Isn't it wonderful how the NFL has entered this new era, where a
man can be so in touch with his innermost feelings that, even in
front of the world he's not afraid to...
...not afraid...to...(hard swallow)
...cry (unrestrained sobbing)?
In the testosterone-dripping NFL three grown men cried publicly
during the first weekend of the season: New York Jets receiver
Keyshawn Johnson, because his team lost; Green Bay Packers
quarterback Brett Favre, because his team won; and St. Louis
Rams coach Dick Vermeil, because he's St. Louis Rams coach Dick
Vermeil. It was the single biggest outpouring of tears since the
Roy Firestone family reunion. It also broke a record for Kleenex
use, previously set during the evening-wear competition of the
Miss Teen USA pageant.
Men used to go whole decades without crying. Germany still
hasn't seen one weep. But in the U.S. the most bristly, ripped
and brawny men are sobbing like Lucy Ricardo.
Women can fake tears, breasts and orgasms, but men are pretty
much stuck with the truth in these departments. So it's nice to
know that the game means more to them than just stocks and
blondes. It's just a little hard picturing all this emotion in
the old days.
Dick Butkus: Look (sniff), I just want you to know (shudder) how
much this meant (sob) to me.
George Halas: Let it out. Let it all out.
Vermeil, though, has taken crying to a high-water mark. He will
bawl at the retirement of a blocking sled. So far this season he
has cried publicly twice: after his starting quarterback, Trent
Green, blew out his knee and was lost for the year, and after
Green's sub, Kurt Warner, won his first NFL start.
The man has the emotional stability of Judy Garland. Sometimes
Vermeil will bring a player into his office to cut him, and
they'll both come out crying. Last season he huddled his players
to tell them he was trading journeyman tight end Aaron Laing and
couldn't get it out before breaking down. Aaron Laing? Aaron
Laing didn't even cry over the trading of Aaron Laing.
Vermeil, 62, even broke down in a press conference in 1997 after
releasing scofflaw running back Lawrence Phillips. Lawrence
Phillips! Coaches usually throw small parades upon releasing
him. "He's just at the age where he doesn't care what people
think anymore," Dick's wife, Carol, says. "He's real." Dick has
lost it at football banquets, Lassie movies and grammar school
band concerts. He will cry at a halfway-decent sunset, a nicely
executed button hook and a particularly good pasta fagiole. If
you happen to bring up any of his 10 grandchildren, be sure
you're wearing waterproof shoes.
"I know I embarrass myself," he says, "but I've always been this
way. It's part of the reason I had to quit [coaching the
Philadelphia Eagles after the 1982 season]. I get so emotionally
wrung out. Now it's starting to happen here. I just, when I get
to talking about somebody I care about, I just...."
Uh-oh. Vermeil is starting to lose it just talking about losing
What's odd is that we admire tears in men but not in women. Men
who cry are "sensitive." Women who cry are "weak." When former
Congresswoman Pat Schroeder cried during her 1987 exploratory
run for president, critics said she set back women's chances for
the White House by 20 years. After that she collected pictures
of men crying. She finally stopped, she says, "in the hundreds,"
but not before her gallery included pictures of red-eyed Pete
Sampras, Wayne Gretzky and Dan Reeves, to say nothing of Ronald
Reagan, John Sununu and Gary Hart. "For men, crying has become
this mandatory rite of passage," Schroeder says, "but for women,
it's still not O.K."
Sorry, Vermeil just can't help himself. Two weeks ago a young
girl named Mindy showed up at Rams practice. Mindy's been
getting around in a wheelchair ever since a drunk driver turned
her into a paraplegic. Vermeil went over to her, took her hand
and tried to talk--only to find his voice box on strike. Then
the tears started up, and he suddenly remembered he had to
sprint to a punting drill somewhere.
"I know, I know," he says. "It's a fault."
I could think of worse.
Vermeil will bawl at the retirement of a blocking sled.