The athlete I encountered upon first entering a college locker room as a sportswriter in the early 70s is, for the most part, a different species of human from those populating college sports today.
Advancements in the science of strength and conditioning have been so dramatic that it left me wondering a question I guess no one could really answer.
But that won’t stop me from asking it.
Could the Clemson Tigers of 2016 beat the 1964 Cleveland Browns?
How would they fare against the 1950 Los Angeles Rams?
And don’t you have to at least suspect that a select team of college football’s best players – given a full preseason to come together and learn the playbook– could take care of any team from before the NFL/AFL merger of 1966?
I base that on how much people have learned about training the body, and how it has been applied over these 50 years since a rehabilitating track athlete from Nebraska named Boyd Epley pretty much pioneered the field of strength and conditioning only two or three years before I launched my career.
Always before, coaches were suspicious of weight training, convinced almost to a man that it made players too bulky and slow.
That was before Epley convinced Coach Bob Devaney of the Cornhuskers that the regimen and program he had developed would make a difference on the gridiron, and all it took was a 47-0 stomping of arch-rival Oklahoma to convince Devaney that this Epley character may be on to something. The fateful game was in 1969, which means the whole field is only in its fifth decade.
But the impact has rocked the college football world. Back in my undergrad days, you could walk by a football player on campus without taking notice. There were players who weighed 235 pounds and would need a stiff wind at his back to break 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash who were starting at offensive guard for schools along Tobacco Road.
Well before I turned in my laptop in August all that had changed. Every player who is in good enough shape to help his team today is chiseled out of iron, the iron they lift for countless hours under the exacting demands of a strength and conditioning coach and his various assistants.
Call it progress. Call it evolution. Every generation of athlete is bigger, stronger, faster and in more peak condition than the one that came before. The changes I’ve seen boggle the mind.
It’s beyond imagination to wonder where it all lead during the lifetime of my granddaughter Isla, who turns two in a couple of weeks. If she’s like her mother, and dad, she’ll love to watch football.
And maybe one day she’ll sit down and write how the 2045 Wake Forest Demon Deacons could beat the 2017 New England Patriots.