Copeland was obviously finished but hesitated, searching for a way to make his exit.
"O.K.," he finally said as we shuffled like nervous cattle.
"O.K.," we all chorused with relief.
The first game was against the Delray Beach Wildcats. I arrived at the field an hour before the game, only to find the locker room locked. I sat in the parking lot with the other players, most of whom were grumbling. "This is the pits," one of them said, "the garbage can." After a while a number of us began to dress out of the trunks of our cars.
I slipped on my WHEN IN DOUBT, PUNT T shirt and fastened my shoulder pads. Being prepared, I'd brought my own adhesive tape, and I taped up my left ankle. My right ankle needed taping, too, but I couldn't do it. I have to be able to point my toes while the taping is done. I pulled on wrist bands (for appearance) and slid my right foot into my tongueless, form-fitted, soft-leather shoe. On Doc's advice I had soaked the shoe in water and let it dry on my foot.
On the field I punted into each corner and tested the wind for swirls and velocity. As the maroon-shirted Delray Beach players ran onto the field hollering and holding their index fingers high, I thought of punt rushes and fleetingly of injuries. Last year in the NFL, 26 punts were blocked. Some players, such as the Jets' Donald Dykes, who has already blocked four punts this season, are kept on rosters almost solely for that purpose.
Punters, of course, are quite vulnerable while kicking, and careless or mean rushers can hurt them easily. One of the punters who followed me at Northwestern was clobbered by a Notre Dame linebacker and suffered a compound fracture of his left leg. Northwestern was awarded a first down, the punter rode to classes in a golf cart the rest of the semester.