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It's like Fran Tarkenton told me when I first came to the Vikes, in '76: "Ahmad, if you can't play for Bud Grant, you can't play for anybody." And Fran was right. I may be 32 years old, but there's still an awful lot of little boy in me, and that sort of paternal recognition from a man I admire as much as I do Bud would mean a great deal to me—especially, I guess, because my own father was killed two years ago in an automobile accident. And so I lay there thinking about all that before I finally drifted off to sleep.
The trouble with teams is that they're constantly being turned over. There are only a handful of us left over from the last Viking team that played in the Super Bowl, in January of '77. And, suddenly, I'm an oldtimer. I'm a point of reference. It feels very strange—especially since the Vikings were an old team for so long. That's what makes it all the more weird that I'm the oldest guy here. Why, I remember, I used to go out with Mick Tingelhoff after practice—he was in his late 30s then and had been an All-Pro center half a dozen times—and he'd have a few Scotches. I mean, it was like commuting back to the suburbs after a hard day at the office. I always drank Scotch with Mick.
I can't speak for other teams, but I think one reason why we've had so many drug cases on this team is that Bud has always worked best with older guys. He treats you as a mature person, and, I guess, a lot of the younger players can't handle that.
Old as I am, though, I feel great. I've been playing a lot of tennis, I've lost weight and I'm in fine shape. I'm really more keyed up for this camp than I've been for any in the past few years. On the one hand, I know it's probably time for me to get out and get on with the rest of my life, but on the other, I keep telling myself that if I can just average 60 catches for the next three years I can break Charley Taylor's alltime record for receptions, 649. We'll see. Maybe the reason I feel so good this year is that I know, deep inside, that this will be the last season for me to enjoy my sport with the guys.
Today was the first day of one-on-ones, and it was blistering hot. We have three practice fields at our camp, which is at Mankato State University. There are cornfields all around. That's a law, Frank. That's an NFL rule: Four downs, no clipping, bring it out to the 20, put the training camps in cornfields. Bud even works it like a farm, rotating his crops. We move all around three fields, sometimes even lining up crossways, so as not to wear the grass down in the same places.
I was very pleased that Jerry Burns yelled at me today for the first time this training camp. Jerry is the offensive coordinator, and Tarkenton used to say that the only way he ever got through training camp was with Burns prodding him. Jerry screams at you with such flair that you feel like you're being honored.
Then, after practice, I went over to Jake's. It's a hangout. Jake's Stadium Pizza is the formal title. Through the years you could always be sure there'd be some players there you could have beers with after practice. Yet this year, I wasn't so sure. All the guys coming off treatment, all the publicity and the paranoia about drugs and drinking. You've got to remember, too, that in football they tag you very quickly; there's a lot of guilt by association. I worried that nobody would dare go to Jake's for a beer.
I was very wrong. We had a good group show up. Steve Dils, Dennis Swilley, David Huffman, John Swain, Terry LeCount, Sammy White—there were a lot of guys there. But best of all, Studwell was there, too. What was great about that was that Scott was one of the guys who'd had drinking problems, but he came along, like always—only now he was tossing down root beers and actually telling stories about what it was like to be at Hazelden, the rehab center. He said one time he was out on the front lawn, which runs down to a large lake, and a boat went by, and all the people on the boat held up beer cans and screamed at the patients. And Scott laughed harder telling that than all the rest of us with our beers. It's important that he came over to Jake's. Whether you happen to drink or not, you have to find ways to stay part of the team.
Bud has already told us exactly how the Vikings are going to deal with the drug problem. Very simple: If you're in trouble, the team will help you, and in confidence. But if you don't go for help and get busted, forget it. I don't think there can be any confusion. There never should be any with Grant. He's so straightforward it amazes me every time I hear him talk.
Curiously, though, there's been almost no talk about the strike. Maybe that's because all the cocaine talk has overwhelmed it. It was just this afternoon that I found out that Huffman has replaced Fred McNeill as our player rep. We've never been a strong union team, though. Tarkenton wouldn't even join. I think most of that goes back to Grant and the atmosphere that he creates. Most guys are happy on this team.