Icy Tubs, Foot Rubs

If you're an NFL player, Tuesday is your day off.

I hate Tuesdays.

That's when the drugs wear off.

Whether it's the Vioxx or the anti-inflammatories, or even the adrenaline rush, it's all gone. You kind of get into the grind of the practice week. You're coming off the big high of playing in the game on Sunday. Monday you still feel that rush, but Tuesday you're pretty much flat zero. That's what makes it so tough.

Tuesdays are the days that the cape comes off and you're all of a sudden stuck being a human again. You have no practice. It's a day off where you've got to catch up on all the errands and things you postponed throughout the week.

You have to do a lot of things to keep your body in shape to play. I take an ice bath Sunday nights when I get home, especially after road games. The home games I'm able to go to the facility to use them, or use them right after the game. But on the road, they don't really equip you well for that.

So you land, and after you get off the airplane you go home. From there, you take all the cubes you've got. Everything you've got from the freezer. Sometimes you might stop off at 7-Eleven on the way home and grab a bag of ice.

I always have at least five ice cups -- Dixie cups full of ice -- just sitting there. I pour that in there with the regular ice cubes from the freezer. Then I just turn all the cold water on, forget about the hot for that day, and you just fill up the bathtub. Then you say your last words and you sit down.

It's one of those things that if you don't stay consistent with it, it can really be uncomfortable. Most guys wear blankets on their feet, where they actually put little cushions on their feet so their toes don't get cold.

Cold doesn't bother me much. Just look at the purple marks on my leg. Looks like someone spilled ink all over my thigh. That's frostbite. Here's how it happened: I was doing some extra therapy at home. I was laying on the couch and grabbed some of those dry-ice freeze bags. You're supposed to use them on top of a surface, like a blanket or a towel. You can put them on body parts, but you're never supposed to directly apply them to your skin. So I was using them for a week or so. I had a thigh bruise. It wasn't working. So I thought it would probably work if I took the blanket away and just used the ice bag itself. It didn't feel so cold.

I used it for a week or so and it was working. Then one night I used it after a long practice and I fell asleep. Then when I woke up, I looked down and saw it. I lifted it. But when I lifted it, my whole leg lifted with it.

I looked down and tried to peek under it, and my skin had glued to the ice bag. That wasn't good. I was going to yank it, but then I thought that might yank the skin off. So what I did was I went and took a hot shower and sat there with the bag and just tried to peel it away. It was very painful. So to this day I have these big scars on my leg from frostbite. I told my trainers the next morning and they just laughed at me.

They gave me some Neosporin for the frostbite. But sometimes you don't want a scar to go away. One time I got gashed with a cleat on my knee. I was going to treat it, but I kind of liked the way it was shaped. It almost looked like a warrior sign. So I ended up keeping that one. In football, or anything, if you want to keep a scar just don't treat it. Now I've got this nice little samurai gash right there on the side of my knee.

I've got a regular masseuse who comes to my home. And I have a baby masseuse -- my 10-year-old niece, Charne, who rubs my feet. I pay her 20 bucks for a whole hour, whereas my other masseuse is 95 bucks an hour. Charne is a bargain.

I'm big into acupuncture. I call my acupuncturist "Miracle Matt," and I see him on Monday night and Friday. That's a whole world in itself because you've got to inflict a little more pain to get some pleasure. A lot of guys don't really subscribe to it. I'm a big believer in if it works, it works. And if you think it works, it definitely works.

I've known guys who have hired physical therapists to go to their homes. Of course they don't want the training staff to know it. You go to their home and it's like they've got a gym set up. It's like this other training room that they don't want to be known to our therapists. That's pretty weird. You go to their house and they've got doctors sitting at their house that you can't tell that you saw that night. It's almost like a "Men in Black" experience. Like you went to this fake world, then you go back to practice the next day and act like nothing happened.

I've seen guys do some different things when they're dehydrated. They'll drink a whole jar of pickle juice. I've seen guys drink salt. Just drink salt, no water. Just take the whole top off the table salt and instead of letting it go through those little holes, they just start drinking it. They don't want to dehydrate.

You've got to eat right. I learned a lot of that from Bruce Smith. It's not about, I play football and eat five steaks and potatoes every day. That's a myth. A lot of people think we're supposed to eat like that because we're so big. But just imagine how big we'd be if we ate steaks and potatoes every day.

A lot of guys are smart about the way they eat and they get dietitians. Say I want something to drink. Soda or juice? I pick juice. If I want cheese, I get non-fat cheese. If I want milk, I get fat-free milk. The only thing I have a problem with is Cheetos. I just can't give Cheetos away. No matter what kind of diet I'm on. I could be eating chicken breasts and lettuce every day -- and a bag of Cheetos. I've got to work on that. I think that would let me get those six-pack abs I want if I stop eating Cheetos.

Sometimes all the healthy eating, ice treatments and acupuncture in the world isn't enough. That's when you need to go under the knife. I had back surgery on July 8, 2000, right before our camp. I couldn't really walk for all of July, but I started practicing in early August and played in a game Aug. 18. I couldn't do anything. For seven or eight games I had like one sack. I was really crippled. My coach called me "young camel legs" because I looked like a baby camel trying to stand up for the first time. I had no strength at all.

We opened that season on ESPN against the Tennessee Titans. It was the first time I was an actual starter, instead of just coming in when someone was hurt, and I was going against Brad Hopkins, who was well respected as being one of the better tackles in the league, and very athletic.

It was almost a game where I was hoping I'd have a big fat guy, but I wound up having a smaller quick guy. I knew that the only asset I had was my speed. I remember the third play of the game, I was trying to beat him around the corner, and Eddie George chip-blocked me. I felt the chip-block, and I heard from my friends in messages that they replayed it at least eight times during the game. It was pretty unbelievable how I got knocked around.

I don't even want to tell you how that Tuesday felt.



Second in a series

Marcellus Wiley, an All-Pro defensive end for the San Diego Chargers, spoke throughout the season with The Times' NFL writer, Sam Farmer. Wylie reveals some of the gritty behind-the-scenes realities of America's most popular sport.

Part 1: NFL life: Not all it's cracked up to be.

Today: Tuesday, the toughest day of the week.

Thursday: You gotta play hurt.

Friday: The price of fame.

Saturday: No time for sympathy.

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