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B.J. was a rookie defensive back and rattled them off like a pro.
—Okay, good. Very good.
Then Mangini presses play on the video system and footage of the morning's warm-ups come onto the screen. He had the warm-ups filmed and the tape cut up and cued up for the meeting. He launches into a biting critique of each player's warm-up performance, excoriating certain players for not having a sense of urgency during the drills, and referring again and again to the mantras that are written in big block letters around the facility. He preaches the importance of living by their words, and humiliates the most glaring examples of those who aren't.
—You must choose, the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
—Every battle is won before it is ever fought.
—Don't sacrifice what you want most for what you want now.
And on the training room wall, "Durability is more important than Ability." As if the injured guys don't feel bad enough already. Might as well say, "If you're reading this, you're a pussy." That's what all the notes are. People are making sure they have these fucking mantras memorized. What the fuck is going on here? When the meeting breaks, I track down a fellow tight end.
—Is he serious?
—Yes, dude. Dead serious.
Aside from the food, which is delicious, Cleveland is hell. Practices are long and tense and confusing. Meetings are confusing. There are "voluntary" meeting sessions for rookies and new guys, called "Football School," which are also confusing. The players are depressed, myself included. Also my body feels awful. The first few days of practice were okay but by the third day I feel like I'll snap at any moment. My knee is bothering me for no reason. My hamstring and hips are tight. And to top it off, I have absolutely no idea what is going on in the offense. It is a completely foreign language. And no one is teaching it to me. My only chance is to get in good with the special teams coach, and he can't be bothered. It's strange that I'm even here.
Luckily, there's a game to prepare for that breaks the spell of practice hell. I had arrived on Monday morning, practiced all week, and by Friday night, am hoping maybe I'll get in the game the following evening. I don't know much, but I know enough to get by. And the quarterbacks are nice guys. They'll help me if I need it.
The night before the game, I check in to the hotel and go down to the meal room. Again, the food is amazing. I am blown away by it. There are artisan chefs stationed around the room creating made-to- order delicacies: everything you can imagine. Pastas, Mexican food, omelets, salads, a variety of roasts, meats, grains, fruits, breads, cookies and pies. It makes Denver's food selection look like the HealthSouth cafeteria. After dinner is our team meeting. And here comes Mangini again, same smarmy look on his face, same paranoia in the crowd. Only now I'm among them. I have notes scattered around my lap, too. My heart is racing. Please don't call on me please don't call on me. He calls on a few guys and has them stand and answer more arbitrary questions about the Titans' defensive tendencies and historical success running certain coverages and substitution packages and, holy shit! It's embarrassing. I breathe a sigh of relief when he concludes the question-and- answer portion of the show and moves on.
Then he motions to a young man in army fatigues standing in the corner of the room and introduces him as an Iraqi war veteran. Coach wants him to say a few words to us. The football-as- war metaphor is an old motivational tactic. I have heard it evoked many times in my life. But not like this.
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