It’s taken a while to get my groove back, but it is not like time has stopped. Life has taken the usual twists and turns as it has with most people. I have experienced several occurrences that affected my acquaintances and friends over the last several months.
I often talk about individuals who have made an impact on my life including members of my family. It continues that their impact lingers in my mind and affects the decisions I have made in the past and those considered each day of my life.
Last fall another athletic trainer named Fred passed away. Fred Wapple was the long-time athletic trainer for University of Missouri athletics for over 40 years. The diminutive, elder professional served the athletic department with respectable leadership and innovative candor for years especially in the 1960’s through the 1970’s. This was before the profession of athletic medicine grew significantly throughout the college sport milieu. Intercollegiate sports became one of the entertainment enterprises that grew on many college campuses. The scholarly inquiry and development of subdisciplines such as athletic training flourished.
Fred was so patient with me when I broke my leg in a game against the Oklahoma Sooners in 1976. Yeh Fred was by me when the physician put my leg in a cast in the locker room right after the game! Yes, the leg swelled for a week and was very painful. No, I was not given the opportunity to put ice on the leg during the entire time it was in the cast!
Seven weeks later the same physician who put the cast on my leg finally took it off. I was so relieved but after he reviewed the last Xray of my healed leg, he said, “we probably should have put a pin in the leg!” Fred stopped me from killing that doctor! It was because his jovial personality was contagious. the players accepted his rational philosophy on life. More importantly, Fred was a trusted person who could bridge player-coach relationships. We believed his understood what was in our best interests.
The other Fred that I was privileged to know was Fred Zamberletti. This Fred was the first head athletic trainer for the Minnesota Vikings starting with the franchise’s first season in the NFL in 1961. Fred would be employed by the Vikings for over fifty years and was considered a pioneer in his profession by the NFL.
I had a great relationship with Fred. It was Fred who when I was cut by the Vikings in 1981 insisted that I be given my training camp jersey before I left to go home, as an artifact of my experience with the Club. I still have that #46 jersey that I wore most of training camp. Before I was cut however, I wore number 87 in camp for a few days after the player who wore it was cut the week before. I have a photo in my library of my first training camp in Mankato that shows me wearing the # 46 jersey next to head coach Bud Grant and quarterback Tommy Kramer. I would return later in the season and remain with the club for the entire decade!
Fred Zamberletti would also acknowledge me later in my career after I broke the condyle of my right femur during the 1988 season – playing with it broken the entire year. He nominated me for the Ed Block Courage Award, a post season award which honored players who despite injury were able to return back to action or endure them during the season.
The award was named after the well-known retired athletic trainer from the Baltimore Colts. The award states that it “honors those NFL players who exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.” Each recipient is now nominated by his teammates. Each representative attends the annual Ed Block Courage Award Foundation fundraiser that supports children of abuse, violence and neglect.
The Fred’s in my life served as mentors and sounding boards for me and my teammates. It is difficult to get through life without people like my Fred’s. Both were fully integrated in their profession and respected because they were fair yet challenging. Fred Wapple is in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Fred Zamberletti is in the Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor. They were both reasonable yet trustworthy. They were necessary yet impactful to my success as a football player. Ah those memories!
RIP Fred Wapple and Fred Zamberletti.