Steer the boys toward victory

Kevin Cowherd

September 16, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

The first thing to understand about football coaches is tha they're all a little squirrelly.

This comes from having to deal with football players, who are often not the brightest people in the world. I played three years of high school football, and I can imagine what it was like trying to get through to me.

My coaches would notice the vacant look in my eyes and the tiny stream of drool running down the side of my mouth, and conclude (correctly): The lights are on, but nobody's home.

So as a coach, you look for ways to motivate your players, to inspire your team to greater glory so that six months from now you're not chopping up vegetables at a Bonanza steak house.

Maybe you kick a few players in the behind, or give 'em a fiery win-one-for-the-Gipper speech.

Or maybe you have 'em watch a bull being castrated right there on the practice field.

To be honest, I had never heard of that last method of motivating a football team. Then I read in the newspaper the other day that the Mississippi State football coach, Jackie Sherrill, used this method to fire up his boys before their season-opening game against Texas.

(By the way, there's one thing you never hear newspaper readers complain about: too many bull-castration-at-football-practice stories in the paper.)

The whole thing came about when Sherrill asked his players if they knew what a steer was, since the University of Texas mascot is a longhorn steer.

When none of the players could answer the question, Sherrill said something like: "OK, gather 'round, boys."

And this poor bull was turned into a steer right in front of the whole team.

(Personally, if I'm pointing out the difference between a bull and a steer, I'm thinking it's a whole lot easier to use a visual aid -- maybe a textbook drawing or a couple of slides. Then again, I'm not a football coach.)

Somehow, word of the bull castration leaked out. And sure enough, some crybabies in the animal rights movement made a big to-do about the whole thing.

Tell me, what kind of a country do we live in when you can't even castrate a bull on the football field anymore?

Sherrill defended his actions by saying the castration was an educational and motivational experience. However, when asked to explain how it would motivate his team, the coach gave this straight-from-Mars answer: "That's everybody's different perception."

Hmmm. The postscript to this story is that Mississippi State beat Texas 28-10, possibly sparking a wave of bull castrations on football fields all over the country.

The whole thing reminded me of another motivational technique used by the coaches of my high school football team.

For a couple of years, their main motivational technique was to grab your face mask and call you a filthy, gutless maggot every time you screwed up.

Then, during my junior year, we were blessed with a new `D assistant coach named Fran Barto. Barto was one of these rah-rah, tough-guy coaches who --ed around the football field like a bulldog in the midst of a steroid rage. He was also the sickest human being many of us had ever seen, so naturally the team took an instant liking to him.

Barto's idea of great fun was to wait until the middle of practice on a sweltering day and yell: "Water break!" Then as soon as everyone slumped to their knees and the team managers brought out the water, Barto would yell: "You pigs don't deserve any water. Back to practice."

I'm sure the man spent the bulk of his spare time pouring salt on slugs.

Anyway, right before our season opener, Barto came up with a plan. This plan, he said, would both inspire our team to its greatest effort and cripple the opposing team by shaking up its star running back, a boy named Jose Guarana.

Unfortunately, this plan involved me, which already made it suspect in the eyes of my teammates.

"The first time Guarana carries the ball," Barto said, "I want you to stick your helmet in his groin." "Beg pardon?" I said. "Even if he's wearing a cup, he'll crumple like a Kleenex," said Barto, cackling.

Anyway, for the glory of the team -- and because I was young and stupid -- I did what I was told.

On the very first play, Guarana took the handoff. I fired out from my linebacker position, lowered my helmet and delivered a hit exactly as I'd been instructed to do.

Jose was so unnerved by this tactic that he laughed as I bounced off him. Then he kept running. And running and running. Eighty yards later, he crossed the goal line for the first of four touchdowns he would score that afternoon.

This so motivated our team that we went on to lose 35-0.

If someone had brought a bull to our next practice, God knows what would have happened to the poor thing.

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