I think fatigue is
more of a factor in football than in other sports, because if you combine the
precision required and the collisions, you establish another, higher level of
stress. That's one more reason why training camp is so important. We all fall
into habits when we're tired, and if you've developed good habits in camp, then
you have a better chance of falling back on them, by instinct, when you get
Stadium in Bloomington, where we used to play, is a grand old place. The Met.
It looks like some deserted hulk now. Grass is coming up all over the parking
lot. It's sad. I knew that field better than my own house. If you're any good
as a receiver, you scout fields. You look for dead spots. I found out long ago
that the best footing is often where they paint the lines. I learned to make my
cut on the lines. You leave a lot of cornerbacks that way. My favorite place at
the Met was down around the six-yard line at the south end of the field. For
baseball, the third-base coaching box was situated there, and for some reason
there was a little hump in it. Nine times out of 10, if you could back your man
in there, he'd slip down. The best use I ever made of that spot was once when
Fran threw me a fade. I not only backed my man down, but I was also able to use
that little mound like a springboard, and I just soared away for the catch.
Then, at the
opposite end, very near the end zone, there was a low, slushy spot, and I could
run a post route in there and—literally—give my man the slip. I loved that old
You've got to be a
lot smarter to play the game today. You've got to know all the tricks.
Instincts won't get you by anymore. But it's not anywhere near as mean out
there as it used to be. Guys just won't tolerate the dirty stuff anymore, the
clotheslining and all that. I think maybe we just came to understand that we
couldn't survive the way we used to play. We're way too big and fast now, and
collisions on artificial turf are all the more devastating than those on
This doesn't mean,
however, that the prize intellects in the country are now playing NFL football.
Frank, you would be amazed—America would be amazed—at how few players can carry
a play into the game from the sidelines. That's one of the great unknown
comedies in the game.
I don't have to
bring any plays in myself. A wide receiver, as Bud knows, needs to stay in the
game. You work on a defensive back, running different patterns, different
speeds—not unlike a pitcher setting up a batter. People see me catching a pass
without any defender around, and they say, hey, I could've caught that. And
they could've, only they couldn't have spent the previous 11 plays setting up
the defensive back so that they could be wide open on that one.
So I stay in the
game. I don't get a chance to louse up bringing the play in. Of course, you
would think that college graduates—or, anyway, guys who sat in some college
classrooms—could remember eight or 10 words for about 30 yards. Unfortunately,
there are a lot of counterdynamics at work, all calculated to make a guy forget
the message he is carrying.
For example, as
soon as the coach says tell the quarterback to call this play, the guy carrying
the play in immediately starts thinking what he does. Let's say he's supposed
to tell the quarterback to call Flanker Right 62X and Flanker Fly, which is a
pass. Let's say the guy carrying the play in is a running back. All he starts
thinking about is what pattern he runs on that play and in what direction. By
the time he gets to the huddle, he knows exactly what he's supposed to do on
Flanker Right 62X and Flanker Fly, only he doesn't remember what the play is so
he can go do it.
Or this happens. A
guy runs in with the play. As he runs, he keeps saying the words over and over
to himself, the way you do with a new telephone number when you're looking for
a pencil. Then, as soon as he gets to the huddle, before he draws another
breath, he spits it out: Flankerrightsixtytwoxandflankerfly. He's so relieved
to have done his job, the whole thing goes right out of his mind. Only the
quarterback didn't hear it clearly, so he says, "What?"
Another reason the
guy bringing the play in gets it wrong is that he knows—he knows—that everyone
in the huddle wants him to get it wrong. This is because they always get it
wrong when they bring one in. Besides, if anyone screws up on a wrong play,
then you can blame the poor sucker who brought it in. So, you get it wrong to
satisfy peer pressure. Isn't it wonderful to be in the NFL, at the height of