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Saturday was the final day of fall camp and for a decade, BYU's football team concluded two-a-days in a most unique way.
It starts with a HUGE plastic tarp retrieved from the Physical Facilities Dept. and spread on the northern most turf field of their practice facilities. This ENORMOUS tarp is easily 10 yards wide and by my estimation, 40-45 yards long. Equipment Manager Mick Hill and his staff spend an hour before the end of practice hosing down this MONSTROUS tarp with a fire hose connected to a fire hydrant in the Richards Building parking lot.
I had just finished running 4 miles on the perimeter of the grass practice fields as the team was going through their paces. Mick Hill pulled up and bade for me to jump in and we headed towards the turf field and the GYNORMOUS tarp.
What I saw was the LARGEST Slip & Slide I had ever seen.
Almost immediately, the air horn sounded the end of practice and players started arriving whooping and hollering with anticipation as they removed their cleats, socks, helmets and pads.
I was standing on a corner of the tarp to keep air from flowing beneath when lo and behold, Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall - stripped of his shoes, shirt and whistle, came barreling past me in a sprint, landed on his stomach as he slid for 40 yards, all the while screaming like a banshee.
It was amazing. I couldn't help but think, "Now there's something I'm never gonna see Andy Reid or Joe Paterno do."
After Bronco, players of various sizes started coming down the runway and sliding down the Slip & Slide. At first, they were going one at a time, then in pairs, then units - O-Line, linebackers, running backs, D-linemen, etc. At one point, 50-60 players were standing at the launch site waiting on their turn when someone yelled, "STAMPEDE!!" and suddenly, 50 of the 60 sped off en masse and were sliding down the tarp. The ten or so who were caught off guard still standing appeared to be freshman.
I got caught up in the excitement and went with former running back Mark Atuaia, who is a graduate assistant, finishing up work on his MBA and law degree.
Predictably, some of the Polys and Californians attempted to surf, remaining erect on their feet while others tried it with a teammate as the "board." Once, I tried it on my back. The creativity was quite impressive.
I'm told that in the first year of the Slip & Slide, the players coaxed LaVell Edwards into giving it a try. Apparently, he succumbed to the pressure and stripped his shoes, shirt and whistle but when he landed on the tarp, his chin hit the ground so hard he chipped a tooth. No word whether the incident contributed to his retirement a year later.
Buddy Ryan used to end his training camps with a relay that featured players turning in circles 5-6 times while holding the butt of a baseball bat to their foreheads, then dropping the bat and dizzily running 20 yards to tag a teammate who had to do the same thing. The sight of HUGE, over-paid, professional athletes running 20 yards while trying to keep their balance was comedic and fun.
But this was much better because on a hot late August day, it had water, a fire hose, a slippery tarp and shorts.
Clearly, the tradition has lasted 10-plus years through 3 coaches because it's fun, bonds and creates camaraderie.
Seven Peaks has nothin' on BYU Football's Slip & Slide!