American College Football Circa 1965

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Over the pastweek I have talked to different people involved in college footballtoday. Some were strength and conditioning coaches and some footballcoaches and some athletic trainers, kind of covering all the bases fromskill, to physical preparation to injuries. After these conversations Icould not but help to look back on my days as a college football playerand contrast it to today. It was certainly a different era.

I played at Fresno State College in the mid 1960’s. We practiced twice a day, morning session 9:00 Am to 11:30 AM with another session in the evening from 7:00 PM to 9:30 PM.Full gear at each session, full contact at each session. No airconditioning anywhere. Fans, non existent, shade was precious. In the Californiacentral valley it typically got up to 100 degrees during the day.Morning workouts began with the temperature around 80 degreesFahrenheit and ending in the low 90’s. For evening workouts thetemperature was usually around 100 degrees. It was hot, damn hot. Theuniforms did not breathe and they were heavy. We were not allowed totake our helmets off during practice. We did our conditioning in fullgear and they ran the piss out of us. One water break during practice,we got a Dixiecup and were implored not to drink too much because it might causestomach cramps. We began practice after Labor Day and went ten days oftwo a day practices.

During training camp we had a training table. Breakfast was at 7:00 AM Lunch at 12:30 and Dinner at 4:30 Pm.We were required to be there. The only meal I could eat was lunch. Iwas afraid to eat breakfast before morning practice and the same withdinner before evening practice. I started my sophomore season duringtwo a days at 220 ponds wearing 46 long team blazer. We played University of Hawaii in Hawaiiat Thanksgiving I weighed 186 pounds. No training table in season. Ilived in the dorm and they would keep a dinner for me if I got therebefore 7:30.The dinners were awful and not near enough to main mass. There was notraining table in season except for pregame meal. That was thehighlight of the week for me. I would get inline behind Harry Miller, the team captain, who could not eat beforegames. I would eat his steak and baked potatoes, with heaps of sourcream and then eat my steak and anything else I could scavenge. Thetoughest part of the game for me was pregame warm-up. I was hoping Iwould get hit and lose my dinner.

Wedid no weight training in season, in fact in the off season we were onour own. We were implored to stay in shape, but given no program.Fortunately I started working out with the track jumpers and throwerswhich led to where I am today. In fact our red neck racist line coachfound out that I was lifting weight and tried to get me to cut backbecause I might “muscle bound.” I was a terrible football player andsmall, the only way I could survive was to lift weights.

Knowingwhat I know now coaching was primitive at best. We hardly had teammeetings or film sessions. Scouting reports were two or three pages ofmimeographed plays. We played a very good schedule including San Diego State, Cal Poly, Long Beach Sate, Northridge, University of Pacific, Montana Sate, San Jose Sate, Washburn University, University of Colorado and University of Hawaii. The last won was big for me. My whole goal in my sophomore year was to make the traveling squat to Hawaii.I started out as fourth string center and through injury and attritionI climbed the depth chart to second string near the end of the season.We played Hawaiiin the last game over thanksgiving. I was afraid I would get hurt orpiss off the red neck line coach and not make it, but I did. Four daysin HawaiiI thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was my first plane trip,and a jet at that, I got a window seat and looked out the window thewhole trip. What a rube!

Theteam during those days was interesting. I was the only player who madeit off the freshman team. The main source of players was from juniorcolleges. Most of my teammates were three to four years older than mebecause many of them had been in the army or marines during the Berlinand Cuban Missile crisis. I was an 18 year old sophomore playing with22 and 23 years guys who had seen it all. I could not believe when theylaughed at he coaches. It was also the first time I had been aroundblack athletes. Everyday before every practice everyone had to gettheir ankles taped, no pre wrap in those days. By the end of the seasonthe tape cuts were ugly. I hated waiting in line for forty five minutesevery day waiting to be taped, but on the other hand for me this was myeducation to the ways of the world, listening to the guys tellingstores of being in Germany during the Berlin Crisis or one of the blackplayers talking about visiting his grand parents in the south and beingchased by the KKK.

Thiswhole experience was an education. I learned a lot about things that Iwould never do as a coach. I think the experience motivated me tobecome a coach. It certainly turned me off to football and thebrutality that was encouraged. I really think the players playing todayare quite fortunate to have better coaching and knowledge of simplethings like hydration. Looking back I am really amazed that no one everdied of heat exhaustion. I am also surprised that there were very fewinjuries.

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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta

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Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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