American College Football Circa 1965

Over the past week I have talked to different people involved in college football today. Some were strength and conditioning coaches and some football coaches and some athletic trainers, kind of covering all the bases from skill, to physical preparation to injuries. After these conversations I could not but help to look back on my days as a college football player and contrast it to today. It was certainly a different era.

I played at Fresno State College in the mid 1960’s. We practiced twice a day, morning session 9:00 Am to 11:30 AM with another session in the evening from 7:00 PM to 9:30 PM. Full gear at each session, full contact at each session. No air conditioning anywhere. Fans, non existent, shade was precious. In the California central valley it typically got up to 100 degrees during the day. Morning workouts began with the temperature around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and ending in the low 90’s. For evening workouts the temperature was usually around 100 degrees. It was hot, damn hot. The uniforms did not breathe and they were heavy. We were not allowed to take our helmets off during practice. We did our conditioning in full gear and they ran the piss out of us. One water break during practice, we got a Dixie cup and were implored not to drink too much because it might cause stomach cramps. We began practice after Labor Day and went ten days of two a day practices.

During training camp we had a training table. Breakfast was at 7:00 AM Lunch at 12:30 and Dinner at 4:30 Pm. We were required to be there. The only meal I could eat was lunch. I was afraid to eat breakfast before morning practice and the same with dinner before evening practice. I started my sophomore season during two a days at 220 ponds wearing 46 long team blazer. We played University of Hawaii in Hawaii at Thanksgiving I weighed 186 pounds. No training table in season. I lived in the dorm and they would keep a dinner for me if I got there before 7:30. The dinners were awful and not near enough to main mass. There was no training table in season except for pregame meal. That was the highlight of the week for me. I would get in line behind Harry Miller, the team captain, who could not eat before games. I would eat his steak and baked potatoes, with heaps of sour cream and then eat my steak and anything else I could scavenge. The toughest part of the game for me was pregame warm-up. I was hoping I would get hit and lose my dinner.

We did no weight training in season, in fact in the off season we were on our own. We were implored to stay in shape, but given no program. Fortunately I started working out with the track jumpers and throwers which led to where I am today. In fact our red neck racist line coach found out that I was lifting weight and tried to get me to cut back because I might “muscle bound.” I was a terrible football player and small, the only way I could survive was to lift weights.

Knowing what I know now coaching was primitive at best. We hardly had team meetings or film sessions. Scouting reports were two or three pages of mimeographed plays. We played a very good schedule including San Diego State, Cal Poly, Long Beach Sate, LA State, University of Pacific, Montana Sate, San Jose Sate, Washburn University, University of Colorado and University of Hawaii. The last won was big for me. My whole goal in my sophomore year was to make the traveling squat to Hawaii. I started out as fourth string center and through injury and attrition I climbed the depth chart to second string near the end of the season. We played Hawaii in the last game over thanksgiving. I was afraid I would get hurt or piss off the red neck line coach and not make it, but I did. Four days in Hawaii I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was my first plane trip, and a jet at that, I got a window seat and looked out the window the whole trip. What a rube!

The team during those days was interesting. I was the only player who made it off the freshman team. The main source of players was from junior colleges. Most of my teammates were three to four years older than me because many of them had been in the army or marines during the Berlin and Cuban Missile crisis. I was an 18 year old sophomore playing with 22 and 23 years guys who had seen it all. I could not believe when they laughed at he coaches. It was also the first time I had been around black athletes. Everyday before every practice everyone had to get their ankles taped, no pre wrap in those days. By the end of the season the tape cuts were ugly. I hated waiting in line for forty five minutes every day waiting to be taped, but on the other hand for me this was my education to the ways of the world, listening to the guys telling stores of being in Germany during the Berlin Crisis or one of the black players talking about visiting his grand parents in the south and being chased by the KKK.

This whole experience was an education. I learned a lot about things that I would never do as a coach. I think the experience motivated me to become a coach. It certainly turned me off to football and the brutality that was encouraged. I really think the players playing today are quite fortunate to have better coaching and knowledge of simple things like hydration. Looking back I am really amazed that no one ever died of heat exhaustion. I am also surprised that there were very few injuries.


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