Ruffiansby Tim Green
From the moment he signs his big contract with the NFL, Clay Blackwell's talents plunge him into a realm of ruthlessness, lawlessness and a conspiracy that makes playing for the Ruffians of Birmingham, Alabama, the most dangerous job a man could have.
- Grand Central Publishing
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.91(d)
Read an Excerpt
By Tim Green
Warner BooksCopyright © 1999 Tim Green
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe concrete was cold and made Clay's bare feet clammy. Stripped to his underwear, he stood in a line of about thirty other half-naked young men that extended around the room and out the door. The vaultlike room was cramped. Its high ceiling was a maze of corroding pipe and mold-stained ductwork. One of the players behind Clay laughed abruptly in a nervous and muffled way. Everyone turned. A fidgety silence settled among them once more. They were the rookie class of the National Football League. Every year, like cattle to the auction, the league harvested the finest football players from universities across the nation. Before the merchandise was bought and paid for, the buyers were given generous opportunity to inspect the meat.
Over three hundred college players had been flown into New Orleans from universities as far away as Hawaii and Boston College and as close as LSU and Auburn. Many, like Clay, were subdued even before they got inside. The big, dirty city offered little in the way of a warm welcome. Damp, fetid air from the distant Gulf of Mexico was tainted with smoke belched from factories and power plants. The New Orleans Superdome stood out like an enormous white spaceship, an anomaly in a town whose main attraction was the old French Quarter.
"DL7," called out the pale, spectacled man in a white lab coat.
It was Clay's turn to step onto the scales. The number had been given to him when he arrived at the NFL combines. It was printed in large letters on his T-shirt, and had been printed on the back of his hand in indelible ink as well. For as long as he was at the combines, he was DL7 and not Clay Blackwell.
"Two hundred seventy-three pounds ..."
The lab technician paused as he jammed the metal arm hard down on the top of Clay's head.
Large and mostly overweight middle-aged men in ill-fitting clothes sat crammed into desk chairs that filled the center of the room. There were five or six rows of about ten chairs. The men were NFL scouts, and they wrote everything the lab man said like enthusiastic schoolboys, looking up only to eyeball the next slab of human flesh on the block.
The lab man said, "... six feet, four point one inches. Next."
Clay stepped off the scale and was pointed in the direction of a steel door at the back of the room. Not knowing what was scheduled next, he wordlessly followed a redheaded guy ahead of him who had DL6 printed on the back of his T-shirt, and stepped through the steel door into another cold concrete room.
"Walk to the yellow X and then back again," shouted a shape from behind a set of bright lights.
Clay did as he was told.
He had to squint to see that there were several lab men in this room and only a few scouts. Two cameras filmed Clay as he headed to the yellow marker on the opposite side of the room. Many coaches and scouts around the league believed a lot could be learned about an athlete's balance and speed just by the way he walked across the room.
Clay was dismissed and told to go dress himself, then report to Room C. Strength testing was conducted in Room C. This room, too, was crowded with NFL scouts and coaches. They were packed in a circle around a single bench press like men in a barn about to watch a cockfight. The weight bar held 225 pounds, and the object was to press the bar as many times as possible. The last of the offensive line group, OL43, had set the standard at forty-four repetitions. As Clay's turn approached, his armpits dampened with nervous energy. He wanted to be the best at everything he did, but he knew he couldn't match forty-four. Still, the six DLs that preceded him had all got somewhere in the teens, so Clay adjusted his goal to be the best of the defensive linemen and not worry about the entire group.
The call came, "DL7."
Clay got down on the bench, and with a slight tremor in his hands he lifted the bar off the rack and began to press. With the first few reps his arms felt weak, not as strong as they should have been. But he figured nervous energy was sapping his mind, not his body, and he finally established a comfortable rhythm. Nineteen ... twenty ... twenty-one ... twenty ... two-his arms shook with real fatigue-twentyyy ... three ... twentyyyy ...
"Aghhh!" Clay grunted as his arms gave out and the heavy bar sped toward his chest.
Two lab coats, one on either side, mechanically caught the bar and returned it to its rack.
"DL7, twenty-three reps," said one of the lab coats blandly.
Clay looked around for a sign of approval, but the only ones who weren't scribbling were other players who were not especially interested in seeing him succeed.
Clay left Room C following large arrow-shaped cardboard signs marked this way, and found himself walking through a maze of damp locker rooms in the bowels of the Superdome. Turning a corner, he was abruptly confronted with the huge expanse of the unnaturally green turf field. Artificial lights buzzed from above like monster insects, and the shouts of players, striving to run faster agility drills, echoed off the distant stands and roof.
While Clay waited for the rest of the DLs to arrive, he watched the last remnants of the OL group run through a series of drills and sprints. Clay's muscles began to twitch as he watched. He grinned to himself. This field was where he would set himself apart. For a man who was six-foot-four and weighed 273 pounds, Clay's agility and speed were remarkable. He knew that, and he knew that after he finished these drills, everyone else in the place would know it, too.
When the group of DLs was finally complete, Clay was assigned to a subgroup that consisted of DL1 through DL8. A lab technician led them to the vertical jump area. Clay watched his competition. His turn came. A lab coat marked his fingertips with chalk. Clay crouched beside the wall where he was to jump. He bounced several times, as if he was going to jump, but returned to his crouch. He got himself into a rhythm. Muscles in his legs and shoulders rippled with tension. Then, when his weight felt right, he sprang. The red marks he left on the wall were a good six inches beyond anyone else's.
"Thirty-seven and a half," said the lab coat who stood above them all on some scaffolding.
Clay couldn't help noticing the incredulous looks he was drawing from the other DLs.
"Hell of a jump," DL8 said, shaking his head as he passed Clay to take his place against the wall.
The jump was only the beginning. With each passing test, more and more scouts and coaches gathered around Clay's group to watch him perform. By the time Clay got to his last test, the forty-yard dash, almost half of the people in the Dome were clustered around him to see how well he would run. This was the benchmark for football players. From the time they are ten years old, football players talk about their speed in terms of the forty. Clay had worked for weeks on improving his start, and he now carefully placed his hands and feet in their proper places. He lifted his hindquarters, began breathing deeply, then exploded off the line. Once up, his motions were smooth and fast, almost liquid, but violent, like a tethered stallion cut free. His strides took up enormous sections of the turf. If it had been colder, steam would have burst from his nostrils as he churned across the finish line. The time: 4:63, the best any DL would run. A coach who wore a Dallas Cowboys sweat top leaned over to the scout standing next to him, and whispered, "That's a Thoroughbred."
Clay had to wait until all the DLs were done in the Dome before the group would be taken by bus to the hospital for physicals. A lab coat announced there would be no lunch and that the bus would not be leaving for at least another hour. Clay shrugged, pulled on his Northern sweat suit, and sat patiently in a remote corner of the Dome reading a ragged paperback copy of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls that he had kept hidden in his bag.
At the hospital, the DLs were seated in chairs that lined both sides of a long corridor. At the end of the hall was a door that every three or four minutes would expel one player while the one seated closest would get up and enter. Each time this happened, the entire forty-odd remaining players would get up and advance one seat closer to the door. For fifteen minutes Clay silently refused to participate. But after five empty chairs separated him from DL20, the glares from his frustrated counterparts became so malicious that he found himself distracted and unable to concentrate, rereading the same sentence in his book several times. To restore order, and his own peace of mind, Clay decided to play by the unwritten rules of the game and moved closer to the door.
As he sat, a man made his way down the hall. He wasn't a lab coat, but he carried a clipboard, a caliper, and a tape measure. He bent and fiddled briefly over each player before scribbling on his board. It wasn't until he was three seats away that Clay was able to figure out what he was doing. "Fist," said the man when he reached Clay.
Having watched DL20, who in turn had watched DL3, Clay knew to hold out his fist at arm's length while the man measured the circumference of Clay's fist and the distance from his big knuckle to his elbow. The man then said, "Head," and fixed the caliper to his skull, measuring its diameter from front to back and side to side.
When the man had moved on, DL20 leaned over and murmured quietly, "That's the Seattle guy. I heard the Seahawks have some chart that tells how good you'll be in the league just by those measurements."
Clay gave him a knowing look.
"I'm Donny Drew," DL20 said. "You're Clay Blackwell, huh?"
It was the first time that day Clay had heard mention of his name. He nodded his head to the oversize Nebraska farm boy.
"Yeah," he said. "I don't remember when we met ..."
"Oh, I never met you," Donny said, "but shit, everyone knows you. Northern U. superstar. Grew up somewhere around there in New York, didn't you?" "Yeah," Clay said, "kind of born and raised, I guess you'd say."
"You're one of the top guys in the draft this year." "Well, you never know ..."
"Oh, my agent knows. You're a first-round pick, a one for sure. I know about all the DLs, you know, D-linemen coming out in the draft.
"I'm a three to five," Donny added rather proudly.
Finally inside the door, Clay was given a folder with eleven empty boxes on its cover.
"DL7 ... Clay Blackwell?" asked a woman looking up at him from the desk. Clay nodded.
"Fill each box with a circle. There are eleven stations in this room. You get one circle at each station. Don't come back until every box is filled." Seeing that no further explanation was forthcoming, Clay turned to assess his situation. The room was cavernous, and seemed to be a cafeteria whose tables and chairs had been cleared away. There were large booths separated by heavy blue curtains. Each booth had a number over its entrance. Players milled about between booths and queued outside others. Clay headed for Booth 11, which had no line.
He entered this "station" to find two lab coats and a dentist. Clay sat on a stool while the dentist pulled back his lips. One of the lab coats took a picture of Clay's teeth. The dentist fished around Clay's mouth with a mirror, making comments into a Dictaphone. When he was finished, the dentist turned his back abruptly on Clay, and the second lab coat stepped forward to give him a round blue sticker with the number 11 on it, which he stuck on the appropriate box of his folder.
This is a cinch, he thought.
Clay entered Booth 4 after waiting in a short line. Along with a booth for teeth and eyes and knee ligaments and body symmetry, there were seven additional booths. These housed a few lab coats and four or five physicians, one from every team represented and a corresponding trainer. Booth 4 was one of these. Someone grabbed his folder from his hand.
"DL7," that someone called out.
One of the physicians checked his hand to see that indeed he was DL7. "Take off your shirt," someone said.
Clay did it.
"Bend down and touch your toes."
Clay saw by the stethoscope that it was one of the physicians who was speaking. The same one ran two fingers down the length of Clay's spine. Clay jumped.
"That hurt?" asked the doctor gruffly.
"Tickled," Clay said with a sheepish smile that was not returned. "Any injuries?" asked another doctor.
Clay didn't quite know how to answer. He had no current injuries, but over his lifetime he had had his share. He couldn't think of anything worth mentioning though. He had never missed a college game because of an injury. If it wasn't serious enough to miss a game, then it certainly wasn't worth mentioning to this group.
"No," Clay said.
"No injuries, none?"
"I never missed a game," Clay answered.
It was quiet in the booth except for a lab coat who pounded furiously on the keyboard of a computer. Suddenly he looked up from the screen menacingly. "What about your elbow, fall of 1989?"
Clay thought. "Yes," he said, "I ruptured a bursar sack in my elbow, but I didn't even miss a practice."
"On the table, please," said a doctor who stepped up and grabbed Clay's arm at the forearm and the biceps. The doctor bent and twisted Clay's elbow in such a way that would have hurt any healthy elbow.
"No," Clay said.
Another doctor stepped up to the table to do more of the same. As he held Clay's arm, he noticed a scar on his knuckle. He held Clay's hand up to the light.
"What's this?" he asked.
"Oh, that was from a fight when I was in high school," Clay said.
The doctor looked up and said to no one in particular, "Make a note of that." "What about your left knee?" said the lab coat at the computer. "Didn't you sprain your left medial collateral in spring of 1990?"
"Yeah, well, it was spring ball. I only missed a couple of days of practice, and I played in the spring game."
Every doctor was interested in this, and now each one, as well as each trainer, had a shot at not only his left knee but his right. That done, there was more general poking and prodding which had no apparent pattern. It was the guy at the computer who finally gave Clay back his folder with a green 4 fixed in its box, but not before he flashed one final look of hostility.
By the time Clay had all his boxes filled, his joints ached from twisting and turning and poking and prodding. He gave his folder to the woman at the desk. Without looking up, she told him to report to the fourth floor, Room 459 for EKG, X-rays, blood and urine, and his internal. Clay's eyes narrowed at the word internal.
"After you've completed that," she said, "you can wait for your group in the main lobby. Someone will take you back to the hotel."
On the fourth floor, a doctor whom Clay had never seen before ushered him into a small examination room and asked him to drop his shorts and hop onto the table in the middle of the room.
Excerpted from Ruffians by Tim Green Copyright © 1999 by Tim Green. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
In his extraordinary debut, veteran Atlanta Falcons defensive end and first-round draft pick Tim Green captures the violence and tension of a season in professional football. A spellbinding tale of tragedy, triumph and total dedication, Ruffians will bowl readers over with all the frenzied power of a safety blitz.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
Ruffians is the perfect title for this book, with the rule breaking coaches to the 'death squad' defence. This book explores everyside of pro football from the start at college to the try outs for pro to the draft and on to playing at pro level and the partying and drug using that comes with it. This book doesn't leave any thing out it cover the good the bad and sad. It shows just how far coaches and owners will take things just to win at any cost. This book is by far the best football story I have ever read and you won't want to put it down. I recommed this book to anyone mature wheather or not you are a football fan or not.
Very Good book! Tim Green seems to take us inside the locker room and inside the head of a professional foothall player. I am a former football player, and although I loved the football storyline, this book explores the side of the game that know one else talks about....maybe because few know enough about it to make a reader understand. The friendships, the scandals, the emotions are all brought to life. I am excited to read more Green books!