St. Charles, Missouri, July 1979
My college football career was awesome! I played in all but one game during four years at the University of Missouri. I still stay in touch with my college teammates. Several of them I played with and against during our NFL careers. As student athletes in the 1970’s life on a campus such as the University of Missouri was memorable for sure!
I broke my left leg my sophomore year catching a pass in our next to the last game of the season against the University of Oklahoma, in Norman, OK. We played well against the Sooners but still lost. I was fortunate to get back healthy enough to start the next season and finish the remainder of my college career. My first season in a professional training camp was one I will never forget. I was not drafted in 1979 and neither were six of my former Missouri Tigers who all suited up with me the first day of the St. Louis Cardinals training camp in St. Charles, Missouri.
As most players who were rookie free agents can attest, trying out for a professional football team for the first time is unbelievably stressful. There are reasons you are not the heralded draft choice. I certainly had a notable college career, but teams were not going to risk a draft choice on a short wide receiver with average speed. Training camp was an opportunity to showcase what I could do. I could catch the ball, get away from defenders and return kicks and punts. Those were attributes that the Cardinals wanted me to display. That year the Cardinals had rookies and young veterans report to camp a week before the veterans on the campus of Lindenwood College.
Missouri summers are grueling. Unfortunately, we practiced EVERY SINGLE DAY on Astroturf – one of the first synthetic surfaces made for playing football. Today’s young people have no idea what Astroturf was. Some people use a simple version of that surface for their patios! It was an advantage for speedy players to play on Astroturf, but it was not healthy on the joints. The worst manifestation of playing on it was the burns that you suffered when falling on the turf. Those turf burns are still visible on my body today – mostly on my arms and legs. Often the burns are a result of the shredding of the skin, which if not attended to immediately causes severe infection! Yes, the field looked good from the pressbox, but to practice on that field for six weeks was treacherous! It could be played on with ease in the rain, and there was little maintenance needed. Only after a week of training did my feet consistently swell. My toes looked like grapes! They were swollen a lot and in addition to the heat made life in St. Charles, Missouri unforgettable.
The remainder of this storied training camp is about the coaches and teammates that I remember. I will share more about my most notable training camp of my career next week!