TITANS TUESDAY - You'd think after eight seasons of mixing it up with the leagues best that it would be easy getting ready for a game. Tough opponent, but someone you've seen before and somewhat familiar with. But still uncertainty. How much film did he study from the last time we met? Had he developed anything new? Did he get stronger from the last time we played? Questions like these are flooding my mind as I tape my wrists and hands.
It's 60 minutes till kick-off. I better go through my stuff again to make sure I haven't missed anything. Okay, lead-draw, got it, ten-step drop on this one, check. "Specialists stretch in five minutes," I hear in the background of usual game-day conversation. I'm not as chatty as I usually am for this one, have to concentrate a little more. "Remember to hydrate, it's going to be hot out there." He's right, not the best conditions by typical September weather. As I pass through the tunnel for pre-game the air seems to change from the locker room, it's amazing how that happens. It seems just a bit more charged than what I was breathing two minutes ago. I remind myself that it is still just pre-game and the fun hasn't nearly begun.
As I step out onto the field, the grass feels nice and long under my cleats. The evening showers look like they are upon us. I start my search, for anyone I know from the other side of the course. I know there are a few because I've studied their roster early in the week and had a few giggles at some of their misfortunes on film in previous games. The stadium is slowly starting to fill up with those familiar colors of blue and white and a splash of red. I scan the stadium for the same faces I see every week. I don't know names, only faces preparing themselves for three hours of screaming and yelling. Tap; tap on my left shoulder, "Wha's up, dude?" Ah, a familiar face, "You man, what's up with you?" Wow, he looks bigger that when I saw him last. We engage in typical pre-game, buddy from the other team, conversation, which ultimately ends in "good luck, and stay healthy." I wonder if he really means that?
The whistle in the background and the excited stir of the crowd tells me the rest of the team is about to take the field for stretch. And the low "boos" tell me the other team is entering the stadium as well. The thundering bass from the stadium speakers is kind of mesmerizing and I find myself bobbing my head a bit while I'm going through the pre-game drills. Gosh, for some reason I don't feel quick today, maybe I should have eaten more at breakfast. "What are these, nerves Brad?" I asked myself. Nah, couldn't be, this is year number nine for me. I don't get nervous ... yeah right!
Another whistle, time to take it in before the game actually starts. My steps have picked up a bit, so have everyone else's, I can tell. Preparing for games is murder on your central nervous system. I've reached the point where I'm starting to think too much. "I wonder what he had for breakfast?" My opponent of course. Questions like these lead me to believe that I am ready to play. With a towel over my head and Gatorade in my hand, I sit in my little world waiting for that first contact. See, that first contact is the most important part of the game. It determines, in most cases, just how your afternoon is going to go. For some players, that might not come for a few plays into the game. No, no not here, I'm a lineman and that means from the first "hut" heads will be ringing. I just try to make sure it's theirs and not mine.
The prayer has been said and the speeches have been given, it's time to head for the tunnel. The yelling and banging get my spine tingling, and the scowl on my face agrees with my attitude. When I hit the tunnel I smell it, competition. It's the offenses turn to be introduced so we hang back as the rest of the team enters the hysterically screaming stadium through the giant, inflated helmet. The gothic theme booming over the sound system transforms you from the world of sport to the realm of battle where ferociousness and tenacity are the only things bouncing around in your helmet. "And at left tackle, from Illinois, Brad Hopkins," it sounds different every time I hear it but it means the same thing ... Showtime!
The play has already been called in the huddle and we are approaching the line of scrimmage. First eye contact has been made, the hateful messages my eyes are sending have been read, I can tell. As I place my fingers into the long, thick grass, I think to myself, here we go again. "Hut, hut!"