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Shirts and Skins

Cool Running

By Eddie Matz | Posted 8/6/2003

Have you ever gone "downy ocean" in late July? Of course you have. And after you've made the three-hour drive across our wonderful state, you unload all your crap into your room and head straight to the beach. As you tiptoe through the scorching hot sand, slaloming your way around lounge chairs, blankets, and umbrellas, you finally emerge into a clearing, whereupon you find two burly and invariably hairy knuckleheads tossing a football back and forth in shoes and knee-high socks.

It's smack dab in the middle of summer. Temperatures are in the 90s. The humidity is even higher. There's swimming to be swam, drinks to be drank, and Frisbees to be flung, yet these tools are playing with the pigskin. I don't get it. Never have. Football is not a summer sport. I repeat: Football is not a summer sport.

And I'm not just talking about at the beach. I'm talking about in NFL stadiums, too. Don't get me wrong--a hundred and blah-blah-blah games into the baseball season, I'm just as happy as the next clam when I hear the first crack of large men in full pads. But when one or more of these large men collapses from heat exhaustion, which happens seemingly every preseason, all of a sudden I'm not so giddy.

Two summers ago, Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl lineman Korey Stringer collapsed, was brought to the hospital with a 108.8 temperature, and died shortly thereafter. Already this year, during the first week of training camp, Jacksonville Jaguars linemen Larry Smith and John Henderson collapsed two days apart. Fortunately, both are alive and well.

A little closer to home, Washington cornerback Fred Smoot reportedly collapsed in the shower after a practice during the first week at 'Skins camp. Scary thing about Smoot is that he's listed at 5-foot-11, 174 pounds. "I'm in great shape," Smoot told me as he came off the field last week at Redskin Park. "I'm 2 percent body fat."

Not that 325-pound linemen are the only players prone to heat exhaustion, but if a guy like Smoot is having problems handling the heat in training camp, then maybe it's time to think about making some changes.

For once, the National Football League could learn something from Major League Baseball. You don't have to be Norm Lewis, or even Jerry Lewis, to understand why baseball teams conduct spring training in Florida and Arizona. In most baseball cities, it's too cold to play in February and March. It's just not healthy.

Same goes for football. In most NFL cities, it's too hot to play in July and August. It's just not healthy. So why not move all the camps up north? Seriously. We could have half the camps in Maine and the other half in Montana. It'd be like baseball's Grapefruit League and Cactus League, except it'd be the Lobster League and the Whatever Montana's Famous for League.

"I think moving camps would be good for the simple reason that we don't have that many warm-weather games," Smoot says. "Training in the cool weather would be fine with me."

No way, says Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl lineman Jon Runyan, himself a very large man at 6-foot-7, 330 pounds. "You've got to play in the heat the first month of the season," Runyan told me last week in the weight room at Eagles camp. "You can't go up there and train and then show up in Dallas the first week of the season and expect to be any good. You're going to die if you're not trained to be in that heat."

Problem is, people are dying from training in that heat. So what's the solution?

"Keeping up the hydration," says Runyan, who admits to having flirted with training-camp heat exhaustion a couple times during his seven-year career. "I lost eight pounds during this morning's practice. But I gain it back by drinking water and eating, because that's all you're losing--water."

Or how's this for another solution: Cut out all regular-season games in September. Hold onto your beer cozies--I'm not saying the NFL should shorten the season to 12 games. But do we really need four Sundays in September? I lose eight pounds myself every time go to a Ravens game in September. So why not take those four games and tack them on at the end of the season. Instead of training camp starting at the end of July, it starts at the end of August. Instead of the season kicking off the first week of September, it kicks off the first week of October. Instead of the Super Bowl happening Jan. 20-something, it happens Feb. 20-something.

Think about it. The first regular-season football game wouldn't take place until after the last regular-season baseball game, and, on the flip side, spring training wouldn't begin until after the Super Bowl. It makes perfect sense, really, because the two seasons--football and baseball--deserve not to overlap, don't they?

Unfortunately, it's not gonna happen. Not soon anyway. In the meantime, burly and hairy knuckleheads will continue to toss footballs on the beach in shoes and knee-high socks, large men will continue to drop like Acme bowling balls on Wile E. Coyote's head, and I'll continue to lose eight pounds per September Ravens game.

Damn it, I love football.

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