Standing in the locker room for the first time in over 15 years was a bitÂ surreal. Â Most of the guys in the room are about 10 years younger than me. Â 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. Â 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! Â 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. Â I take my gloves off, fidget with them a bit to look like I’m still getting ready. Â Then I notice something else… the rest of the linemen are putting their jersey on without their shoulder pads. Â 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. Â 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!” Â The guys repeat “full pads?” then start to pull their jerseys off and replacing them with shoulder pads. Â Here I am having put my pads on, taken them off, and now putting them on again. Â I feel foolish. Â As I’m strapping my pads on, tugging at a belt, my hand breaks loose and I hit myself in the mouth. Â I’ve just bloodied my lip and the game hasn’t even started. Â 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. Â Another coach walks over – “what size helmet do you have?” Â “Large” I reply. Â “I need you to share”. Â A player has shown up that doesn’t have his helmet and he is a starter on defense. Â I’m a second string offense guy. Â 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!”