Football player suffers careless off-field injury. Football player wants to keep it from his coach. Football player goes to great lengths to cover it up.
Now there’s something that’s never happened before — especially in football, where players get hurt as a matter of course.
Reading about Josh Shaw’s travails at Southern Cal, I was reminded of a funny story once told me by Jack Ferrante, a receiver on the Philadelphia Eagles’ championship teams in the late ’40s. The Eagles in those days held training camp in Saranac Lake, N.Y., not far from Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. They bunked in the Eagles Nest, an old lodge their owner, Alexis Thompson, had bought for his bobsledding activities as much as anything else.
Thompson was a competitive slider, and the lodge had an elevator “so that bobsleds could be lowered into the basement for summer storage.” (In an earlier incarnation, the Eagles Nest — then known as Keegan Cottage — had served as a tuberculosis sanitorium.)
“We used to walk about a block, block and a half, to a high school field where we practiced,” Ferrante said. “But [Thompson] had all kinds of facilities there. Downstairs he had a playroom, and upstairs he had a big living room where we ate and everything. And we all slept in this one dorm. Everybody slept in the same room in bunk beds. They used to play some dirty tricks on me. They used to put fish in my bed. And I’d jump out, not knowing what the heck was in there. But it was all in good fun.
“Sometimes we’d go down in the den and play ping pong — doubles, one paddle to a side — and we’d have a lot of fun with that. That’s how we spent most of our time. That and playing cards. It was a dead little town.”
How does all this relate to Josh Shaw, you ask? I’m getting there, I’m getting there.
Steve Van Buren, the Eagles’ famed running back, had a boat up there, and he and some of his teammates would occasionally go fishing (which is where the fish in Ferrante’s bed came from). Anyhow, one day “the boat got out of control,” Jack said, “and Wojie [Hall of Fame center Alex Wojciechowicz] got thrown out of the boat. He got hit in the face and, cheese and crackers, we couldn’t stop the boat because I had just filled the gas tank up. It just kept going and going and going. Thank God it just stopped.
“Wojie’s got this big gash and everything, and when we go back [to the lodge] we’re trying to keep him away from [coach] Greasy [Neale]. So at the next practice, on like the first play from scrimmage, Wojie pretends like he got hit, you know? And coach never knew what happened. If he’d ever found out, we wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere.”
Wherever he is, Alex Wojciechowicz is probably smiling right now at Shaw’s predicament and thinking: Been there, done that. Or maybe he’s smiling because he just slipped another fish in Ferrante’s bed.