It’s not often you see a person on a leash. On a few occasions, I have seen a toddler attached to such a device, controlled by his parents in a crowded setting; I’ve always thought it looked pretty absurd.
“Absurd” doesn’t begin to explain how I must have looked during my recent experience. Thursday night, I got the privilege to “walk” a former college linebacker in a similar manner.
Please, let me elaborate. I got to work on the sideline during last week’s Jets-Eagles preseason game. One of my roommates had an internship with the Jets during training camp, helping out with handling equipment and other sideline duties. When the Jets visited Philadelphia, this gave him another opportunity to work with them, but this time, he needed some extra guys to help out. Being a lifelong Jets fan who grew up just minutes away from the Meadowlands, I quickly obliged.
“You’re going to work the cords,” he had told me on the phone, weeks earlier.
Quite honestly, I didn’t know what he meant at first, until he explained a little-known NFL rule. During the preseason, teams have to test their corded headset system in case the regularly used wireless system falters. I, along with two of my other roommates, would team up with a coach and follow him wherever he went, holding the cord behind him. If he stood still, I stood still. If he tore down the field to catch a close-up view of the play, yours truly better be a foot behind him, attempting not to trip any of the prized athletes whose hamstrings and Achilles tendons are worth more than I could ever hope to be.
After watching warm-ups and observing the large, not-quite-human players I would soon be sharing a sideline with, my roommate approached me and told me that I’ll be “working” with Coach Herrmann.
Jim Herrmann, linebackers coach of the New York Jets, played linebacker himself at the University of Michigan from 1979-1982. This is the man I would “walk,” or more likely, be walked by.
“Hope you can keep up,” he said, in the only words he spoke to me all night.
As Coach clipped on his headset and control box, I stood anxiously behind him, like a kindergartner with his wrist strapped to a St. Bernard.
Once the opening kickoff took place, I forgot about my job for a few seconds and really soaked it all in: I was on the sideline with my favorite NFL team, standing among men around whom I’ve planned entire Sundays. Before I finished that thought, off went Coach Herrmann to the line of scrimmage, and there I went, darting through the players like a running back trying to avoid final cuts. Since this was the last preseason game, many of the established starters had the night off, while the younger guys and “no-names” scratched and clawed for one of the remaining roster spots. For me, this just meant I’d better be extra-attentive to staying out of their way.
My first few plays alongside Coach Herrmann had mixed results, with me and my good old cord getting in the way of plenty of people. This is when I really started to empathize with the rookies out there trying their hardest to impress the coaching staff.
When the defense was off the field, Coach dragged me over to the bench where the linebackers, who all have their own nickname, congregate. Coach went over who did what right and wrong, and what they needed to do next time out there. This is when I started to realize that standing on the sideline doesn’t guarantee a great view. I couldn’t have told you much of what happened in the first half, but I could have told you everything that happened on the back of Coach Herrmann’s shirt.
As I began to learn the tricks of the person-walking trade, Coach called one of the younger linebackers over to inform him that he blew an assignment. What an amateur.
One thing I learned the hard way about NFL players is that they not only look big, they sound big. The sounds of Wallace Wright’s pumping arms and heavy breathing warned me that if I didn’t do something fast, the next sound I hear would be an emergency room nurse saying “broken in seven places.” As my life flashed before my eyes, I zigged, he zagged, and I lived to see another play.
The first half soon came to a close, and my job was over. During halftime, I snuck a couple of cups of Gatorade, celebrated my freedom and thought to myself that wireless headsets should be ranked much higher on the “greatest inventions of all time” list.
During the second half, I got to watch from the best “seats” (I was standing) in the house: right on the sideline, not far from the Eagles cheerleaders. When one of the Jets special teamers saw my friends and me watching the cheerleaders perform, he came over and talked to us.
“You know, I would be 300 times more nervous talking to one of those girls right now than going out there and making a game-winning play,” he said.
While this was meant to be funny, he really didn’t know how demoralizing this was. If the millionaire wearing a professional football uniform doesn’t think he has a chance with one of those girls, there really is no hope for the rest of us.
Later, my special teams friend stood on the field and contributed to the game-winning play as the Jets won 13-11. True to his word, he didn’t even make eye contact with any of the cheerleaders while running off the field.
I was invited into the locker room to help pack everything up and get the Jets ready to go home. While I did my best to keep busy, the players exited the showers. I glanced down at my watch and looked up, only to catch an eyeful of the naked butt of one of the offensive linemen. Next time someone tells you they’ve seen everything, ask them if they’ve snagged a glimpse of that horrifying picture. Soon after, one of my friends remarked that if authority figures want to scare kids away from ending up in prison, they should send them here.
As we’re just about to call it a night, I bent down to pick up one of the laundry bags remaining on the floor. Then, as if straight out of one of those awkward teen comedies, one of the linebackers threw one of his gloves toward a garbage can, and the palm smacked me right in the face. Naturally, he thought this was hilarious. After a couple of seconds, I smiled and realized that, for all its ups and downs, the day had been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. An NFL team is a great crowd to run with, even if you’re doing it with a thin cord in hand, hauled around by a former linebacker.
Kyle Scudilla is a senior marketing major from Clifton, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]