Standing in the locker room for the first time in over 15 years was a bit surreal. Most of the guys in the room are about 10 years younger than me. On the team website, my name is listed as OL/DL #72, but here in the locker room for the pre-season game I’ve been given #65 instead. I still haven’t been told which offense line position I will play in the game, assuming I actually get to play.
I get dressed in full pads, ready to get out there and play this game I love! Then I realize I must have gotten dressed twice as fast as the rest of the team, since I’m the only one standing there ready to go. I take my gloves off, fidget with them a bit to look like I’m still getting ready. Then I notice something else… the rest of the linemen are putting their jersey on without their shoulder pads. I’m a bit out of place in full gear.
Not sure why they don’t have their shoulder pads on, but I don’t want to stand out as the rookie, so I take my pads off, pull the jersey off the pads and throw it back over my head. I look in the mirror at the end of the locker room and notice that I’m much less impressive without the pads to make my shoulders look like I have bulk anywhere other than my gut.
A coach walks into the locker room and yells, “full pads guys, full pads!” The guys repeat “full pads?” then start to pull their jerseys off and replacing them with shoulder pads. Here I am having put my pads on, taken them off, and now putting them on again. I feel foolish. As I’m strapping my pads on, tugging at a belt, my hand breaks loose and I hit myself in the mouth. I’ve just bloodied my lip and the game hasn’t even started. I’m nervous, anxious, excited.
“Lets go, guys! The winner of today’s challenge get Patriots tickets!” a coach yells out and we all start to head for the door. Another coach walks over – “what size helmet do you have?” “Large” I reply. “I need you to share”. A player has shown up that doesn’t have his helmet and he is a starter on defense. I’m a second string offense guy. I guess I’m sharing my helmet.
We walk toward the door, another player trying on my helmet, my lip still a bit fat and bleeding, and all I’m really thinking is “Don’t screw up!”