Psyched Online

MOTIVATION: The Good Ol’ Days, or How I Lost My Front Teeth

By Wayne Dominowski

Forty years ago, we were issued single bar facemasks. Even so, as a lineman, the line coach called me a “big baby” because I had one installed on my helmet. It was a relief not to have my nose and face hit every other play. No one wore a mouth-guard back then – one of the reasons I had my two front teeth knocked out. (This wasn’t because someone belted me in the mouth, but from gritting my teeth at the moment of impact.)

On hot summer two-a-days, we were issued salt tablets, the belief being you needed more salt to replenish what you lost from sweating. From our stance, we blocked against a tree, and if “the leaves don’t shake,” you were hollered at, you’d hit the tree again, and again, and again. The leaves “shook,” incidentally, when a breeze came through; if you happened to be blocking when this happened, the coach gestured you “did good.”

Linemen wore high-top cleats; running backs wore low quarters. All football shoes were black, so if your coach allowed it, you could put in white shoestrings. Very seldom did you see any team uniform with stripes. The real ‘good’ teams (meaning their budgets allowed for this) had competition stripes on their sleeves. Otherwise if your colors were green and gold, it was a green jersey and gold pants. Red and white was a red jersey and white pants. Blue and white was a blue jersey and white pants. (I think you get the picture.)

Injuries – all injuries – were treated with something called anogesic balm. When applied to the bare skin, there was an immediate sensation of heat. It was applied to swelling, which of course, induced further swelling. It was an unforgettable experience to accidentally get some of this stuff in your eye. Years later, when the Vietnam War was being reported, I could nearly equate anogesic with napalm. Other things: You blistered and reblistered until the skin either toughened up or the season ended. If you had a sprained ankle, pulled muscle, or hyperextension, you were told to “run it off.” Open bleeding was considered manly.

I could distinctly remember the smell of whiskey on one of our coaches. Other football players smelled it too. No one said anything about it.

There was no weight training or “lifting barbells.” The only people who weight-lifted were “muscle guys” (called bodybuilders today), and they were said to be “all muscle-bound,” meaning, well, that they were muscle-bound. There was no stretching whatsoever. What there was for exercise was calisthenics, which you did before practice – jumping jacks, burpies, sit-ups, and toe-touches. Afterward, you ran the length of the football field, around the goalposts, about three times. This didn’t get you “in shape.” Getting in shape came through 100-yard sprints – six to ten of them daily, everyday, during two weeks of two-a-days.

After two-a-days ended, calisthenics continued every day throughout the season, and the only time you ran was if the coach got angry about something – usually if you lost a game.

Football practices were brutal. Bull-in-the-ring had one player in a circle of a dozen to 15 other players, usually all linemen, each of whom was given a number from one to fifteen. When the coach called a number, a player fired out of the ring to hit the guy in the middle. If you were fast enough, you could hit the guy from behind. Sometimes the coach called three numbers at a time. I never figured out if this was a blocking drill or just a street fight. The only thing I got out of this was a sense of dread.

Murderer’s Row was another drill of sorts. It was used as a punishment if you were late for practice, missed a practice, or didn’t work as hard as a coach thought you should. You ran through 10 to 15 guys. Carrying a ball, Murderer’s Row was supposed to be a tackling drill. It wasn’t. It was a punishment.

You played both ways in high school football. If you were taken out of the game, you could not reenter until the next quarter began. For some strange reason, I do not recall anyone ever being carted off the field on a stretcher. EMTs (Emergency Medical Technician) didn’t exist. I do remember a First Aid kit on the sideline, but the only thing I remember it being used for was “smelling salts,” which I think was ammonia vials. (Me and a buddy took a whiff of one and I still remember how my head veered back. Wow!)

Helmets back then had canvas suspensions. Those were the heavy plastic shells guys wore. Ours were leather – just like Notre Dame’s and the kind Paul Hornung, (Heisman Trophy Winner (1956) and All-American), wore during the Terry Brennan era. I remember having a constant nosebleed and couldn’t figure out why, since no one had belted me in the nose or face. Likewise, we had no protective lineman gloves, or elbow pads.

There were no specialists in football then. Ends were blockers and the longest pass they went out for was 5 yards. There were no wide receivers. Kickers could be anyone, and these guys kicked the ball straight on (and the ball never hooked like sidewinder’s kicks today). No special teams, either – just kick off guys, punt guys, but never unit, team or anything with the connotation, “special.” Offenses were comprised of the Straight, Tight and Wide T formation, and defenses were the 5-3, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, 6-5, and a weird goal line defense called the 7-umbrella.

Coaches stayed apart from their players. I never knew the head coach’s first name, and I don’t think anyone on our team knew his first name, either. We heard he played for two professional teams, but that was about it. If he talked with you, it was generally to chew you out. On other occasions, however, he’d come up and simply say, “Good job.” The words psychology, sport psychology, development, understanding, bonding, connection, may have existed in the dictionary as single entities, but those words as they are used today didn’t exist 40 years ago.

I think players were tougher back then, but they were tougher because they didn’t know enough to expect anything different or more. I think players were tougher back then because times were tougher. You just took a lot more then because the thought never entered your mind that there was any other option. (Even the word option did not exist as we know it today.) So, I don’t get real excited about the “good ol’ days.” I don’t think they were all that good, nor do I think they were all that bad. I think that we progressed and found better ways of doing things… and that has made all the difference.

But, that was all yesterday. Times have changed… or, have they?