Guys come intotraining camp civilized, and they leave uncivilized. I'm a prime example. Iforget sometimes to change my clothes--I just pick up whatever's closest to mybed--and end up wearing the same outfit for two or three days in a row. Theproblem is, even when you take a shower, as soon as you get out you start tosweat. Thus, the funk does accumulate. Eventually you take a whiff of thosethings and realize how nasty you are. You've been walking around with funk inall kinds of places, conditions you would never tolerate in the real world.
When I played forthe Falcons there was this big defensive lineman who stunk so bad we nicknamedhim Mr. Funk. He was so funky--I mean, cheesy funky--that even the flieswouldn't mess with him. Mr. Funk was hopeless. He'd walk by, and you'd try tosquirt cologne or air freshener on him, but it was no use.
The key totraining camp is to get a good roommate. Kareem McKenzie, another tackle, hasbeen great the last two years. He's a clean dude, and we keep a nice, tightship in there. But I've had my share of tough roommates. My most memorable wasChuck Smith in Atlanta, my best friend. As good a pass rusher as he was, that'show bad he was to live with. The problem with Chuck was he liked to wake up atthe crack of dawn, and the first thing he did in the morning was open everydrape in the room. It's one thing to be a slob--when he'd eat a snack, the parthe didn't finish would still be there two days later--but when he startedwaking me up, that was too much.
Another problemwith camp, especially for a veteran like me, is sitting through the meetings.It's like being in remedial school. You have guys who don't know anything, andyou have to sit there while the coaches teach you stuff like how to break ahuddle. I mean, I'm 15 years deep into my career, and I've got to sit therelistening to everything I've already learned--about 7,000 times. It's likeworking at McDonald's and the fry guy is saying, "Rip the bag open, pourthe fries in the grease and push the big red button." There's a poster inlocker rooms with a football man teaching the basics of the game, like how toput on a helmet. That dude's in our playbook, along with every other stupidthing you already know. As you're sitting in those meetings, you get groggy;workplace psychology tells you that after an hour a person's attention startsto fade. You get that blank stare: You're not really asleep, because your eyesare half open, but you're sort of dreaming, at least until the coach asks yousomething and you answer, "Uuuuh, I've got the outside guy," and hopeyou're right. You've got a 50-50 chance.
I've learned notto dread practices. Hell, we used to have two-a-days, in pads, with fullcontact, damn near every day under Jerry Glanville in Atlanta, so it isn't thatbad now. But there are a few things that piss me off. The first is when a coachgoes off on me just to hear himself yell. Since we're all in this together, Irespect my coaches. But don't just yell some crazy stuff at me and think I'mgoing to take it without saying something back. If you say something that makessense, if I make a mistake and you correct me, I'm O.K. But if I mess up, don'tyell, "What the f--- are you doing?" Because I'll yell, "I'm goingthe wrong way, that's what the f--- I'm doing!"
I also hate thosefringe players who are desperate to make the team and treat every practice likeit's a damn war. So I go after those guys right at the start of camp and try totake the will out of them. I tell those guys straight out, "Y'all betterstep up because I'm going to be hard on you." This game is aboutintimidation. Once we reach an understanding out there, it becomes a loteasier. We can both do our jobs without being overly aggressive. If he pushesone way, I'll push the other, and we don't have to go full speed. If I'mleaning, he might pop me, but he isn't going to drive me into the ground. Youknow those wrestlers who lock up on each other but aren't really fighting? It'slike that.
The bottom lineis that camp isn't as hard as it used to be, but we used to have a lot morefun, too.
Oh, I almostforgot. Ask any veteran player what's the worst thing about training camp, andyou'll get the same answer. When I play a regular-season game it costs the teamabout 75 grand for my services. But four times during the preseason I have togo out there and give my all--well, almost my all--for $1,200. If you want tobe candid, the biggest problem is that the check ain't right.
Giants lefttackle Bob Whitfield was a first-round pick of the Falcons out of Stanford in1992 who played in the Pro Bowl following the 1998 season. He owns a recordingstudio, PatchWerk Recordings, in Atlanta. Whitfield spoke with Michael Silverfor this story.
COUNT THE WAYS Whitfield turns up his nose at slob roommates, crazed coaches and frantic fringe players.