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Archive for Saturday, August 17, 1991

FOOTBALL HAS COME A LONG WAY

August 17, 1991

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It's common for older folks to reflect on the times they went through a given program, then snort how much tougher it was ``back when.'' They normally say how much easier it is for the kids today, and how these pampered brats run the risk of being too soft.

Guys who went through military training in the 1940s will note saner procedures for today's all-volunteer forces and try to convince you they had it rougher. Maybe, but if modern processes aren't as tough in some ways, perhaps they are a lot more productive.

The same goes with football at all levels. We can return to the era of the Bataan Death March philosophy that dominated for so many years after World War II.

Contrast that with modern systems where coaches actually allow for ice and water breaks and don't swear by damaging activities such as ligament-wrenching deep knee bends and those ridiculous duck waddles.

Don't tell me Roy Williams' Kansas basketball conditioning program isn't tough. It's also intelligent, based on good medical advice about warmups, stretches and the like. I'll bet products of Adolph Rupp's old boot camps at Kentucky didn't turn out anybody in better shape than Roy's Boys.

KANSAS FOOTBALL reflects the same approach, with better equipment, ice and moisture, and more sensible techniques.

What a far cry from those waterless, relentless, no-break days of the J.V. Sikes era around 1950. Heat stroke was no stranger and convulsive guys flopping around on the ground like beached fish were occasional scenes that smooshed even the hardest hearts.

Not that Sikes and Co. were unique, for that was the way everybody did it back then. World War II military training had made it appear that torture led to discipline and there weren't any sports medicine clinics to espouse improvements in training we see now.

Sikes learned his football the hard way under fiery D.X. Bible at Texas A & M and that's ``just the way it was.'' They were doing it the same way at Oklahoma, Texas and Notre Dame. The great Bobby Dodd of Georgia Tech stunned fellow coaches with a decision never to scrimmage, and risk losing good men, once the season began. Think of all those Wednesday or Thursday blood-lettings at other schools.

KANSAS PLAYERS of the '50s will tell you about the assistant who would walk along behind the linemen after they went into their stances and spit tobacco juice on the backs of their bare calves, ``to stir them up.'' How many games did that win? Anybody dare think they could do that anymore?

Attrition? I recently visited in Kansas City with Merlin Gish, a star KU lineman of 1950-52, and he recalled his first day as a freshman here under the late Wayne Replogle.

``Rep told us to look around the room, and in four years only one out of three of us would still be around,'' recalled Merlin, later a successful coach and teacher in the Shawnee Mission district. ``We had a great group of guys, and we beat that because we had students as well as jocks. But Rep was right about most freshman squads. They sure dropped off as they went along.''

NOWADAYS, particularly in Glen Mason's setup, KU footballers have more sensible training programs and are given every opportunity to stay around four and five years. The investment is so high it simply makes sense to help kids make it pay off. That works academically and physically, and in many ways it's better.

There's the traditional hazing. Upperclassmen still get into that a bit, particularly with the mouthier hot dogs among newcomers. But they also see rookies as important teammates, who may help the team, and they're more receptive and helpful. You gotta like that, even though if it were up to me I'd abolish freshman eligibility right now.

Yelling? Lord, that's as loud as it ever was, though seldom as profane. If you have tender ears, you can't be a football player. The important thing is that coaches yell even louder when they're happy than they do when they're not.

But if they're fair, the players know how to handle it.

ANOTHER CHANGE I'd make would be to restore two-way football, where guys play both offense and defense, and fine all-around players could be recognized. Good conditioning would be even more important. Cost-cutting could bring it about, but that may not happen in my lifetime.

A KU professor studying workaholics and their traits told me that the truly important thing is not how hard or long you work but how smart you work. Try for maximum bang for the erg of energy, he put it, and you'll get more productivity in less time.

Not sure about less time, but new practices and procedures tend to help today's football players get better and stay healthier in a shorter period of time with less humiliation, and that's good. Old coaches may be rolling in their graves over the ``softness'' of it all, but there's a lot to be said about working smarter as well as hard.

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