In the summer of 1975, four dozen kids hung like monkeys off of a chain link fence waiting for members of the Chicago Tribune’s College All-Star team to exit their locker room after the first day’s practice.
Evanston, Illinois was (and is) a fairly cosmopolitan suburb, just north of Chicago and home to Northwestern University. From 1934 to 1976 the Tribune sponsored a game between pro-bound college players and the NFL champions that was played in late July at Soldier Field. The College All-Star team spent a few weeks every year working out in preparation for their scrimmage against the defending Super Bowl champions at NU’s old Dyche Stadium just across the street from my grade school, St. Athanasius. So every year a large group of kids from St. A’s and neighboring environs would hang out near the locker room exit in hopes of snagging an All-Star.
“Do you need a water boy,” we’d cry out, clutching our jugs of water, jumping up and down to attract attention. In this way, one by one, every player acquired an individual water boy. The water boy, duly chosen, would then sit in the stands for the opportunity to bring real football players water after practice ended.
’75 was the first year that I came to the All-Star’s practice. I was a sort of rookie and not as aggressive as some of the veteran boys. Player after player, as they left the locker room after the first practice, teamed up with boy after boy. I watched for my chance as some of the better known players like QB Steve Bartkowski, LB Robert Brazile and WR Larry Burton came off the board.
Time passed fast though. The players cleared out and my chances seemed flat. Then the biggest man that I had ever seen came out of the locker room. He must have been 7 feet, it seemed to me. He had barely any hair on the crown of his great head, but on the sides of his head, thick black hair stuck out like a bush. He had sideburns too; ones that would not quite be in fashion today, being a little too wild for today’s fashionable NFLer. This sky-towering ogre was wearing shorts and flips flops- the only disarming things about him.
“Do you need a water boy?” I yelled to the ogre while I looked down at the ground. I think I was afraid that he might eat me.