Summer of '69

Summer Of ’69
The summer of ’69 – those were the best days of my life. Yes, Bryan Adams and I have that common thread. Where his summer revolved around the front porch and playing a guitar, my days were more associated with hanging out with Suzie, working a summer job, and getting ready for the up-coming football season.

For those of you who played high school football, you know this was a crucial time in the life of a player – particularly going into one’s senior and final year.

I found work that summer on a farm, but it was spotty – when they needed someone to help with making hay. So a lot of my free time was spent getting in shape for the first day of football camp in mid-August, a west-central Pennsylvania ritual and rite that I am proud to be a part of.

Every day I would put my 3 to 4 miles in - running on a hand-cut path through the pines that shaded the area behind my home. My shoes were either high-top Converse or last year’s football spikes. Combined with my two pairs of thick, yellowish, woolen-like sports socks, my foot attire weighed about as much as today’s chest waders.

No sunscreen, no insect repellent, no shirt, no stretching and no warm up – I started slowly and gradually increased my speed until I found myself in a “groove.” A feeling of euphoria would precede my daydreaming. I was mesmerized. The next thing I knew I was heading home, kicking it in, visualizing how I would do in the distance run on the first day of practice.

Oh, that long-awaited first day of practice – when the guys who hit the suds the evening before spent their entire morning talking to “Ralph” in the weeds. The first day – when a player lost 15 pounds of body weight in the morning session, because there was no such thing as a WATER BREAK. After all, he couldn’t get into shape and become a man if he DRANK WATER. The first day – when the team was finally permitted to drink during lunch break, we sounded like camels, filling up at an oasis. The first day – when every one of us was forced to swallow about a half dozen salt tablets each the size of a cow’s eye. The first day – when those new five-pound shoes, with metal spikes, rubbed blisters on our feet the size of silver dollars.

Yes, that was the day too, when that new twenty-pound helmet wore one’s forehead raw, causing leprosy-like sores along the hairline – and a headache totally immune to the aspirin tablets that the student trainer administered. “Get a haircut!” was the suggestion from the coaches who wore service-like buzzes while we sported long hair. “Hippies,” I heard one mutter under his breath.

Dizzy from the sun and heat, eyes burning from dripping sweat, a facemask leaving little room to see, and cramps in every muscle, nothing was going right. I felt like a kid at Mardi Gras, trying to break a candy-filled piñata, blindfolded, but never succeeding to get the treats.

It was no wonder the coaching staff felt the need to scream in passing players’ ears. I remember wondering to myself, “Do they know we can’t hear a word they’re saying?” With the wind blowing by the helmet’s ear holes, it seemed as though a large conch covered each ear, and the sound of the ocean was the only thing I heard.

Drills. Grass drills, running drills, standing drills, throwing drills, tire drills, agility drills – to this day I wonder if their main purpose was to make a player better or to demoralize him. And Sled Drills - every now and then, the backs would have to push The Sled. Because the linemen used that six-ton archaic piece of equipment daily, the move was meant to keep peace among the troops I guess. The inventor of that sled had to have been a Nazi who specialized in torture tactics, I thought. The purpose of a quarterback, pushing a sled? Your guess is as good as mine.

That first session lasted a little over three and a half hours, ending with the much-anticipated distance run - the run I had prepared for all summer, the run I dreamed about, the run where I’d beat the other team members into the ground, humiliating them. The run was meant to show the coaches which of us worked hard all through that summer of ’69, and which of us sat around the pool and did nothing. I was in shape – this run was mine.

But when the time came, I had nothing left. I was so sore, I could barely take off my shoulder pads. My lips were chapped, my nose was bleeding and my front teeth were loose. Every breath I attempted to take was cut short due to a stabbing pain in my side. A constant gagging from my newly fitted mouthpiece depleted every micro-drop of fluid my body once held. The euphoria I felt all summer while training was gone. My goal quickly changed from “winning” to just “finishing.” I can’t remember how I did, only that I was glad it was over.

What kept me – all of us – going? The thought of being allowed to drink water at lunch and teasing the members of the band and the rookie players were big factors. Watching the majorettes and visiting with Suzie and the cheerleaders helped a little, too. We took one session at a time. There was little else we could do.

Lunchtime finally arrived. Tradition had us hang our equipment on the fence to dry before we went into the cafeteria. While visiting my hometown in August a few years ago, I was pleased to see that it is still done that way today. It was a proud moment to hang those clothes with your number (no name) visible on your jersey. After all, you made it through ONE session.

The metal hanger was huge and perfectly capable of drying out a whole family load of laundry. Those sweat-drenched pads were not only heavy by today’s standards, but also sheltered a wide variety of microbes. Washing a uniform before the first game was unheard of. And some socks actually made it through an entire season before they were burned. This practice usually lead to boils, ringworm, and other mild infections. But not to worry – the student trainer had salve that he distributed freely to those in need.

One piece of equipment was cleaned a little more often than the others: the now-obsolete jock strap. The reason? Not for hygienic purposes. More likely, a squad member put some icy-hot or Ben-Gay in an unsuspecting teammate’s when he wasn’t watching, just to add to his already pleasant day when he returned to the field for the next session.

Lunch flew by and the afternoon practice began all too soon. This pattern was repeated three times a day for a whole week. A reduction to two sessions per day highlighted the second week of camp, and then the summer of ’69 was over. School was about to start. Seriously, HOW COULD ANYONE POSSIBLY ENJOY THIS PART OF SUMMER VACATION and this part of growing up? Why would any teenager want to go through something like this? Well………
You see, before technology improved equipment, there existed kids who loved to play football the old-fashioned way. Before college scholarships were freely available to good players, there were athletes who played without promises of money and fame. And long before notoriety and glory became key factors in high school sports, there was a love of tradition, a love of the game, and a love of just playing football.

Summer of '69 by Bryan Adams 

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA