An athlete, grunting through an intense workout a few days before the biggest challenge of his sporting life, suddenly gets an earful from his coach.
“Listen, kid, you lay off that pet shop dame,” growls Mick, Burgess Meredith’s salty character in the pre-Roman numerals edition of “Rocky.” “Women weaken legs!”
Pounding on the heavy bag, Sylvester Stallone stops and looks up. “Yeah, but I really like this girl, y’know?”
“WELL, LET HER TRAIN YA!”
Mick wasn’t just giving Balboa a cauliflower earful. He was speaking for generations of coaches, trainers and managers who would be mystified by the suggestions last week that Timberwolves guard Marko Jaric owes his resurgence to his much-publicized new dating relationship with Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima.
Teammates say Jaric is a new man
Prior to Thanksgiving, the 6-foot-7 guard had averaged a modest 6.3 points and 3.1 assists, his role ill-defined. But in his next four games, starting about the time his romance with Lima — Yo, Adriana! — was made public, Jaric boosted those stats to 16.8 points and 6.3 assists.
”Ever since he started dating [her] he’s a new man,” teammate Mark Madsen said during Jaric’s hot streak. ”He’s flying all over the court. He dunked! I’ve never seen him dunk.”
Women weaken legs?
Actually, Jaric suffered a sprained right ankle early in Friday’s game against San Antonio and missed the Wolves’ clash at Memphis Saturday, so maybe there is something to that. It wasn’t so long ago, after all, that sports folks believed even worse about athletes and their love lives. The conventional wisdom was: Sex before competition saps energy, interferes with proper rest and creates a distraction that interferes with a player’s focus. The theory was widely embraced, from sports’ lowest levels — a high school coach prying his quarterback and a cheerleader apart in the front seat of a Buick — to its highest. Muhammad Ali allegedly abstained for six weeks before each fight.
LeDoux backs sports theory
And Scott Ledoux topped that by about a month leading up to his August 1979 heavyweight bout with Ken Norton at the Met Center in Bloomington. The native of Crosby-Ironton, Minn., knocked down the former champion twice in the 10th round to earn a draw that night.
“I didn’t see my wife for 10 weeks before that fight,” said LeDoux, who serves now as Minnesota’s commissioner for boxing and mixed martial arts. In a professional career from 1974 to 1983, LeDoux went 33-13-4 with 21 knockouts and, from the sound of it, more than a few lonely nights.
“I’ve worked with a couple of fighters who didn’t adhere to [abstinence] and consequently, it cost them,” LeDoux said. “They weren’t focused. Rocky Marciano used to just put himself through a nightmare training camp and would never see his wife. It wasn’t a physical thing. It’s mental. You’re more focused.”
To this day, NFL teams sequester themselves in a hotel on the night before a game — road or home. The policy enables teammates to bond and to share a team meal. It disables a few potential pitfalls, too.
“Sometimes you wonder about the value of all that,” said the Vikings’ Paul Wiggin, who has spent five decades in the NFL as a player, coach or administrator. “But the emphasis still is on having your meeting and then a bed check. Then we have security on the floors where, if a door to someone’s room opens, there had better be a good reason.”
Now a personnel consultant after joining the Vikings in 1985 as defensive line coach, Wiggin — a former head coach at Stanford and for the Kansas City Chiefs — played for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1967. Definitely in the days before Joe Namath, never mind Lawrence Taylor or Michael Irvin diversions.
“[Coach] Paul Brown didn’t want any distractions,” Wiggin said. “The night before home games, we would stay in the old Carter Hotel. He would take us all to a movie that he chose, we would all walk there together, and the fellows who were married could bring their wives. After the movie, we’d go out for a milk shake — I’m not sure how well that would go over now — and then the wives would head home.”
Wiggin knows that such a routine would be a hard sell these days. Especially in the NBA, the NHL or baseball, given the number of games and nights before them.
But LeDoux wouldn’t have had it any other way. “My wife was fine with it,” he said. “You’re just not in a very good mood.”