As someone who was just typing what I heard following each practice, I looked to the comments regarding practice, performance and mental state as this, that and the other thing. You don't want to dismiss it, but it was the same almost every single week. The team is ready, they practiced well and everyone played hard.
Yeah, but how hard?
You see, that's my issue here. It's not that these guys didn't work their butts off, but did they really work their butts off?
Let me explain.
When you hear about the "older guys" talk about intensity, it's with almost a painful twinge as they remember Summer workouts that were cruel even in almost the most sadistic terms. Jason Peter de-cleating someone because they weren't busting it? Grant Wistrom going on a butt-ripping tirade because players weren't giving enough?
And look at these two guys, two players that practiced and played with a near-maniacal intensity. Yes, it was constrained (to a point) on the field, but you talk about intense, this was the embodiment.
They were the leaders.
And everyone's reference in how they practiced and how they played could be judged by those leaders showing how it should be done. When they said they practiced hard, it wasn't just hard. It was cruel-hard. When they said they were ready, they weren't "ready", they were nail-chewing, gut-stomping, kick-your-ass just for thinking you can beat me, ready.
Now, I don't for one second want to minimize the kind of leaders that Chris Kelsay, DeJuan Groce and John Garrison were. Not for a second. You know they wanted to win. You know they gave what they thought was all they had. But, let's just say that maybe even they didn't know what "all they had" really was. And, if that is true, maybe by their example, nobody else did either.
These three guys were the leaders by which everyone else judged how they practiced and how they played. Not by execution, but by sheer force of will and effort. And again, it's not that they didn't give their all, because you know they did, but I'm just saying, what if not even they knew what their "all" really was.
You look at Richie Incognito and your first glance (after watching the season) is that he is borderline insane. His intensity, it's off the charts. His maturity, well, ok, that needs some work. But, look at how this kid plays. People are going to get on him for the mistakes he makes that hurt the team and well they should. You hope that those mistakes fade with age.
However, you look at the kind of raw, unfettered-unbridled intensity this kid puts out there on the field and you say, "that's how it should be done". Richie stands out not just because of his mistakes, but because he is just so flaming fiery. He's not just intense, he's mean. He's not just fiery, he's ferocious. Sometimes you want to pull back that fear you have and get into his mind just to see what he's thinking, because all you can imagine is, "kill, kill, kill".
What's so bad about that?
With the restraint that usually comes from maturity, take that kind of intensity and borderline rage with good execution and you have what Wistrom had, you have what Peter had and pretty soon, others are following you.
It's just that when you hear players saying, "we worked our ass off during the Summer", at least I sit back and wonder if their version was equal to the version when people like Wistrom and Peter were on the Summer fields, practicing their asses off as well. Would this work ethic nowadays been enough to make Peter say, "yeah, that's good" or would he have been running across the field looking to knock you on your butt because you were quite obviously slacking off?
Back at one narrow point in my life, I remember running because I had to, someone telling me I could do it. No, I wasn't running a marathon, but because I wanted to get in shape. Not "Husker" shape mind you, but a different shape than I was (am now) and that shape was more like a potato. I didn't want to be a potato. I was going for something closer to a squash or even a banana. Anything but a potato.
Well, this guy that was pushing me, man, he was some kind of hard-ass. I remember running on the tread mill, he kept setting it faster. He wouldn't stop. Each day, each week, just faster and faster. I remember running, thinking my chest was going to pop out, my eyes narrowing to a hair's width, a white haze glazing my vision and I was sure I was going to pass out. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think straight and after the dizziness went away, all I wanted to do was puke my guts out.
You know what he said to me? "And?" Yeah, he said "And" as if everything I had, damn near killing myself on that running board from hell wasn't enough to satisfy this evil desire he had to kill me in these stupid elastic running shoes I had on. It wasn't enough. Not even close to enough for him.
That's what I am talking about.
Well, I ended up having to move, leaving the Marquis De Sade behind, but I did get beyond that point, but I can honestly say, I never got to the point where he stopped saying, "And?"
Now, I (looking again like a potato) wonder if these guys ever had anyone that said to them "And?" over and over again.
Now, again, I want to reiterate that I would never question what these guys give. Lord knows, I would be dead if I tried to do what they have to do every single day. Their effort, their dedication and their devotion is admirable, enviable and quite honestly, unique. Though there may be a lot of schools out there with a lot of players supposedly at this level, this is Nebraska, so these young persons are unique.
I just wonder though if Jason Peter ever did come back as he has stated that he would like to. If he saw exactly the same practice in length and in intensity the players did this last season, what would he think?
Would he be impressed, would he be satisfied or would you hear Jason, over and over saying, "And?"
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619