The locker room was a world of its own as a highly coveted and protected space for players. Even coaches rarely strolled through and when they did, it was to talk business and then they kept it moving.
Front office personnel were also rarely spotted in the sanctum. When they scurried in, they were on a mission to get a ball signed for some high-dollar fan before sliding out with their heads down. Then there was the media. They flooded in after games to disrupt the brotherly time of celebration or defeat, but otherwise were persona non grata, much to the relief of players.
The need for a safeguarded space was understood since players were constantly under a microscope outside of the locker room. Most of the field time was videotaped and press days meant that reporters were on players like drug-sniffing dogs probing for anything newsworthy. It got tiresome quickly.
In the face of all the pressures outside, whatever was said and done in the locker room and training room stayed there. This was where the brotherhood shined. If there was an issue between guys, it was resolved in the locker room for everyone’s sake. Family disputes would eat us up if they persisted.
The Raiders were a team like no other. I got to appreciate this on another level before an early-season game. Everyone was in the locker room taping up, pounding coffee, and doing whatever else they needed to get game ready. One of our stalwart linebackers decided to keep the pregame mood light and loose. He was a leader who was loved and respected, along with being the funniest guy on the team. He was known to say and do things that dropped you back with bellyaching laughter.
Motown soul classics got him going and shaking loose. On this day, his passion was full tilt as he worked out the pregame angst. He moved, grooved, and climbed the table in the middle of the locker room, buck naked, grabbing his schlong and swinging it without missing a beat. It was remarkably out of the norm, especially before a professional football game. I was used to the Cowboys and Colts, where the mood was serious and focused.
Any pregame jitters disappeared as teammates shook their heads and laughed. Just then, Head Coach Art Shell entered directly behind our table dancer. Our entertainer must’ve picked up on the nonverbal cues, spinning around to meet eyes with his boss. Coach stared him down while none of us dared to open our mouths. He made a split-second decision and then burst out with the loudest laugh. As he bent over, unable to hold back, our private dancer jumped down, and we continued prepping for the game as if it never happened. I could see and feel the togetherness, lightness, and crazy energy building and bonding us all. We were a solid brotherhood, and everyone could feel it. I don’t recall whom we played that day, but I know we won because the drinks poured freely on the flight back to Los Angeles as we joked about the event in the locker room while blasting the tunes and playing cards.
Then there was Greg Townsend and Sean Jones, our massive, cool Jamaican defensive end, who usually controlled pregame music. These defensive DJs always kept the locker room grooving with a portable boombox that offered a range of Motown and funk. During one pregame episode, the music ended abruptly, so a rookie took the opportunity to drop in a disk from his collection. It wasn’t our Motown or funk. I could feel the awkward energy building.
Everyone kept to the business of getting ready, but when the music turned into nails on a chalkboard, Sean strolled out of the training room and over to the box. He mechanically ejected the disk, took a long look at it, and threw it like a frisbee into the cinder block wall, shattering it into pieces. Then he slid in a Motown favorite and strutted back to his locker. No one laughed, cheered, or even acknowledged it. The mood and energy were back. I glanced at the rookie to see how he managed the public shaming. He just dropped his head and knew not to say a word. One of his fellow rooks gave him a conciliatory pat on the back as he passed by, heading for the trainer’s room.
More on these locker room stories and others in my forthcoming memoir, Aggressively Human, to be released on all platforms in November 2023.