The sudden roar from the crowd lingered in my ears. The Washington Federals had just defeated the Philadelphia Stars, 21-14. Although our 4-14 season was filled with turmoil, I felt proud knowing I was a part of history in the making.
It seemed just a short while ago that I boarded the plane to the Federals' training camp in Jacksonville. As I stood in the lobby of the Thunderbird Hotel, I immediately began to seek out my competition.
To the 100 men competing for 49 jobs, it was survival of the fittest and a last chance for many. Not knowing what to expect of the United States Football League was a common feeling shared by each player.
Upon arriving at camp the old warriors who had been around the NFL and CFL laughed, joked and renewed old friendships. The younger guys, fresh from college, looked in awe at some of the players they had only heard about.
The practice field became a place of battle. The competition for a spot on the roster was stiff. We almost felt as if we were in a war, and actually it was. You were afraid to make friends because of the tough competition and for fear of getting cut.
By the second week, mental fatigue had set in. The days were long and consisted of the same regimen day in and out. Two weeks passed with each day the same as before. Finally camp was over and I had made the team.
During the season the players' attitude could have been compared to that of a person buying a new house; we had great pride in it, it was new and special. And the support we received from our fans was remarkable, especially in a city that cherished the world champion Washington Redskins.
Morale was at an all-time low during our 10-game losing streak. You didn't have to look very hard to see the pain of your teammate's face being reflected in your own eyes. That was the toughest part of being on a team with our record. Head Coach Ray Jauch tried every tactic possible to loosen us up, including a mock murder.
Defensive back Don Burrell and offensive guard Mike Horton had been going at each other all week in practice.
One time too many they grabbed at each other's face mask in a heated argument. Coach Jauch stepped in between the two and shot them both with a blank pistol. They both fell backward, playing dead. In total shock, we ran for cover. Only after the two players started to laugh, did we realize it was a joke.
Shortly after that incident, we really pulled together as a team. We adopted a never-say-die attitude with the hope that every game would not be wrestled away from us by a 50-yard field goal.
As I looked around, after the final game, I realized it was all over for a while. The players stood along the sidelines, many looking tired. The enthusiasm was still there, and we were proud after winning three of our last four games.
As the stadium emptied, it marked the end of the beginning. We had come back to win, and I had witnessed and endured the birth of a new league.