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JOURNAL OF A PLAGUED YEAR
Ahmad Rashad
October 18, 1982
Now in his 11th NFL season, Minnesota Viking Wide Receiver Ahmad Rashad has been selected to the Pro Bowl four straight years and currently stands fourth among active players in career receptions (472). Known as Bobby Moore when he was drafted in the first round out of Oregon by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972, Rashad later played for the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks before joining the Vikings in 1976. This summer, at the urging of Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Frank Deford, the 32-year-old Rashad began collecting on tape his thoughts about life in pro football. In Part I Rashad takes us through the early days of the Vikings' training camp, which are clouded over by the issues of chemical dependency and a possible players' strike.
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October 18, 1982

Journal Of A Plagued Year

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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 weary.

Metropolitan 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 place.

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 natural fields.

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 your profession?

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