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Some of his jargon sounds like cryptograms. There's the team philosophy: ABC (Attitude, give your Best, Commitment); the coaching philosophy: ASK (Attitude, Skills, Knowledge). And of course there's always CUT, which means your mess hall pass has been permanently revoked.
Steckel was never much of a football player. He grew up outside Allentown, Pa., a sickly child who contracted polio at five. "I can envision this little kid stuck in bed, looking out the window at his friends playing," says Steckel's wife, Chris. "I think that's when Les learned he had to be patient and determined."
Steckel's love of orderliness comes from his father, a retired high school math teacher. "Dad was a hard disciplinarian," Steckel says. "The rows of desks never moved in his classrooms. After 20 years, the impressions of the chairs were four inches deep in the carpet."
Young Steckel had a paper route from seventh grade until his senior year of high school. His mom let him keep $2 a month; he put the rest away for college. His savings paid for four years at Kansas, where he won the light-heavyweight division in a Golden Gloves tourney. After graduation in 1968, he worked briefly for Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign before joining the Marines. A year later he left for Vietnam.
Steckel, who was a running back for the Quantico Marines in '70 and '71, explained the new football order to his troops three months before the Vikes' first minicamp. "Everyone came here expecting the Bataan death march," says tight end Bob Bruer. "But, really, it was almost bearable."
Camp opened with the punishing Ironman, perhaps the toughest training regimen west of Parris Island. Participation was mandatory, completion optional. Nose tackle Charlie Johnson, himself a Vietnam vet, dreaded it more than basic training. "The night before, I felt like a pancake," he says. "I was tossing and turning all night."
The test included 40-yard dashes, 20-foot rope climbs, vertical leaps, bench presses, sit-ups, agility runs, 300-yard shuttle runs, power curls and leg presses of twice a player's weight. Steckel offered $30,000 in prizes to the winners at various positions. "We were doing the monkey bars across the river when Coach told us alligators were below," says Ted Brown, who finished third among running backs and won a $100 gift certificate. "We believed him, too."
The body count was high: Some players failed to finish, some pulled up lame, still others collapsed. "I got shot two years ago," says Brown. "That might have been a little tougher."
But everyone agrees that the Vikings are in their best shape ever this early in a campaign—or nearly everyone. "I'm a victim because of a capricious attitude," says placekicker Benny Ricardo. Ricardo pulled a hamstring during the Ironman and missed the entire preseason. He'll open the season on injured reserve. "The Raiders don't make you do any of this b.s. stuff," he says. "They just line up on Sunday and kick your ass."