Monday, August 07, 2006
Running Lines With Big Jerry
With the start of August, the practice fields around High Schools across the country are being filled by young men preparing for the upcoming football season. They will don pads and helmets in a ritual under taken by their fathers and grandfathers before them. They will endure soaring temperatures, bruising workouts, and conditioning drills which - if evaluated by Amnesty International - would be decried as torture.
Some of these football programs will in fact border on the torturous. Its called Three-A-Day's - practices which begin before dawn and end after sunset and involve running until your lungs explode.
I believe it was my senior year when Big Jerry joined our team. Big Jerry was a likeable guy who loved the game of football. He loved it because it gave him a chance to be part of the team. He didn't come by the moniker of Big Jerry by accident. Jerry stood at just over 6 feet and weighed in at easily 375 pounds. He wasn't fast or nimble. He knew he wouldn't start, but that never stopped him from wanting to play. He never finished first in the the sprints, runs, or any other conditioning drills. Neither did I, but this isn't about me. What's important about Big Jerry is that he always finished.
Near the end of particularly scorching day, the denizens of torture - commonly known as coaches - addressed the team and declared that day's conditioning drill would consist of "Running Lines".
The team groaned - collectively. You see, Running Lines consists of forming groups of roughly twenty guys. You start from one sideline, run to the first hash mark, run back to the sideline, run to the far hash mark, run back to the sideline, and then run to the opposite sideline. You do this four times. Six if the coaches decide to use the drill to "build character".
Here's a picture for those unfamiliar with a football field.
The drill takes about 90 minutes to finish. After 90 minutes of wind sprints, even the most fit among us was ready to pass out.
Big Jerry was in the last group of 20 guys. You can probably guess where he placed each time his group finished its rotation. He lumbered across the field each time - never quitting - gasping for breath each time he came across the sideline. The sun was setting when he started his final run from sideline to sideline. He was alone on that field - all others having finished their final sprint. So we watched, some standing, some sitting, some sprawled on the matted grass, as Big Jerry started to lumber back across the field in a very slow jog.
Then he stopped. Hands on his knees, chest heaving. The physical toll in addition to the hotter than hell elements had finally gotten to him. He could go no further.
Then something remarkable happened. A cheer of encouragement came from the side line. One voice, then another, then a chorus of "C'mon Jerry"! "Big Jerry!". Jerry stood there, still hands on knees, seemingly oblivious to what to him must've been faint voices.
I don't remember who went first, but one by one, then slowly the whole team left the sideline and ran to where Big Jerry stood. We grabbed his jersey, shorts and whatever else we could and pushed, carried, and otherwise shoved him across the sideline.
It was, on that day, we truly became a team. We would not leave one of our brethren behind. He may not have been a star, but he was one of us. That day we finished our drill together.
Most of the lessons taught on the grid iron are not seen under the Friday Night Lights, Saturday afternoon sunshine, or the Sunday spectacles. They are learned on the practice field and only understood in hindsight.
Let the teaching begin.
Here endeth the lesson.