"We started two-a-day workouts today, and the agony is beyond belief . . . You wonder why you're there, how long you're going to last. The grass drills are exquisite torture. You run in place, lifting your knees as high as you can, for 10, 20, sometimes 30 seconds. When Lombardi yells, 'down,', you throw yourself forward on your face, your stomach smacking the ground, and when he yells, 'Up,' you get up quick and start running in place again. We call the exercises 'up-downs', and when Vince is in a good mood, he gives us only three to five minutes of them. If he's upset, he'll keep going till someone's lying on the around and can't get up."
AH, VINCE LOMBARDI, you lucky legend. In your day, you were an exemplar for a nation of jock-lovers. Winning, you told us, is the only thing; and even the cynics back then answered, amen, brother, just show us how it's done.
Timing, Vince: You always were a master of timing. Born 20 years later, you would have been coming into your prime along about now. Just in time, that is, to be pilloried by the ACLU for human rights violations. Or fired, like Frank Kush.
That's right, Vince. Frank Kush is the latest to die for your sins; or rather, for what were once considered your virtues. They changed the rules on Frank, right in midcareer; "they" being the authorities at Arizona State University who after 22 winning football seasons suddenly discovered that Coach Kush, like Coach Lombardi, has a madness to his method.
He screams. He hit players. He has this philosophy, "Be good or be gone," and God help the Sun Devil who doesn't meet his standards.
Terrible. Reprehensible. To think this has been going on at Tempe for 22 years and nobody notified the authorities about it.
Remember, Vince, the way you used to attract your players' undivided attention? Grass drills in 90-degree heat. Extra taps. Tirades every hour on the hour. And the times, as Jerry Kramer remembered, when you'd ball up your fists and hammer a player you thought was dogging it.
But, of course, it was different back then, wasn't it? Your were emotional, we said, a perfectionist with a passion for detail. That was the way you were at West Point, when you helped build character and pro football prospects as an assistant to Earl ("You've Got to Pay the Price") Blaik. It was the style you took with you to Green Bay, where you came into your own as a coaching legend, perhaps the greatest legend of them all.
"I'm going to tell you the facts, gentlemen,' Lombardi summed up,' and the facts are these: At Green Bay, we have winners. We do not have losers. If you're a loser, mister, you're going to get your ass out of here right now ."
Sound familiar, Charley Taylor, Benny Malone, all you Frank Kush football alumini? Sure it does. You don't go .760 on the big-time college football circuit, behind only Joe Paterno and "Bear" Bryant, without kicking ass, verbally or otherwise. Be good or be gone. At ASU, if you weren't a winner, you were out of there quick.
Of course, the president of the school didn't know that was the way Kush worked. And the athletic director, counting up the profits from his season ticket sales, he didn't know it, either. They had no idea that Frank was, well, rather illtempered in the way he went about his business. But everbody in Tempe and the state of arizona knew it. And they loved it.
They loved it, Vince, the way we used to love reading about your own legendary idiosyncrasies. You know what I mean: the way you expected people to play in pain if necessary. There was nothing in the Lombardi play book, you said, under the heading, "Injury." Pain was all in the mind, and winning brought instant relief.
You even cited Corinthians 9:24 to give it all an inspirational touch: "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain."
Very uplifting. But let me bring you up to speed, Vince, on where ballplayers run to obtain these days: to lawyers, for relief from the mental distress of having to play under insensitive coaches who go by your book. That was the reason why, after more than two decades in the dark, the authorities at ASU finally learned the truth about Kush. They were hit with a $1.1 million suit because he -- now get this, Vince -- because he "humiliated" a punter who shanked a ball in a key game.
That's right. Frank punched one of his players, right there on the sideline, in the presence of witnesses. No broken bones, but $1.1 million worth of indignity.
Now I know what you're going to say to that, Vince: that the only "humiliation" the kid suffered was shanking a punt in front of 50,000 people. But that's not the way they look at things in the Age of Litigation. Furthermore, during the weeks that followed, according to the player's lawyer, Kush rode the kid unmercifully during practices. Not enough to bring up his punting average, but sufficient to drive him into grievous depression. Ultimately, his pride wounded to the quick, he elected to take his talents to a college football program better suited to his pristine amateur tastes; that is, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
But that goes to what the lawyers call the gravamen of the case, which doesn't concern me. The fact that our federal judges, overloaded as they are, have time to take on such fundamental human rights issues is simply a sign of the progress we've made since the Dark Age when Kevin Rutlege vs. Arizona State University, et al would have been laughed out of court.
What does rankle me, Vince, is that in the wake of Kush's firing, we're being besieged by sanctimonious outrage on the part of those who, like the hypocrites at ASU, profess to see some fundamental difference between his methods and those of other winning coaches in the big time.
True, maybe other coaches don't make a habit out of rapping ballplayers across the chops -- or even, as Frank insists, the helmet area. But anyone who seriously thinks that Joe Paterno treats grant-in-aid punters who shank footballs to aftergame milkshakes has been reading too many Penn State handouts.
No, the trouble with the Kush-baiters, at ASU and elsewhere, is that they want it both ways. They love their big-time winners, but don't want to know the truth about the game: that played at the 50,000-plus stadium level, it's a game of pain and pressure, be good or be gone. Nice guys take up volleyball coaching.
Poor Kush, born 20 years too late. In another time, he might have become a living legend. As matters stand, he'll probably be forced to spend his remaining days at some benighted place like Baton Rouge, where 60,000 good ol' boys aren't hypocritical about what they want on a Saturday night at Tiger Stadium. Namely, a football coach who'll tell you the fact's gentlemen, and the facts are these: If you're a loser, you're going to get your ass out of here and you're going to get your ass out of here right now.
What's more, there's not a federal judge within 500 miles who'd have it any other way.