Benny Malone was in the Redskins training room two years ago, receiving electric heat therapy for a leg pull, when lightning struck a nearby telephone pole.
The room turned a dark shade of orange. Players scattered, but none moved as fast as Malone, who hadn't run a step in a week.
"If God wants the training room," he told trainer Bubba Tyer, "He can have it."
Other players are not as quick to abandon the training room as Malone was two years ago. In a profession that exposes their every move to public scrutiny, the training room is almost a sanctuary, off limits to the press and public, where it is possible to relax, unwind and, in some cases, hide.
The room is a minimedical clinic, complete with whirlpools, treatment devices, examining tables and endless rolls of tape.
But it also is a gossip parlor, counseling center, comedy store and complaint window.
"We hear things and are told things that some players probably wouldn't even tell their own wives," said Joe Kuczo, in his 29th year as a trainer for the team.
Players use the training room to laugh and to cry, to sleep and to play, to rejuvenate and to deteriorate.
"Women have the hairdresser to talk and spread gossip," quarterback Joe Theismann said. "We have the training room. It's a special place. It's serious, because injuries are serious but it's also where you can relax and have some fun. If you want something known to management, talk about it in that room and they'll find out. If something happens somewhere on the team, you can find out about it immediately in the training room."
Training room, 7:30 a.m. Practice doesn't start for 90 minutes, but four trainers already are busy taping the ankles of sleepy-eyed rookies.
It's a club rule: all ankles must be taped for each practice. There's another rule, this one less formal: rookies go first so the veterans can get a few extra minutes of sleep.
John Schachtner, a hard-nosed young linebacker, is reciting a series of physical complaints to Keoki Kamau, an assistant trainer.
"It's your day, John Schachtner, it's your day," Kamau half talks, half chants. "With any luck, maybe you won't have to practice."
Laughter fills the room. Schachtner smiles. This is not a good time in training camp to be injured or to miss practice. Kamau has made his point. When the workout begins, Schachtner is not found in the training room.
The training room also can be controversial.
After stories in the early 1970s depicted the San Diego Chargers training room as a distribution point for amphetamines, the National Football League tightened its rules governing the issuing of prescription drugs.
According to Tyer, the Redskins stock a variety of medications, ranging from pain killers to muscle relaxants to antibiotics. He said the pills are distributed only with the authorization of a team doctor.
"At the start of every season, we take a drug inventory," said Tyer, whose informal manner has won the respect of the players. "After that, we keep receipts of every prescription that is written for a player. Three times a year, we turn those receipts in to the league along with an inventory list. Then we give them a year-end report. The league also conducts one or two spot checks a year. They'll come in and go through your medicine cabinet and medicine bag.
"I like the monitoring. If any player accuses us of giving out amphetamines, we have the records right here to show otherwise. We just don't do it."
Jean Fugett once sued the Redskins over the way one of his injuries was treated. Tyer was included in the suit.
"He told me, 'Don't take it personally, Bubba,' " Tyer said. "You learn to be very careful and very meticulous."
A trainer is in a precarious position. Coaches rely on him and the team doctors to give an accurate answer to the frequent question: "How long will he be out?" There is underlying pressure from management on every team to get players well as quickly as possible, and to push the malingerers out of the training room and onto the practice field. But there also is a counterforce from the athletes. They need to trust the trainer, and that trust can be established only if they are convinced he is not a management lackey, but is truly concerned about their welfare.
"If you think the trainer is a lackey, then he would be almost useless," Theismann said. "You know he is being asked to get us healed as quickly as he can. But you don't want him doubting you. If you say you are hurt, he's got to believe it."
Tyer once broke that rule. In 1978, he was certain Mike Thomas was faking injuries to avoid practice. The two got into a shouting match in the middle of the training room, an incident Tyer still regrets.
"I learned a lesson," he said. "If a player says he is hurt, he's hurt. It's not my role to doubt him. It's my job to get him as healthy as possible so he can help the team."
Lee North, a rookie center from Tennessee, sat on an examining table. Tyer carefully cut away the wrapping around North's left knee. "Better," Tyer said, as his eyes scanned the injury.
When North hurt the knee during an early camp practice, Tyer had been close to tears. "He had busted his butt to get into shape and he had been playing so darn well," Tyer said. "You grow attached to these guys. It's no big deal how I feel, but I really have a down day anytime someone gets hurt. You review what you do and you convince yourself that everything possible was done to get him ready for camp. But it still depresses you."
The effect of an injury on a player is immense. He is in pain and scared, yet he also is fighting to maintain his dignity.. His greatest fear is the truth, which may mean the end of a career.
In this case, the Redskins feared North would need surgery to repair ligament damage. But the knee improved rapidly in a short time and now he would undergo therapy.
"Good news for a change," Tyer said, smiling.
Joe Kuczo likes to compare the training room to a doctor's office. "Can you imagine," he said, "a doctor's office being able to cope with 100 players in two hours, taping ankles, giving treatments, supervising rehabilitation? No way. And we do it every day."
The Redskins go through $70,000 worth of training supplies every year. No one can estimate the price of advice given in that span.
"The best times are when there aren't many people in here and the player can really talk," said Kuczo. "These are supposed to be macho guys but in there, they are human. They tell you they've had it, that they are going to get cut. So sometimes you stretch it a bit and tell them you just heard an assistant coach saying good things about them.
"They'll liven up. 'He said that?' What harm does it do?"
Some players virtually reside in the training room. Others, however, do without nicely.
Joe Lavender avoids the room because he is superstitious. He tapes his own ankles. But some aren't so resilient.
In 1980, Tyer was examining Coy Bacon when the veteran defensive end began crying.
"He was bawling like a baby," Tyer said. "I was stunned. He was under a lot of pressure with the team and he said he had a lot of personal problems. It took me a while to get him calmed down."
Tyer arranged to have Bacon return home for a few days. After that, Bacon had a good season.
"I often wonder," Tyer said, "what would have happened if Coy hadn't confided in me."
The Redskins reported 109 players were in training camp today, but Coach Joe Gibbs said there was a good chance he would announce some cuts Monday, which could take the squad size more manageable.