Rookie hazing is a much kinder, gentler rite of passage for today’s NFL players than Vikings quarterback Shaun Hill recalls from his rookie season back in 2002.
“I’m in my dorm room at Gage Hall in Mankato,” Hill said. “It’s the middle of the night and my door busts open.”
Veteran defensive back-turned-bad-barber Tyrone Carter charged in.
“A veteran would set you down in a chair and cut your hair any way they wanted to,” Hill said. “Then they’d throw gobs of petroleum jelly all over you so that the hair would stick to you. And while you were trying to get it off, they doused your bed with Gatorade. I didn’t sleep much that night.”
Carter shaved random patches of hair off Hill’s head. Hill didn’t protest.
“The guys who fought getting their haircut, those were the guys who had their eyebrows shaved off,” Hill said. “Anybody who doesn’t know the importance of eyebrows, just ask a guy who’s sweating in training camp with his helmet on and no eyebrows.”
Per the ritual, rookies had to wear their new haircuts to practice the next day.
“I looked awful, so after practice I had to just shave it completely bald,” Hill said. “I’m not an attractive guy to begin with. But I’m a terribly ugly bald guy.”
Current Vikings rookie tight end David Morgan said Hill shared that story with rookies in Mankato a couple of weeks ago.
“He was saying, ‘Man, you guys got it easy,’ ” Morgan said. “And I guess every day, they’d make a rookie stand on the table and sing. We haven’t even had to sing, but it’s coming.”
Morgan spoke those words Tuesday morning. That night, the Vikings’ annual rookie talent show was scheduled for the team meeting. Morgan had been preparing a four-man skit with linebacker Jake Ganus, receiver Moritz Bohringer and quarterback Joel Stave.
“We’ll be singing a song,” Morgan said.
What kind of song?
“Some kind of poppy, girlie song called ‘Making My Way Down Town,’ ” he said. “And we’ll have a piano. Joel is a really, really, really, really good piano player.”
“Times have changed,” Hill said.
Players and the league had no choice but to change the boys-will-be-boys culture in 2014 when NFL investigator Ted Wells released a 144-page report on how hazing in Miami had deteriorated into extended bullying of offensive lineman Jonathan Martin. The league cracked down, and now only mild forms of rookie initiation rituals remain.
Rookies can be seen carrying the shoulder pads and helmets of veterans off the field after practices. Rookies also are responsible for bringing snacks to their position meeting room.
“And Rudy [Kyle Rudolph] told me rookies buy dinner at some point,” Morgan said. “But nothing crazy [expensive].”
Jerry Reichow, a personnel consultant, has been part of the Vikings in one capacity or another since he played for the expansion team in 1961. His NFL career began as a fourth-round draft pick of the Lions in 1956. He’s got a few rookie hazing stories to tell.
They start with Lions quarterback Bobby Layne, who was in his ninth season of a Pro Football Hall of Fame career when Reichow arrived. Layne ran the show on the field during the day and in the bars late at night.
“Bobby said to me on my first day, ‘You’re my rookie,’ ” Reichow said. “That was more hazing than anything. He took his rookie with him wherever he went. He’d say, ‘Hey, rook, we’re going out tonight.’ And he meant every night.”
When Bobby drank, Jerry drank. When Bobby missed curfew, Jerry missed curfew. When Bobby got fined $25 in precious 1956 NFL money, Jerry did, too.
In the 1960s, the Vikings had a rookie hazing ritual run by captain Jim Marshall. Veterans would take the rookies to a cabin on an off day, load them full of adult beverages and enjoy their efforts to practice in the heat while hung over the next day.
In 1967, a lanky rookie defensive tackle from Notre Dame showed up as a first-round draft pick. As legend has it, this young man told Marshall he didn’t drink. Period. When Marshall told him to drink something else and pretend it was alcohol in front of the other rookies, this young man refused, packed up and left. That might have been the first time teammates discovered that Alan Page bends his principles for no man.
“You didn’t mess with Alan,” Reichow said.
“Jim Brown was the same way,” said fellow Vikings personnel consultant Paul Wiggin, who entered the NFL as Brown’s teammate with the Cleveland Browns in 1957.
“But I also played for Paul Brown. Even back then, he didn’t put up with a lot of that stuff. But hazing was different at other places. I know under Mike Tice here, it was kind of the Wild West.”
Adrian Peterson isn’t an old-timer. But the 2007 first-round draft pick said rookie hazing was alive and well nine years ago.
“But they really didn’t do too much to me,” Peterson said. “They couldn’t catch me, first of all. And they couldn’t hold me down. They made me carry some helmets and shoulder pads. I remember they taped a guy up to the goalpost. That was pretty cool to see. But we can’t do anything like that [now]. People would go crazy.”