No one escapes it. Not the running back who tries to go through a 295-pound lineman or the 225-pound safety who willingly launches his body at a 220-pound running back coming at him full speed. Certainly not the special-teamer who flys down the field at full speed to meet a ball carrier doing the same thing from the other direction.
For 12-year veteran Jeff Johnson, there are degrees of pain. But being a player who has made his name on special teams, there isn’t a week that goes by that Johnston isn’t feeling some sort of ache.
And he wouldn’t change it for the world.
“It’s a hard-nosed game and that’s what makes it special,” Johnson said. “You want to be a part of it and you just wanna get your job done and hang with the boys.”
Getting the job done in football means learning to ignore certain pains and play through them.
Johnson says there’s no question most of his aches and pains come from his jobs on special teams. It is the game at its most brutal. Fast and furious battles happening at full speed.
“I’ve played a number of full games at running back and special teams is very tough on your body,” he said. “You’re running the full length of the field. You’re running full speed. You’re battling the whole way. It’s a dogfight, very different from offence and defensive plays. It’s just harder to recover from that pound.”
That’s not to say special-teamers have any more knowledge of playing with pain.
Dominic Picard is in his sixth year in the CFL, third with the Argos and says there’s just no escaping the pain no matter where you play.
“The nicest day in football is the very first day in camp when you feel healthy,” Picard says. “Then after that first practice you’re hurting. You’re screwed until the end of the season.”
In fact the pain doesn’t really go away until at least Christmas, often New Year’s Day.
On that Johnson, Picard and linebacker Jason Pottinger are all in agreement.
“It takes a good six weeks after the season until you really feel back to normal,” Pottinger said.
As for in season, Pottinger says a pain-free day is a pipe dream.
“During the season you never stop hurting,” Pottinger said. “But once you get that adrenalin rush coming on game day, pain is the last thing on your mind so you could say the pain is gone at that point.”
As a linebacker Pottinger is dishing out the hits so he’s inflicting more pain than he’s absorbing, but it still takes its toll.
Picard takes a beating in pass protection but when the Argos run the ball, as they did with both frequency and success this past week, he gets to dish it out.
“When we run the ball it’s fun because you are pretty much hurting the other guy,” Picard said smiling. “You set the tone, and that’s fun.”
Pottinger admits some seasons are tougher than others to deal with when it comes to pain and 2011 was without question one of those tougher one’s for Pottinger who tore his ACL in the season opener in Calgary and was back on the field 21/2 months later playing with a brace.
The former McMaster standout admits the season has been frustrating but not necessarily any more painful than some other years. “I have felt this kind of pain before for sure,” he said. “Not necessarily in this knee but I have had shoulder problems and stuff like that and played through it.”
Coping with the pain comes down to mandatory daily hot and cold soaks, and, of course massage, but there’s also the preventative measures all the players take which include maintaining proper hydration and proper nutrition.
The Argos, thanks in large part to Johnson, also incorporate a team yoga session the day after every game that has proved beneficial.
Initially Johnston admits some of his more macho teammates scoffed at the idea of taking part in a girly thing like yoga but those that have stuck with it have seen the results.
It has certainly helped Johnson who has been doing it since 2003.
“It became a part of my regular routine because of the difference it made in my own flexibility, my body healing, but also the mental focus it brought to the game of football,” Johnson said. “Being able to focus on something and drown everything out. There’s no doubt that helped with some of the pain issues because you learn to just breathe through things and not let that pain affect your thinking or what you’re doing.”
The pain will always be there. The players who learn to manage it stay in the game. Those who can’t, don’t.