"This," Pete Wysocki grunted as he lifted the barbell above his head, "Is not my idea of a good time."
To the fun-loving Wysocki, anything would be preferable to a morning in the weight room at Redskin Park.
But if, as he believes, his body is being "subcontracted out by me as a businessman to play football," it only makes good sense to bring in those tired, sore, aching muscles and joints for offseason repair and reconditioning. t
That's why Wysocki, the veteran Redskin linebacker, and up to 30 of his teammates make regular visits to the club's ironworks room during the offseason. Of course, the fact that Coach Jack Pardee has made strength improvement a mandatory part of his players' lives adds incentive to the trips. But most probably would show up anyway -- or risk cutting short their NFL careers.
Strength and weightlifting work represents perhaps the biggest offfield change in pro football over the past decade. Where once only a few teams believed in lifting, now a majority have such programs. And some have even hired full-time strength coaches; Washington's is Bobby Bernhards. h
Only the most gifted athletes in the league can afford to enjoy a leisurely offseason or take on the burden of a full-time job. For the rest, the days of a five-month season are only part of the story.
"People are getting stronger and bigger every year and we want our players to also get stronger and bigger," Pardee said. "This is a business, just like any other business, and we expect our players to apply themselves accordingly."
Ideally, the Redskins would love to have all their players within the shadow of the park, so Bernhards could personally supervise everyone's conditioning. Although only half the roster currently reside in the area, that's an improvement over last season. And as the club signs more young athletes, the rate will grow.
"The guys who live somewhere else check in with me through letters and phone calls," Bernhards said. "That's not an ideal way to monitor them but at least we can keep some track of what they are doing.
"There really isn't a way they can show us about lifting. You can tell whether they have done the work or not through testing as soon as they get into training camp. If they aren't stronger, they aren't doing the work." g
For the younger players, weightlifting could be a key to claiming a starting spot. But for a veteran like Wysocki, strength work could be the difference between another season and a new field of employment.
"I look at all this as a way to tune up my parts," he said. "Heal a sore muscle here, build up something there, strengthen an area somewhere else. It's like mending the dents and getting a new paint job at the same time.
"I lifted regularly before it became the thing to do. But if I got tired or sore during the season, I'd cut back. Now we keep it up all the time and I think it makes a difference. You keep your body at top form so it can take the punishment."
At the moment, however, Wysocki was going through a different form of punishment. This was a light workout, tossed in between regular, three-day-a-week, 1 1/2 hour shifts in the weight room. Yet, his muscles were telling him, "enough."
"I thought playing some racquetball would help," Wysocki said, thinking back to a two-game set he had just finished with guard Gary Anderson. Wysocki had worked up a sweat, accumulated two losses and still felt terrible. w
"They never said it would be easy," said guard Jeff Williams as Wysocki, the team comedian, clowned his way around the room. Bernhards smiled. Two years ago, Williams would have had to be dragged into a weight room. Now, with a starting job in hand and his best years ahead, Williams has become an exercising regular.
"Jeff saw the light about lifting," Bernhards said. "He's been one of our most pleasant surprises. He has the type of body that doesn't show muscles but he's much stronger."
Where once there was baby fat instead of a stomach, Williams now has a flat belly.
"And to think I was on my way to the West Coast," he said. "Instead, I wind up here lifting all winter. It will ruin my image."
Williams probably will never be quite as dedicated as defensive end Tim Milanovich, a free agent who hurt his knee the first day of training camp last season and was placed on injured reserve. Milanovich is an advanced lifter, with a magnificent physique and some special talents to show for his work.
"Did you see the phone book he tore in half?" Bernhards asked. "Don't let 'em tell you it took him 20 minutes, either."
Half of that phone book now is sitting in tackle Terry Hermeling's locker, put there by a teammate with the message that, "This is what Tim is going to do to offensive tackles in camp this year."
"Phone books aren't hard," Milanovich said, "as long as you get a good grip on them. I once tore up the Chicago business exchange book. Won a few bets along the way with phone books."
Milanovich is a rare breed among defensive linemen, most of whom don't relish strength work. Offensive linemen are just the opposite. Every member of the Redskin line has been a frequent lifter this offseason.
"They've always worked hard and so have the linebackers," said Bernhards. "Monte Coleman is up about 15 pounds, to 235, and Rich Milot weighs about nine more pounds, to 232. Neal Olkewicz is near 232, too, but he'll drop back once camp begins."
When Wysocki was younger, he, too, strove to gain pounds. But now he works to get lighter between seasons, so he won't have to waste time and energy fighting a weight problem at camp.
Some days, Wysocki will spend five or six hours at the park. Besides racquetball and lifting, he and his teammates must follow offseason running recommendations, so he will do some sprinting and distance work on the outdoor tracks. And, occasionally, he might play some basketball or toss around a football.
"I had a time-consuming job last season," he said, "But I have kind of cut back this year. I still do some PR work and make speeches and appearances but my first obligation is to the Redskins, so I want to make sure I have time to do what they want."
Wysocki is also aware that Pardee receives daily reports from Bernhards outlining what the players have done in the weight room -- and how well they have executed it.
"I give them grades" Bernhards said. "Jack is very conscious of what is going on. He's convinced it's important. This is really only the second year we've had this going but it's showing benefits."
Not only are the Redskins stronger and quicker than a year ago this time, but they survived last season with only two major injuries -- both broken bones that could not be prevented by added strength. Bernhards, who utilizes barbells and dumbbells instead of universal gym equipment, thinks the pluses of his program will show up even more this coming season.
"The more the players work in here, the more it has to help them," he said. "We are getting less resistance all the time. The young players are enthusiastic about it and it rubs off on the older guys."
Wysocki, one of the few over-30s on the reconstructed Redskins, can feel the challenge of those younger players.
"All I'm trying to do is keep up with the Joneses," he said, "or otherwise, they'll move me out of the block to the low-rent district."