Today, mongrels, we're excerpting from Anthony Gargano's tremendous NFL Unplugged, which offers a ruthlessly entertaining portrait of the NFL. It has all the lawlessness, the poop, the broken fingers, the organized insanity that the league would prefer you not know about.
There isn't one section of the book that couldn't be included on this site, but here are a couple that will, hopefully, give you an idea of what to expect if/when you choose to buy it. Enjoy.
"You'll be somewhat fine and then all of a sudden you get that two-minute warning until game time," kicker David Akers said. "Out of nowhere it feels like you have to take a huge dump. It's the anxiety. You think about the people watching, the possibility of you letting your team down. So many things go through your mind. It's why Pepto-Bismol is so popular before the game. I take it all the time."
"Before the game," longtime quarterback Jeff Garcia said, "I have to continuously pee. The fluids go through you at such a fast rate."
"Yeah," agreed cornerback Rod Hood, "you see a lot of guys throwing up, but it's like two minutes before the game I gotta pee again. And then again. I'm constantly going back and forth between my locker and the bathroom. I know a lot of guys that pee themselves on the field and on the sidelines. That was never me, though. That's nasty. I would be in that tent pissing in empty bottles all game long, though."
Mark Schlereth's nickname is Stink, which is short for Stinkman, which came from a dish the Eskimos of southwest Alaska would eat called "stinkhead." One day, Schlereth, a native Alaskan, is regaling his teammates with stories about stinkhead. How it's made from the whole head of a king salmon, which is somewhat larger than a football, and how it's prepared by wrapping the head in the long grasses that grow along the rivers and streams and burying it in a moss-lined pit in the ground for four to six weeks, where it rots. Just rots, with the bones softening up until the whole head has a consistency similar to mashed potatoes. The Eskimos then dig up the fish head — and presumably hold their nose because the smell is absolutely rancid — and eat it.
"I was telling them about stinkhead the meal and it just so happened I regularly peed my pants," Schlereth said. "Pretty much every game I did. I was already drenched in sweat so it was no real difference to me. So later the nickname got shortened to just Stink. Hey — I was miserable anyhow out on the field, I wasn't going to hold it in and become even more miserable."
Garcia said, "I've been on the field and had to go underneath the stands or figure out a way to take a leak. For a fact, it became a problem because it was affecting the way I threw the ball. I've always said there needs to be a Porta Potty for guys on the sidelines who can't leave the field."
Think about it. For players with a nervous bladder, they can't keep going back to the locker room, especially if it's a longer walk. So what's a player with a nervous bladder to do? Kevin Donnelly, formerly of the Titans, had a unique solution.
"He used to piss right there on the sidelines," a former teammate said. "He'd sit on the bench and stuff a towel down his pants. Piss in the towel. Then throw it away. Back in Houston, at the Astrodome, it was a quarter-mile walk to get back to the bathroom. So you can't keep going back and forth. It actually works. You cram it down your pants and just go.
"Koy Detmer used to piss in a bottle in the ice shanty right on the field. Everybody gets it. Nervous bladder. It's just like anything else. As soon as you start to do something you have to go to the bathroom."
Said Garcia, "My first year in the league, I tried the towel thing. It was in a preseason game. Second half. I figured, ‘Well, I'll try it with a towel. Just pee into the towel.' I had to go pretty bad. As soon as I felt the warm pee touch my leg, I shut it down. I said, ‘I can't do this.' It's just nasty. I couldn't follow through with it. Players try all sorts of tricks to relieve themselves out there. My teammate in Tampa would just pee his pants and say it's not going to make a difference because of all the sweat."
Former fullback Jon Ritchie agreed with Garcia's teammate. "You're drenched in sweat anyway," he said. "What does it matter? By the time warm-ups are over, you're overhydrating and you're drenched. It's clear. It's not urine. What's the big deal?"
That was Ritchie's thing. Hydrating. He obsessed over hydrating. Fearing a cramp or pulled muscle, he would drink gallon after gallon. Water. Electrolyte drinks. Sports drinks. He had this duffel bag that he carried everywhere — his water bag — and he constantly replenished it. As a result, he would gain as much as eight pounds in fluid weight at a time.
"Seven bottles of water in it at all times," he said. "I took it with me everywhere. I was always completely bloated. Always sloshing around in my stomach. I heard somewhere that was when your body was in peak condition. I think everyone is obsessive about something. I just didn't want to pull something blocking a guy. Guys do it all the time. They pull their calf muscle and it just shreds. If you get hurt like that during the game, that's one thing. But if you're not properly hydrated? Then you're not prepared and it's your fault."
For Saints linebacker Mark Simoneau, that sensation goes beyond hydration. It's a product of Sunday, no matter what's in his system. "I gotta pee like every three or four minutes it seems like," he said. "I don't know if it's the nerves or adrenaline or if it's something where you know you're going into battle and want to get it all out of you."
Nervous bladder is bad. But not the worst attack of nerves. "Imagine," one player said, "your hands are all taped up, your gloves are on, and you have to take a crap. How do you wipe your ass? Enter the sacrificial towel. You use a whole towel and throw it away. Gotta protect that hand. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
Perhaps the most embarrassing attack of nerves was from Titans offensive lineman Kevin Long. "It was a fat nasty lineman thing," he said. "I thought it was a fart, but it turned out to be a ‘shart.'It was my first preseason game in the league. My first game with my new teammates. Of course we had to be in our white pants. Someone told me I sat on something and I looked down and said, ‘Ahhh, shit.' I had to run into the toilet and I had to scrub my britches. Welcome to the NFL, kid."
Said Simoneau, "This past year against Carolina, some guy for the Panthers, I can't remember his name, had crapped his pants. You could see from the sidelines this brown streak under his bright white pants. He played the entire second quarter with the brown-stained pants. We were having a good time with it, yelling at the ref, ‘Get this guy off the field! He shit his pants!'
"The second half started, and sure enough he had brand-new pants on. I give him credit, though, for being able to play through that. That's the length some guys go to stay on the field."
The running back sweeps to the right, scoots through the line, and attempts to dodge the linebacker and safety who await him with arms wide open. He feels the contact first and the panic next, when he realizes he doesn't feel the ball in his arm.
It's a moment every skill player dreads.
Oh, God, no. Where is it?
The ball is bouncing somewhere. Somewhere unprotected. Somewhere dangerous, free for anyone on the defense to steal.
Someone jumps on it. You can't tell exactly who. Whether it's back in safe arms or the enemy's clutches. Someone else jumps in. Then another and another. Members of both teams diving into the fray. It's now a pile. A bundled mass of flesh. Arms and legs squirting out from within. From above, it looks like a mass grave, only with desperate movement. From deep inside, it feels like a coffin. Tight and constricted and smothering. But it's worse, because things are going inside this pile. Very bad things.
"Inhumane things," Anthony Becht said. "I remember one against Atlanta. We really needed the ball and guys are grabbing all parts of the body. Doing anything to get the ball back. You could hear guys screaming. I wasn't even in the pile, but I knew by the sounds how nasty it was in there."
Added former offensive tackle Orlando Brown, "Pinching, spitting, punching, all that shit happens in there. I stay away from the pile. I've told coaches, ‘I'll wreck some people, but I ain't falling on that football. ' Fingers are broken all the time. I'm hitting motherfuckers. I ain't laying on the ball. I can't see who's coming to hit me, so I just clean up the pile."
Ike Reese told of a harrowing experience trying to recover a Brian Westbrook fumble during a punt return against the Patriots.
"Mike Vrabel grabbed my sac," Reese said. "We're all scrambling for the ball and Mike Vrabel had my nuts so hard I was screaming. I didn't even have the ball. He had my shit in his hands and he's squeezing. We don't wear cups. So I'm dying. Everything is fair game. The pile clears and I see him — now Mike, he's an Ohio guy, and I played against him at Ohio State when I was at Michigan State — and he's smiling and shit at me. I turned to him and said, ‘You fuckin' asshole.'"
Said Simeon Rice, "I got the ball once and landed on it, and it knocked the wind out of me. I'm on the bottom and guys are grabbing groins. That shit is dumb as fuck. It's all a part of the game, I guess. The aggressive nature is a part of the game and so is getting away with it. But that's not football. That's stupidity."
"That's what happens when you have six hundred pounds all on top of you," Kevin Long said. "Ball grabbing happens all the time. You can constantly hear players bitching about their balls getting grabbed. But the worst is your hand around the pile. People step on your hands all the time with a seven-spike cleat. That's the big thing — fingers getting broken all the time in the pile."
Steve Wisniewski called the pile the most dangerous play in football. "You try and dive in those piles and everyone is trying to get at that ball and it gets real nasty in there," he said. "Every form of martial art is fair game. Pulling fingers. Poking you in the eyes. Absolutely anything necessary to get the ball. Be proactive and get the ball first was the approach I always took with the pileups."
One player said, "The worst is the pinching. You wouldn't expect it. But it really hurts. Guys are pinching guys in piles. That happens. Hurts like hell if you get the right spot. In back of the knee. Or they get the soft spot on your calf and just pinch the hell out of it. Pinching people. Fucking with people down in the bottom of the pile.
"Anything goes down there. You feel a thumb, you yank on it. Pull it and bend it back. Work the ball out. You can't grip the ball if someone is bending your thumb. Just grab something and start twisting. The officials aren't going to say anything, even if they see it. Grabbing balls is a defense mechanism. Now, spitting on people. That's very low. Spitting on someone is disrespecting someone."
"You name it," Benji Olson said with a smirk, "it's been done in the pile. I've had the ball and guys are kicking your fingers, breaking your fingers."
Added Mike Mamula, "Fumbles become survival of the fittest. Five people all trying their damnedest to rip that ball away from you. The thing I remember the most is the amount of pressure on you from every single angle. You have that attitude. You're trying to earn a living, it's a you-against-them type of mentality. Sometimes you get caught up and you try and get a job done. Bending back fingers. Twisting ankles. You don't even think about what you're doing in there. You're just trying your hardest to get the ball."
Mamula paused and warned of this next tale from the pile. "It's pretty gross," he said. "Happened [at Boston College]. There was a fumble around the goal line and my two roommates at the time ended up throwing up in each other's mouths trying to get the ball out of the pile."
Meanwhile, Chris Samuels spoke of his Alabama days. Crimson Tide against Florida at the Swamp. ‘Bama trails by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and is punting the ball back to the Gators.
"It was a madhouse to that ball," Samuels said. "It was such a crucial point in the game and our team knew it. Our young bucks out there on special teams did great. Like three or four of them ended squeezing the punt returner's nuts until he coughed up the ball. I was so proud of the young guys out there, doing whatever it takes to win the game. That's the attitude you want all your teammates to have."
Yes, acknowledged Reese, despite playing victim to Vrabel, you must do whatever it takes. "You're scrambling for the ball and you get a returner — even if you can't get to the ball — you dive on his back," he said. "Forearm on the back of his neck. Grind him to the ground. I've poked guys in the eyes." Namely Reggie Swinton, a former return man for the Cowboys.
"We were smashing them pretty good and we kicked off and Sheldon Brown blasted him," Reese said. "Everybody's trying to cover the ball. I got Swinton. I'm on top of him. Holding him down. I'm sticking my fingers in his eyes. Pokin'' em in and out."
"Yeah, bitch," he told Swinton, "it's gonna be like this all day with your punk ass."
"Got to do it," Reese continued. "Get him scared. If you get him scared, they're not thinking about securing the football. Get him worried about the hit as opposed to running. I did Tiki Barber like that. He fumbled four times against us. We lost 10 – 7 in the Meadowlands. He killed us. He rushed for, like, 200 yards.
"Anyway, he fumbled a punt return and I remember diving for the ball. He's at the bottom of the pile. So I get the heel of my hand under his face mask and I'm bending the face mask. I'm really bending his neck back — and back. Everything is fair game on the ground and scrambling. He was their starting tailback. You have a chance to hurt him — put him out of there — you do it."
Almost as disturbing is the sound that emanates from the pile. The shrieks. Bloodcurdling shrieks. The moaning. Men in pain crying out for help.
Now, it's impossible to police the pile, and you can't ask for decorum in the pile.
"If you break it down, recovering that ball could be the difference between winning and losing," Kevin Gogan said. "It could be the end of your season or your career. This is what's going on. My job is on the line. If I have to gouge or rip or pull, I'll do it. In the pile you don't even know who you're grabbing unless they wore different-colored pants. Now, if you're really into the game, sometimes it's not about getting the ball. Sometimes you have that radar of who you're going after and the pile is a great opportunity to get after them."
Go buy it. Now. Thank me later.