Joking relationships are enjoyed by close friends and teammates

Lineman for Life can take a hit forever
June 9, 2020

The fear of funny - Humor is often a pressure-release valve, letting off steam from the serious stuff. Anthropologists write of joking relationships between trusted friends who occasionally bust on one another. The Philadelphia race riot, also called the Columbia Avenue Riot, took place Aug. 26-30, 1964, in North Philly. Columbia Avenue was renamed Cecil B. Moore Avenue in 1987 and now runs right through the Temple campus. I was there when the riots went down, and the following fall of 1965, I was standing on Geasey Field off 15th Street after football practice when line coach Dave DiFilippo said to our mix-of-races team, “There will be no racism bleeding into the Temple football team. Anyone who scores a touchdown for the Owls is an honorary Italian.” DiFilippo went on to become head coach of the Pottstown Firebirds. Legendary Ron Waller out of Laurel was offensive coordinator. DiFilippo was also an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Bulldogs under head coach Wayne Hardin. Hardin recruited me. We met at a downtown office in Philly. Coach Hardin had pictures of himself all over the walls, including one with Heisman Trophy winners Joe Bellino (1960) and Roger Staubach (1963), whom he coached at the Naval Academy. Hardin himself was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013. Hardin passed away in 2017 at the age of 91. He was born in Smackover, Ark., just a great small-town name. Back in 1966, I couldn’t figure out who was sliding down the ladder quicker and further, Hardin or me, but I wasn’t about to put on a helmet to find out. 

Sunday morning going down - Fredman walking in flip-flops with an empty bird feeder at 5:30 a.m., Sunday morning, what could go wrong? I stubbed my toe on the brick walk, and I was going down like a Buffalo protestor. I blocked the back of the house like a 32 quick trap for the Temple Owls in 1965. Right shoulder, head and neck; the house vibrated but didn’t move. My right knee landed in a flower pot, the left on red landscape stones. Darby dog just left me to go get a drink of water. The getting up was ugly, but because I'm a lineman for life, you know what I did next? Went to the bird seed bucket, filled up the feeder, went back out, climbed the stepladder, went inside, washed my hands – blood from somewhere – tossed Darby a mini doughnut and thanked God because it could have been worse; it could have been recorded and gone viral. Honestly, when I’ve been in physical danger, that lineman training kicks in. My world slows down, I fight against pressure and prepare myself for impact. I can take a hit and a part of me likes it, I think from being hit too many times. 

Rules of re-engagement - I remember a track athlete grabbing the back of his leg and saying, “Hey, Coach Fred! I think I pulled a groin or something. Should I go home and put ice on it?” “No, just go home, and by the way, that’s your hamstring, not your groin.” “That’s why I asked you, coach, cause you be knowin’ stuff.” Truth be told, coaches from my generation, everything we knew we copied off someone’s else’s test paper. We weren’t trainers or physical therapists, but often we feigned expertise just to keep things moving along. Players got bells rung, knees wrenched, ankles sprained and shoulders separated. Players ran through brick walls and dehydrated on purpose as a sign of strength. Now I’m reading from coaches turned virologists when and how athletes should re-engage during the corona pandemic now that everyone has gone through Phase 1, which was getting a puppy. I’ve said of athletes of all ages and that includes coaches, “People don’t necessarily do what they should do, but what they compulsively need to do.” We are all going back out full tilt and will soon be pulling our groins and hashtagging our hammys and garden-spraying fields with Lysol because it’s easier to spell than disinfectant.

Snippets - Patrick Kraft, 43, the Temple athletic director since 2015, had been named director of athletics at Boston College effective July 1. Kraft replaces Martin Jarmond, 39, who is leaving for UCLA after three years at BC. I talked with Kraft a few times at Temple lacrosse games and I was surprised I knew more former Temple ADs than Kraft cared to imagine, but he politely and patiently waited for me to run out of material. Where is the long-term loyalty to universities? Bernard Muir, now 51, was AD at Georgetown 2005-09, then the University of Delaware 2009-12, and since 2012 the AD at Stanford. Chrissi Rawak is the current director of athletics at UD since 2016, coming from Michigan. Former Delaware ADs include Dave Nelson (1951-84) and Edgar Johnson (1984-2009).   

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