everything suddenly takes on new importance. Who can appear to be the most alert? The coach lectures about technique and then glances at Dennis Bishop. "Bishop ran a 4:42 in the 40 today," he says. "He's got great potential, but he doesn't look at the quarterback through the receiver. And his footwork is lousy...." Bishop sits ramrod-straight in his chair, trying to be worthy of this near praise.
At the end of the meeting Walker picks up two bananas and holds them like guns. "Men," he says, "these are the greatest source of potassium there is."
It seemed that every time I ran into Bishop after that, he was carrying a banana.