As if the FlemFile moving to Page 2 isn't stimulating enough -- there's nothing like a little electro-shock to get you juiced about the upcoming NFL season.
While I was hanging out in Phoenix this summer researching a story on Rams hybrid safety Adam Archuleta, I spent a morning wandering around the gym where Arch trains up to six hours a day during the off-season. It's run by trainer Jay Schroeder, (not the former QB) who created the Russian-influenced system that has transformed Arch from a skinny 170-pound high school reject into a chiseled 205-pound missile launcher with a 530-pound bench press, 4.37 speed and the prototype skills for a new generation of do-it-all NFL safeties.
Arch hates the notion that he's a Caucasian mutt who -- goshdarnit -- just wouldn't give up on his lofty dreams. The truth is, to get to the top, he's spent most of his life during the last eight years sequestered in this gym being, literally, tortured by Schroeder. Actually, it was longer than that. Before Schroeder would agree to train him, Arch had to measure everything he did for six month -- including his waste.
Then the real fun began.
I know why Deion Sanders wants to make a comeback at 37 to play nickel scrub with the Baltimore Ravens: (No longer even close to his) Prime Time doesn't want to be the first defender to go into the Hall of Fame without ever actually tackling someone. Let me first acknowledge that as a cover/return guy, Deion is a first-ballot lock. Like everyone else, I want to see him once again returning picks and dancing like Napolean Dynamite. But what happens if people RUN the ball or complete a pass while he's in there?|
Then, unless he's become a little more comfortable with contact in his old age, it's 10 on 11. Maybe I'm exaggerating his lack of physical presence. But not by much. In his last six years in the NFL, Deion averaged two solo tackles and .10 (yes, one-point-oh-my-god-he-really-doesn't-hit anyone) assists per game. End zone pylons bring more people down than that. Still, it could be worse. The guy could be back on TV.
|FLEM FILE FIVE|
Top five stays on QB Kurt Kittner's absolutely brutal summer tour: |
5.) Released by Steelers on Sept. 3 (20 days).
4.) Released by Patriots on Aug. 7 (22 days).
3.) Released by Giants on July 16 (56 days).
2.) Released by Bengals on May 9 (nine days).
1.) Released by Falcons on April 27 (56 days after 2003 contracts expired).
Well, no need to play the games. We already know who will win the Super Bowl. It's the New England Patriots: the one team talented enough and smart enough to pick up our Flem File mascot (and former Washington Redskins tight end) Zeron Flemister. Z had been working out all summer in Denver after the Redskins let him go in January. (Thus earning themselves a nasty Flem File Curse.)|
"I was maybe a week away from starting my life after football," reports Z. "I was looking at going back to school (to Iowa) to take some business classes this fall. It's not easy; but sooner or later, you learn you can't play forever."
Then the Pats called. They contacted him in April and brought him back a few days before camp for a rigorous workout. "You can tell why they win so many Super Bowls," says Z. "The expectations are so high there. I noticed it right away because their idea of 'in shape' was a lot different than mine." Still, on July 28, Bill Belichick signed him to a two-year deal. Then, while running a simple go-route in camp, Z felt a burning pain in his left heel. It felt like his heel was held on only by skin. Which it was. ZFlem had suffered the injury players now dread more than an ACL: a blown-out Achilles'. MRI. Surgery. Crutches. A cast. It will take several months of excruciating rehab before he can even put weight on his toes.
As always, though, Z seems to be in good spirits. "If I mope around, this is gonna be a looooong six months," says Z, 27, who was hoping to see some playoff action for the first time in his career. On Aug. 11, the Pats placed him on IR (I had to tell him this since the team never called) which leaves two big questions: 1.) Does he get a Super Bowl ring if the team wins it all? (Answer: HE BETTER). And 2.) Who will fill in as the 2004 Flem File mascot? (Answer: With Z's blessing, we have begun preliminary negotiations with Titans rook running back Troy Fleming.) "Dawg, don't you demote me, too," begged Z. Not a chance. Here at the Flem File, no one can lose his starting spot due to an injury.
If you Page 2 dudes aren't familiar with the WHYLO portion of the column, this is where I post my (often times quite stunning amount) of hate mail. WHYLO stands for Who Helped You Log On, and I award it once a week to readers whose venomous language or questionable logic goes, shall we say, below and behind the call of duty. It's kinda like being named the Tim Couch of e-mailers. And by next week, this space will be filled to capacity with them. Trust me.|
Drop me a line at Dave.Fleming@espn3.com.
Pre-season Highlight No. 1: The media room at Falcons camp on the campus of Furman University is near the student activity center. Outside on the wall, they hang the 'celebrities' who have been to Furman. Here's a sampler: the guy who played Screech, some doofus from the "Dukes of Hazard" and boy-band wannabe John Mayer ... Steve Beuerlein has been really sharp in the TV booth while working pre-season games for the Carolina Panthers. Great Beuerlein story: After hernia surgery several years ago, he was extremely constipated. Things finally began 'working' one night while he was out at a restaurant. Relieved, he heads to the john, where a fan waits ... and waits ... and waits ... by his stall for an autograph ... PSHN2: One of the most amazing things I saw during my camp swing was Bucs 300-pound defensive tackle Booger McFarland racing 40 yards down field on a pass play, going stride for stride with a wideout ... A little while back, I had my first father/daughter tea party. It was such a delightful time, I asked for seconds. It was then, after hearing the toilet lid open and shut, that I realized Ally had taken the term 'tea potty' literally ... Oh man, did my Lil RedHawks of Miami University take a beating against Michigan. But I'm still predicting a second-straight MAC title ...
PSHN3: Did you know that Rams safety Adam Archuleta once did a ballet dance at a high-school talent show? ... In The Mag's NFL preview, we created a category of versatile dudes called Swiss Army Players (SAPs). But so far, I haven't seen Dime One from the Swiss Army people ... PSHN4: Chemistry-wise, Panthers' GM Marty Hurney thinks his team has a very similar makeup to the great Redskins teams under Gibbs version 1.0 ... All you need to know about Britney Spears is that she makes a habit of using gas station bathrooms without wearing any shoes. I wouldn't let my dog walk in a gas station john without flipflops ... I know why everyone hates soccer. I tried to watch some of the Olympic pitch; but after 10 minutes, I had to turn the channel. Just couldn't stand the way these guys would fall to the ground like they'd been shot, whimpering and whining for five minutes in pure agony after the most incidental contact. Speaking of the Olympics, I'd rather have a silver medal that I earned than a gold medal that I didn't ... PSHN5: Love what Jags o-coord Bill Musgrave says about QB Byron Leftwich: "His kind of versatility is what allows players to keep playing where the coach's chalk ends." ... PSHN6: Overheard from a kid atop his dad's shoulders at one of the Jags' afternoon workouts: "Daaaad, take me home to my Nintendo." ... Let the countdown begin for Pearl Jam's October show in North Carolina.|
THIS COLUMN WRITTEN WHILE LISTENING TO: The Cure's "The Cure."
"The training feels like a pipe is being driven three feet up your butt," says the soft-spoken but intense Schroeder, the scariest man you'll ever meet in sweat pants. "Then you have to stay there for 15 minutes."
Okie dokie, I thought after hearing this.
Like most trainers Schroeder is a good guy, but a tad prone to hyperbole. Arch doesn't just work on his chest, he does exercises that are "the equivalent of 3,000 bench presses." Schroeder isn't just fond of his star pupil. "I love him," he says. "I would die for him."
It was then that I noticed what looked like two little electro-shock machines in the corner of the room. In my head, I was thinking don't ask ... don't ask ... don't ask. But, of course, I blurted out, "Hey, what are those?"
As part of his training, Schroeder hyper-fatigues muscle groups by juicing them with, he says, "more frequency than most humans can endure." Indeed, a website for these types of electric-stim machines boasts: "NO surface burning or surface pain at 0 to 2.5 watts."
The Thighmaster, this is not.
As the physical demands on NFL players increase, so, too, have their off-season regimens. I've watched Donovan McNabb work on his drop-backs in the desert sand in heat that had people around him yakking into trash cans. I've seen Jags' safety Donovin Darius train with an Ultimate Fighting champion in a gym littered with bloody bandages. Mike Vick spent so much time working on the West Coast offense this summer that he barely had time to use his fishing boat, 'Bad News.'
Jerry Rice runs his hill. Texans center Steve McKinney works 12-hour days in the off-season training and running his businesses. Last summer, Bucs coach Jon Gruden came to the team facility at 5 a.m. and saw Derrick Brooks running wind sprints in the dark.
Some guys go to speed camps. Some train at altitude. Still others get their blood checked so that nutritionists can determine the exact foods they need to eat for maximum performance. (I've done this, by the way, and it came back PopTarts, Mountain Dew and bar-b-que Fritos.)
This summer, all-pro tight end Tony Gonzalez went to extremes to keep his mind sharp. He spent a month in Mexico in an intense Spanish language immersion program. While 'reporting' on his 'training,' I knocked back some tequila that the locals guaranteed would not give me a hangover (wrong) while I watched Gonzalez get twisted by a leopard-suited salsa instructor in ways that would make Ray Lewis jealous.
"I feel as refreshed and ready for the season as I ever have," TGon told me.
But for an underdog like Arch, the lengths to which he must go to keep his edge during the off-season have become, well, shocking.
As I observed from a safe distance, Schroeder attached the electric-stim paddles to the biceps of Arch and the rest of the trainees -- among them, the Colts phenomenal defensive end, Dwight Freeney. He turned the knob halfway; and immediately, their hands were torqued into grotesque knots and their arms moved involuntarily -- the guys call this "playing the banjo." It was, to say the least, uncomfortable to watch and listen as the toughest athletes in the world whimpered, groaned and then screamed in agony as Schroeder continued to spin the knob like a sadistic Vanna White.
When it was over, Arch took the paddles and put them on my arms. Come on and try it, he dared.
"Alright, what the hell," I said. "Crank 'er up."
I was sure I could handle the pain. I wrestled in college and, let me tell you something, those singlets are no joke. A few weeks ago, I even played a whole hockey shift in my rec league after accidentally squirting some Gatorade up my nose.
Schroeder flicked the switch and my arms locked up at the elbows, palms pressing against my shoulders. Twisting at the wrist, my hands then made weird ghostly circles. It felt like lightning bolts were going to shoot out of my fingertips. The NFLers were already giggling when I saw Schroeder barely twist the knob past 'on.'
"OK, OK, ha-ha, I get it," I said.
"OK, OK, ha-ha, I get it," Arch mocked me.
Ow. Yeow. ZZZZZZZ.
I think at this point, the lights overhead dimmed and flickered.
"All right, all right -- enough!" I yelped.
Arch just smiled at me. Bastard.
"OK, owwww," I said.
Bacon? Do I smell bacon?
The knob spun some more -- or maybe it stayed in place and it was my eyeballs that were turning. Eeeeeeeeyyyyyeeeowzzza. Now it felt like I was getting hit by lightning -- continually. I tried to move away to get the paddles off my arms. I swear the cell phone in my pocket was smoking. I was sure that my hair was going to look like the lead singer of ELO.
About to de-fibb, I thought about all the people who, this time of year, dream about playing in the NFL. But when you see up-close what these guys go through during what is supposed to be their summer vacation ... well, hmm, maybe we should all be content with the torture and agony of fantasy football.
Finally (OK, the whole thing took like 15 seconds), Schroeder dialed me down and Arch took the paddles away.
"So what was I? Like, 10, 20, 30 times higher than Arch?" I asked.
My biceps felt wrapped tighter than two golf balls. The rest of the day, my notes looked like those scribbles that run off the page when you're falling asleep in class.
"Uh," said Schroeder, "you were at a little less than half what these guys do."
That might be true. But it's been over two months, and I still haven't had to recharge my cell phone.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Contact him at Dave.Fleming@espn3.com.