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November 10, 1966 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1966-11-10

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Football players only writhe in

agony before a game begins

0 . .

AT SOME schools the football
players are "boys" or "fellows."
Notre Dame has always produced
'lads." Michigan has a different
name for pupils who spend Sat-
urday afternoons in glossy yellow
balloon pants with more equip-
ment than the Fifth Cavalry lugs
around on field maneuvers.
At Michigan they are called
men." It is the only collective
noun head coach Bump Elliott
uses to address his squad. It is
an infectious term' and has been
adopted by the assistant coaches
as well.
And it was up to the "men" of
the defense that Don James and
Y. C. McNease spoke behind a
closed door in Yost Field House.
THE TIME was 4:15 on Friday.
Countdown was starting. Game
time minus 20 hours and 15 min-
tites. This was it. A last chance .
to -sit down and think. A final
opportunity to mull, ruminate,
and review plans that had been
in the making for weeks.
From now on the pressure
would be building, and more
wearying strategy sessions would
only dull skulls clogged with ap-
prehension and impatience.
In 24 hours it would be all
over. The detailed, exhausting
preparation would explode in a
mere four quarters. A football
game, THE football game, another
football game. Coming.
It was coming for the Michigan
-band, brushing up its special Sou-
za march routine in a soccer fi'eld
a few blocks away. The tubas and
clarinets, and oboes had their
daily drills, but they did not have
any teams to scout and game
films to be swallowed, digested
and then gobbled up again and
again. The band was rehearsing
for halftime - an intermission
and diversion from the fo.cal

farewell to campus civilization.
The time was used in a multitude
of ways.
Starting guard Henry Hanna
visited with his' girl friend while
second string tackle Pete Mair
anxiously went home to check on
his pregnant wife who was five
days overdue. Mair gave his broth-
er instructions for an emergency
and the phone number of the
club house.
FINICKY, hypochondriac Dick
Vidmer also returned to his
apartment-to get his own non-
allergic pillow and blanket. "Those
wool ones are too itchy," he com-
Back at the clubhouse the play-
ers seemed so unconcerned about
the approaching game that dinner
could have been a social event.
Vidmer was still 'trying to find
out who had1 sneaked into his
locker full of clothes and packed
it with snow on the previous day.
The mood at the head table,
was more sober. Elliott and line
coach Tony Mason plotted the al-
ternatives for special situations
which could arise. Elliott jotted
down the final choices on a large
yellow legal pad, and sketched
formations on his placemat. Had
an Illinois spy been present, it is
doubtful whether he would have
picked up any information. No
jargon is as cryptic as football-
" THINK we'll use the despera-
do," said Elliott. "I don't think
we need any more bombs. What
about the smash?"
"Let's go with the number two,"
urged Mason. "And on those third
downs we'll have the zip eights
and zip throwbacks."
After dinner Elliott left to visit
his brother Pete, coach of the Il-
linois team. Understandably, the
next day's game was not one of

The team is brought out to the
clubhouse not so much to get them
emotionally prepared as to keep
them physically ready. "If nothing
else, it keeps them off their feet,"
said Mason.
T HE all-important psychological
and emotional preparedness is
a factor entirely out of the coach-
es' hands. Mason has said that if
he knew when a team was "up,"
he could make a million dollars
just telling people about it. Until
game time, getting mentally pre-
pared-as the coaches term it-is
an individual, not a team thing.
For several, the tension was al-
ready starting to build. A few ac-
tually met more pressure on
Thursday night while others felt
almost nothing until moments be-
fore the kickoff.
The big question was not when
would a player reach that special
state, but whether he would reach
it at all.
Some players like Jim Hribal,
the fine senior tackle, always
reach a peak. When Mason asked
him if the team would be ready,
Hribal couldn't imagine it other-.
wise. But Hribal didn't letter his
two previous seasons, and under-
standably each game has a great
deal of meaning.
AOR THOSE used to the grind,
football becomes a ferris
wheel. Some weeks you're up and
some you're down. They simply
are unable to achieve that ineluc-
table nirvana every time-that
certain feeling where your insides
break loose and you feel lighter
than the football yet tough enough
to decimate a rhinocerous.
Everybody gets fired up in his
own way. Some like volatile Don
Bailey can become aroused for any
crusade in an instant. Chuckles
Mason, "Whether it's Viet Nam,
Pennsylvania, motherhood, or foot-
ball, Bailey will go out of his
head in three minutes."
The coaches are always on the
alert to determine the players'
frame of mind and change it if
possible. During the movie, every-
one was quiet until Paul Newman
(or Fast Eddie the pool hustler)
had his thumbs broken by some
hoods. The atmosphere suddenly
changed and a spray of wisecracks
carried around the room. Mason,
taking it all in, muttered, "They're
sadistic tonight :. . I don't know
if that's bad or good."
YXTEN, most of the players
were drifting to bed. Some
were watching a science fiction
movie, including Vidmer, who
tried to diagram plays during
commercials. Hanna was now wide
awake, having been lured out of
his Oblomovian state with an of-
fer of molasses and ginger cookies
and a game of pinochle.
None of the coaches stay at the
clubhouse, and no type of curfew
is enforced. The players know on
their own when it's time to turn
One of the last to crawl into
his bunk was defensive back Mike
Bass. He was studying in an at-
tempt to get tired. "I'm usually
the last guy to hit the sack," he
explained. "It's always bad to
sleep in a strange bed, but sleep-
ing in a strange bad bed is even
worse. They're too short, and a
lot of guys wake up with back
aches. And the heating pipes rat-
tle all night. I have to be really
tired to get any sleep."
Finally Bass closed his note-
book, and joined his teammates in
slumber. Part of the waiting was
tempered by dreams-mostly foot-
ball dreams.
THE CLUBHOUSE alarm clock
is trainer Jim Hunt, who be-
gins arousing players at 8:30 for
the taping of ankles and any spe-
cial tender spots. The players
wake up with snorts and stretches
like anybody else, but underneath
is the stomach churning realiza-

tion that this is the day. No class-
es. No practice. Just the game.
Just a few more hours. But unfor-
tunately more time than can be
passed by simply contemplating
the second hand of a watch. There
was too much time. Time to think.
Or worry.
The morning meal, served at
nine, is supposed to be the tip-off
for the team's attitude. At break-
fast before the Michigan State
game, only the clatter of silver-
ware broke the silence-a sure
sign that the team was ready to
This day, however, voices fre-
quently pierced through the hush.
alone and tacitly scanned a
magazine but others nervously


in and out of the dining room as
the late sleepers wandered in. One
of the last to arrive was fullback
Dave Fisher. He had been awak-
ened only a few minutes before.
With his gnome-like torso and
sleep wrinkled face, he would have
made a perfect Sleepy in a Seven
Dwarfs rendition.-
FISHER had pulled a shoulder
muscle in the previous game,
and someone asked how it felt.
His larynx wasn't warmed up yet,
and his answer came out as a
creaky "I'm always feeling great
on Saturday"
turned to his taping chores and
a new level of mental tension be-
gan. Those final three unoccupied
hours before you suit up and
burst into the Stadium, ready for
action. If a player were to "crack,"
it would probably not be from
fear of playing. It would be the
excruciating torture of sitting,
walking, reading, snoozing, kid
ding, staring--anything-while
your mind is hooked on only one
thought-going out to play foot-
A string of eight players slumped
in chairs facing a picture window
and stared opaquely at snow-
flakes fluttering toward the
ground. They looked like residents
of an old people's home, where
senile minds and feeble bodies
could do little more than peep out
at the active world.
At 10:30 the defense holds final
conferences. But this day, because
of the surprise snowfall, the of-
fense met as well.
H ANK FONDE took his backs
into the lounge and stressed
the importance of holding the
ball tightly. At the other end of
the room, Mason's offensive line
forum convened.
After methodically repeating
blocking assignments, Mason re-
minded them, "You've seen this
snow since Tuesday. It doesn't up-
set you and it shouldn't. But don't
let that relaxation subconsciously
affect your attitude toward the
game. Just be relaxed about the
"The snow is going to shock Il-
linois. Let's hope they use it as
an excuse. Let's hope they say 'we
were up too . . . if it hadn't been
for the weather.' Men, the game
was even before, but now it's a
real toss up. Go out there and have
fun. We always play that way.
But have the meanest, most vicious
fun you can
"MEN, WE MUST win this foot-
ball game. We must win it."
There was a heavy emphasis on
the "must," and it was the first
time all weekend anybody talked
about winning.
Now it was back to the torture
chamber. Waiting. The old men's
club re-assembled in front of the
window. Other players went up-
stairs. Some slept, some talked,
some looked over the mimeo-
graphed game plan booklet like
panic-stricken freshmen cramming
for an exam.
Downstairs the coaches also
waited. Elliott and Fonde inspect-
ed a list of the eighteen toughest
golf holes in America. Mason
looked at the snow and frowned
at McNease, "Every- second we're
becoming more like spectators.
This game is going to be coached
by Joe Fate."
U PSTAIRS punter Stan Kemp,
who wants to go into radio
work, made an announcement:
"I'm starting to get nervous. I'm
worried about punting from that-

board the bus which shuttled the
players to the locker room en-
trance. No sound accompanied the
rumbling motor until they climbecP
out the front of the bus and filed
into the locker room, stone-faced
and expressionless as surgeons
marching into an operating room.
Vidmer, the last one in, dispelled
the illusion, as he entered with his
pillow stuffed under his arm. He
seemed embarrassed about the
pink and blue flowered pattern on
the lining, and he began wander-
ing in circles looking for somebody
to relieve him of his burden,
THE LOCKER ROOM is a world
unto itself. It's a sound proof
box with concrete floors and
steamy showers. Many players sat
there like spectators outside, read-
ing the programs. Nearly everyone
focused on pictures of the Illinois
team, however. This was not cas-
ual reading; it was getting ready
for a war.
Dressing is a tedious chore, as
players fight their equipment,
struggling with shoulder pads and
fumbling with hip protectors. For
some, it seemed to be a ploy-
a clever tactic to expend the last
moments of waiting.
EANWHILE in a far corner,
Mason, who looked like a ma-
chine politician in a black mohair
overcoat and gray fedorra switch-
ed to his plastic green jacket and
baseball cap.
The room echoed with scraping
cleats, creaking chairs, ripping ad-
hesive tape, and-plopping of water

lets, but the players let the gum
lay fallow in their dry mouths.
ELILIOTT STOOD in the midst
of the silent gathering and re-
minded all to wear the cleats that
would provide the best footing, for
the sloppy field was expected to
become even slushier. The head
coach then retreated for a drink
of water while Mason silently
walked among his linemen, grab-
bing paws as a good luck blessing.
A pep talk was also coming, but
it wouldn't be the normal gooey
blob of emotion and sentiment.
"Most of the guys don't like that
psychological stuff," explained- a
halfback. "Knute Rockne would
never go over here."
Now Elliott returned to'the cen-
ter of the floor. He sounded like a
ship captain commanding "All
hands on deck." His voice loudly
crashed into every crevice of the
"MEN, IT'S GOING to be rough
out there today. Illinois is
higher than the ceiling for this
game, and we've got to be higher
than they are. It's goiig to be a
hard game, and we've got to be
men. There's no room for boys.
They'll all be hitting hard on the
line, and you've got to hit back."
Suddenly there was a rap at the
door. A referee stuck his nose in
and called, "Captain please."
Clancy got up and left while his
teammates clapped and yelled en-
couragement. It was as though the
players believed Clancy's call in

Daily Sports Editor Chuck Vetzner could-
n't find a uniform small enough to fit, but
BumpElliott still permitted him to "live"
with the Wolverine football team before,
during, and after last week's Illinois game.
Through Elliott's cooperation, Vetzner

-Daily-chuck Soberman
side, to caress the ball and thrash
their way through the foe. These
men were invincible; no pain could
penetrate the armor of ecstacy
which, had plated bones, blood,
and flesh.
While the defensive team was in,
center Joe Dayton screamed at
Don Bailey, "Our first play Is a
three smash."
"HAAH GREAT," cackled Bai-
ley hysterically, pounding his
fist into his palm.
The mud splattered their uni-
forms and blood seeped through
rips in their jerseys. The players
never noticed.aHalftimecame be-
fore they realized their exhaus-
tion. Nevertheless, the rest was
welcome. It was back to the spe-
cialty meetings for offense and
defense. But changes were few.
The game was tied, and coaches
and players alike were confident
of victory.
In the resting period, the play-
ers were still mesmerized. All
thoughts were converging on only
one subject-football. Every ac-
tion was dedicated toward one
ELLIOTT SPOKE briefly. "We
can beat them, but we've got
to do it now. We must score."
And then it was back out to the
freezing, sweating rectangular
world where all would be settled.
It was time for more bruises,
more blocks and more scoring.
And then suddenly it was over.
They had lost.
Mechanically they tromped back
to the locker room. Bare cement
became a shelter from the disaster
scene, but an inferno in its own
Elliott gathered the players
around him. He spoke loudly, but
without emotion. "Men, you didn't
play the way you could play and
you know it. This is no time to let
down. We've got two big ones left
and we have to win both of them."
S HATWAS IT. No congratula-
tions for a good effort or cut-
ting criticism for losing. Some
players stripped quickly, showered
and left within a few minutes.
Others sat numbly in their filth,
bloodI stains still ignored. Several
had tears in their eyes, and one
walked around kicking an imagin-
ary stone and cursing loudly.
The dream was over. The night-
mare was beginning. The bruises
began to ache and the old ones
stung more horribly than ever be-
fore. The players were very tired,
and taking off a helmet seemed to
be a tremendous burden. Slowly
they prepared to meet the world.
HEN VISITORS were allowed
in, a middle-aged man from
Vidmer's home town went over
and said "Gee, I never thought
I'd see Dick Vidmer throw three
interceptions." Vidmer laughed
and said "You did today."
It was time to swalow the pain
and agony. Sore losers are a real
drag. You have to be like the
spectators and foret a defeat
once the game ends. All the work,
all those hours. Everything for
nothing. But Bump Elliott must
smile when a hometown reporter
expressed condolences, and agree
when another says it was an excit-
ing game
The football team was there to
win, not be exciting. But now it's
time to bury the hurt inside where
others don't have to be burdened
with it. Henry Hanna can remem-
ber his girl friend, Pete Mair can
go back to his wife's side, and Vid-
mer can take his pillow home.
TOMORROW it starts all over


was able to obtain

this exclusive story

about the biggest 24 hours in the life of a
football player.

-Daily-Chuck Soberman

point of football. No dread of a
defeat that could shred all the
effort to nihility haunted them.
EARNEST' preparation for the
game had begun six days be-
fore. By early Monday, the pri-
mary game plan had been estab-
lished and the five-day *task of
learning it loomed before the
players. It's a chore that can't be
rushed; new plays, new assign-
ments, and .more important, a
new team must become real, auto-
matic. This time it was Illinois,
a strong, inexperienced group des-
perately yearning to beat Michi-
gan since 1959.
And now the final stage re-
mained. The defensive meeting
broke up at 4:30 and the players
dressed in blue sweat clothes to
practice briefly. And then the
For the top 40 players-the ones
assured of playing every game
and the only ones to make away
trips-it's an accustomed period
of waiting together. As some refer
to it, every Friday night, they are
"locked up" in the clubhouse of
the Michigan Golf Course.
THEIR confinement is in a low
slung building no more than a
bloc,,: from the Stadium. Yet, it
migh be separated from the world

the primary topics for discussion.
Elliott checked back at the -club-
house at ten and then left with
Mason. The final plotting and
planning would continue at his
home until two in the morning.
THE COACHES plan strategic
diversions for the players too.
After dinner they see a movie, de-
signed to relax them and take
their minds off football. "We just
want them to get tired and go to
sleep," explained Mason. Friday's
show was "The Hustler." Previous
attractions have included "Shane."
"The Wreck of the Mary Deare,"
and 'Joy House." 'They always
pick movies with a lot of killing
or gunfights," said one player.
Never anything like 'God's Little
Acre' if you know what I mean."
The film started with nearly
maximum attendance, but as the
reel progressed, the audience grew
smaller. Dave Fisher stretched out
on a wooden table, and in a few
minutes his .snoring drowned out
the sound track.
. Other players wandered up to
the main lounge and idly watched
television. On the second floor
dormitory, Hanna was already un-
der the covers yawning through
Sports Illustrated.
FOR SOME the clubhouse is an
ideal environment. "I'd sure

droplets hitting a bucket where
the roof leaked. But there was no
bubbly pregame chatter. Soldiers
are usually silent before the bat-
Finally the unit was ready and
they trampled through the muddy
run-way to take the field for brief
Then Flliott drew the team
around him in a gigantic huddle.
He spoke in a normal tone of voice,
yet warned: "Men, I looked over
at the other side of the field, and
I saw a team that's ready to play
football. We really have to go out
there and hit to win this one."
squeaky voice from somewhere
within the huddle shouted, "One
unit-a team."
With that, the players returned
spiritedly to the locker room.
Passivity was almost over and the
final few minutes would be spent
by the whole squad together.
Group meetings were over. The
platoon system and specialization
that had made linebackers and
centers only nodding acquaintanc-
es was replaced by a new cohesive-
ness. No longer was each player
preparing himself. It was time for
"one unit," as the diminutive

the coin flip would be the key to
Elliott waited until quiet return-
ed and then continued. He re-
minded them about the weather
and emphasized the importance of
scoring early. "Men, you know,
what I want," he concluded. "I
want this game."
THERE WAS NO shouting. Just
more granite-hard silence.
Mason then came back to the
center and delivered the pre-game
prayer:' "Let us pray. Pray in your
own way. Pray not to win, for God
willing we shall. Pray to give one
hundred per cent of your body.
Pray that no one is injured on ei-
ther team. Thank God that you
can play for the University of
Michigan. I thank God he has al-
lowed me to coach you. I love you
And then out they went, kissing
their fingers and then patting the
maize-and-blue sign over the door-
way which reads "GO BLUE GO."
That was it. The waiting was
over. Now. Now it was happening.
The aches and pains from previous
injuries miraculously disappeared.
FANTASY had ended, and reali-
ty had begun. It was. time to
be brutal. Now. This was the mo-


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