80 Degrees in Zagreb…
Sunday May 5, 2013 Zagreb, Croatia
It has been 80+ degrees every day since we arrived the Croatia’s capitol city Zagreb. Wednesday was May Day (May 1st) which, in Europe, is a very big holiday. We were invited to a team Bar-B-Q at a man-made lake area just north of the city limits. We decided that there must have been no one left on the streets of the city because there were thousands enjoying the holiday sun.
And that number included the President of Croatia who wandered past our little Bar-B-Q area surrounded by two security guards and a few colleagues. I mentioned to a few of the guys how amazing it was and that our president wouldn’t be out and about without about a thousand security people. The answer was, “We really like our president.” Wow.
Two years ago, while Nancy was recovering from major stomach surgery, I spent three months working with this group of football players. Most of that group is still around and they’ve added a few from the rival Patriots who disbanded this year. You could call it “Grass roots’ football except that might be demeaning to grass. They have very little in the way of equipment, fields to play or practice, locker rooms etc. But, they don’t care. All they want is to be able to play and to be coached. They practice twice a week and play an eight game schedule.
There team president, chief fund raiser, tight end and linebacker (Jura Zlof) just returned from Germany where he and four other Thunder players had a week long camp with some American players and played the Munich Cowboys in an exhibition game last weekend. They all raved about the experience. One saying, “Coach, it was the best week of my life.”
Notice the small beer bottle Jura is holding. I think it’s a liter. There were a dozen or so lying in a tub filled with ice. Just take a plastic glass and pour.
The group of players was supplemented by wives and girl friends who all seemed to be caught up in the American football experience.
After enjoying the food and beverage of choice some of the group decided they just had to play football. They have just begun a women’s flag team and they have a few cheerleaders as well. It’s a ‘rag-tag’ group but again, they don’t care. They just want to have fun, and oh my, they do!
They marked out a field nearby with cones and someone supplied the ‘flags’. They made up three teams of six players, men and women, played to twenty and the losers moved off and the new team of six moved in. One of the men players acted as official by setting the ball position and calling penalties. The entire scene reminded me of my time in the glorious fifties when our gang of friends found a field, a court or a diamond and played ‘pick up’ games all day long or until the sun set in Lake Grove.
Over the weekend we practice at our practice field. Well it’s not really a field, more like a pasture. There are soccer goals on the perimeter with the normal bare spot in front. The grass is a foot tall in spots and non existent in other areas. There are some exercise stations about and you can see locals doing push ups and chin ups and crawling through mazes and swinging on bars quite often. The is a large area that looks like it may at one time been a sand box or maybe the beginning of a small building as the cement blocks forming the foundation are about two feet in height. It’s the area the players use as a locker room. They arrive with a bag of gear, strip down (not much is sacred about the human body in Europe) and put on their football clothing. No modesty allowed!
On Saturday we held two practices and on Sunday another one. We only had about twenty players so we made do with ten on ten during team, eliminating a corner and a wide receiver. It worked. We got quite a bit accomplished, especially on offense as we were implementing a new scheme. When practice ended the team gathered and clasping hands gave an in unison one-two-three ‘Coach Smythe’ chant that ended a productive day on the ‘Field’. Bear Bryant would have been smiling!