Still they did not come. Perhaps they were distracted by the girls' soccer game beginning on the next field.
"OFFENSE, HUDDLE UP! DEFENSE, PUT YOUR SKIVVIES ON!"
Only four or five boys obeyed. Later, several witnesses would use the words mad and angry to describe Stinson's reaction. But Stinson insisted he was not angry. He was just disappointed, and now he needed a new plan.
"ON THE LINE!" he bellowed. "IF WE'RE NOT GONNA PRACTICE, WE'RE GONNA RUN."
The command applied to everyone, not just the starters, and the boys got on the line. They knew what was coming. In helmets and pads they would run across the field and back and across the field and back again, a total of about 220 yards, or one eighth of a mile. Each of these runs counted as a single gasser, and today the boys were starting the gassers earlier and running them longer than usual. Yes, it was good preparation for the hard running they would do in games. But this early running was also widely seen as a punishment. Max Gilpin was not a varsity starter and therefore not one of those who had misbehaved. He was, however, a poor runner. And so he quietly accepted a punishment he had not earned, which fell harder on him than on those who deserved it.
The events of the next 50 minutes are a case study in the limits of eyewitness testimony. No video footage surfaced in the police investigation, and the roughly 140 spectators told stories that ranged from the plausible to the mathematically impossible. They couldn't even agree on whether Stinson was wearing a whistle that day. Nevertheless, a parade of witnesses said they heard the coach say one thing that set the tone for the gassers. It seems strange that Stinson still denies saying it to the runners, because it wasn't just soccer parents who said they heard it. It wasn't just assistant coaches and disgruntled players. In the opening statement at Stinson's trial for the reckless homicide of Max Gilpin, the coach's own defense attorney acknowledged, "Jason said it."
And what Jason Stinson said to his players, according to many people, was this: "WE'RE GONNA RUN TILL SOMEBODY QUITS."
Football coaches have a long and rich tradition of daring their players to quit. It probably didn't start with Bear Bryant, the most revered college coach of all time, but he did it as well as anyone. Bryant believed any boy who quit on him in practice would quit on him in the fourth quarter, and he did horrible things to make sure no quitter ever got the chance. In 1954, his first year with Texas A&M, he led 111 young men to a thorn-infested wilderness camp in Junction, Texas, and proceeded to nearly kill them. Bryant didn't believe in injuries, because he'd once played a whole game on a broken leg, and he didn't believe in water breaks, because he thought his boys would be tougher without them. His radical expectations are described in the following passage from Jim Dent's 1999 book, The Junction Boys.
"All of these boys need some time off," [trainer Smokey Harper] said. "Some got bad injuries in there, Coach. Joe Boring can barely walk with that bum knee, and another boy looks like he's got a fractured ankle."
Bryant nodded and said nothing. Then he swung open the screen door and marched into the trainers' room. He jabbed at the air with his index finger and shouted, "You, you, you, you, you, you, and you! Get your butts dressed for practice. Be on the field in ten minutes. I want no more excuses out of you candy asses!"