Friday, March 14, 2014

A conversation with Gene Nudo, Part IV

I concluded my interview with Coach Nudo by telling him about my godson, who played tackle at Kansas and tried out for the Arizona Cardinals a few years ago. After injuring his foot in training camp, Brad retired from the game and is now working at a hedge fund in California. He's told me more than once that due to all the concern today about head trauma he would never allow his own kids to play football. I asked Coach Nudo about this.
"More and more people are saying they wouldn’t let their kids play football. You see that sign on the wall behind you?"


"We’ve done more to help kids. The emphasis on safety is better than it’s ever been. I know a lot of old football players who played without face masks and aren’t walking around punch-drunk. They played with proper form. It’s disappointing to me: all these people who made their fortune in the game we love are now trying to cash in on it after the fact. At that level, these guys are beat up. They come in on crutches the day after a game and you would never think they’d be able to line up the next week. I’ve been in locker rooms where guys had needles injected in the front of their big toes. You can’t imagine the pain they're in. The problem with the game is everybody got bigger, faster and stronger too quickly. 

"Safety has always been a concern for me. If nobody got hurt no doubt this would be the greatest game ever. It still is. Unfortunately, it’s a big part of it. We never pray for a win. God doesn’t have time to figure out who wins football games. We pray that everybody – both groups -- comes out all right. 

"Guys who just finished their career, have fifty million in the bank say, 'Okay, I’m not going to let my kid play.' Guess what? You’re kid doesn’t have to play! He can do whatever he wants for the rest of his life." 

Are the dangers overstated?

"We’re in a different age. I’m not so sure we shouldn’t be playing with leather helmets. That’s how those guys played years ago. They took their helmet off, folded it up and put it in their back pocket. It would take the helmet out of the game. It’s a shame. I worry about what it does. Nobody has written articles that more kids get hurt cheerleading and get more concussions playing soccer than they do playing football. In football, there are eleven or twelve exposures on every play of the game. 'Oh my god, that kid got hurt playing football.' There were 4,000 collisions in that game!

"I’m defensive. I think football is a very honorable game. You get out of football what you put into football. If you’re taught by the right people the right way this game stays with you forever.

"I had a kid this year – talk about injuries -- when he was a freshman he broke his collarbone, when he was a sophomore he broke his wrist. His folks wouldn’t let him play as a junior. He was an injury-prone kid. He begged his mom and step-dad to let him play. He would come to my office crying. But I understood where his parents were coming from. I talked to his mom and they let him play. He scored a touchdown in our first game against St. Joseph. He comes running off the field, jumps in my arms and says, 'Coach, I love you. Thank you!' All this other stuff doesn’t mean anything. That was the greatest moment of my coaching career. I helped him and he was so excited and it was like that the whole year for him. I nicknamed him Boo Bulaich, after the guy who played for the Colts."

It had been over an hour by now and I felt like I had kept Coach Nudo talking long enough. We didn't get to everything but we'd covered a lot of ground. I finished by asking him about next year.

"We have a lot of hard work to do. We’ve got one starter coming back on offense and seven or eight on defense. Could be a different type of team for us."

A different type of team? Perhaps, but you can probably count on the Friars making the playoffs again. And who knows? Maybe they'll make a run at the 7A crown this time.

They definitely have the right coach.

1 comment:

Ed Crotty said...

Head-to-head and ball-to-head collisions in soccer and especially girls lacrosse are a big problem. I think the problem is bad for the NFL, because by that time, the player has been taking hits for 20 years. The danger compounds like interest.