- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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I know we've always had our carousers, our Bobby Laynes and our Joe Namaths, but I really come from a different era, a time when athletes were expected to be self-disciplined, when they could walk past booze and cigarettes—drugs were so far out then they weren't even an issue—when belonging to a team meant you were part of something special, of an elite, and social sacrifices were gladly made. That's the way I grew up as an athlete. And that's all changed.
Football, the NFL, is part of the culture now, and it can only reflect our society. So much of what goes on these days is a function of age. I don't want to be too specific here—don't ask me names—but there was one Sunday in the last five years when I happened to drift into a young player's hotel room a few hours before the game, and there he was with his roommate and a couple other guys ready to get into some coke that was lined up on the TV set like a salad bar. The point of this story isn't primarily to shock you with those facts; much more interesting were the reactions of those involved. The kids were absolutely blasé about the whole thing and simply couldn't understand why I was so upset. Myself, I was so stunned at the scene and their attitude that I staggered back to my room and called my old friend O.J. Simpson, and I just babbled on to him for 20 minutes. "O.J.," I kept saying, "what the hell is happening?" I almost missed the team bus.
Look, I'm no angel, but understand: It really has changed. Remember we used to call those scruffy guys beatniks? Well, in a way, the beatniks have won. They beat the athletes. It's a different attitude now. You can't order this generation of players not to do things. You can't kick the bad apples off a team, the way you used to. And maybe that's good. Certainly it's fairer. And the pressure to win is greater, so the owners and the coaches will tolerate more. And probably that's not so good. And the peer pressure is very great on teams that are made up of young men. Remember that, too.
But I'm old-fashioned enough to say one more thing. I read where my old Viking teammate, Carl Eller, came out and said that one of the reasons he got all caught up in drugs was because they gave him something comparable to the high he got from sacking a quarterback. I find that hard to believe. I think that the players who have drinking or drug problems got messed up because of what is missing in their lives seven days a week—not just Sunday afternoons. Being part of a team and making a sack or catching a touchdown pass—that gives you a high beyond all others. Nothing artificial can replace it.
Thought for today: I was just thinking, it's hard to believe but less than two weeks ago I was on vacation in Vail with Diane, playing tennis, having the time of my life. I love tennis. I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes when I'm up in the air, just about to catch a pass over the middle, it actually crosses my mind: Gee, it would be nice to be a tennis player and not have any linebackers on the court.
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 4: Rookie fashions
Two union representatives showed up today to brief the team on the strike situation. One of them was Alan Page, who's a lawyer and who, of course, played so many years for the Vikings. Unfortunately, Page and Bud Grant always had something of a strained relationship, so I was watching very carefully when Bud first ran into Alan today.
Bud walked straight over to where Alan was sitting to shake his hand, but Alan barely reciprocated. He was so rude he didn't even bother to get up.
Our own player rep is a very fair guy, by the way. Huffman doesn't force anything on you. He presents the situation and then lets you make up your own mind, without any cheap duress.
Thought for today: I am getting very anxious about our first road trip day after tomorrow, when we fly to Canton. There is, you see, one body of opinion that holds that the Super Bowl is the high point of any season. Others of us know, however, that the apex is the first road trip when we get to see how all the rookies dress up. Bud, you see, makes everybody on the team wear coats and ties when we travel. The sexy stuff that has been all the rage on the dance floor at the Albatross stays behind on hangers, and we get to see the real sincere wardrobes. Some guys look like they're auditioning to sing back-up for The Temptations, others like they just now got in from the prom. The trouble is, some of these guys have necks that are so big they really don't have necks—and they just don't make clothes without necks. It takes about five minutes for a 265-pound lineman in his Sunday best to have his clothes all jumbled up. My favorite football-player fashion has developed since wide ties went out of style. What some guys do is tie those old chest warmers around their necks backwards, so that the wide side is under, and then they tuck the wide side inside their shirt, and wear the thin side out by itself. Stylish.