Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Historical Primer on College Football Training Camp Outbreaks

Allright, you snickerpusses. Go ahead and have a laugh at the expense of the inflamed groins of Southern Cal's football team. As hard-working, decent football fans who love wang jokes, you're entitled to titter at the misfortunes of the Trojans, who are currently in the midst of a virulent outbreak of jock itch that has consumed fully 25 percent of the team. But before you get too out of control judging USC on this comical scene ripped straight from the pages of Revenge of the Nerds (or, if you're into that whole divine retribution thing, The Ten Commandments), keep in mind that college football has battled with infectious diseases since the very first days of the sport.

Naturally, when you combine several dozen sweaty strapping ballplayers in a low-on-personal-space community like a football training camp, you're creating a very loving environment for scores of creepy crawlies and pathogens to perpetuate their parasitic lifestyles unencumbered. And while USC might be the butt (or groin, if you will) of immature jokes today, they are not the first and certainly won't be the last team to battle microbial pandemics during training camp. A brief historical primer on the top moments in Training Camp Epidemiology:

  • 1993, University of Georgia. Jumping Frenchman of Maine Syndrome. In what was otherwise an unspectacular season for the Ray Goff's Bulldogs, the early weeks of August provided a great amount of excitement when recurrences of Jumping Frenchman of Maine Syndrome scorched through training camp. The administration did their best to cover up the outbreak, but as the disease, which hadn't been observed on such a scale since George Miller Berard's 1878 discovery, spread into double digits, a quarantine unit from the CDC was called down to investigate and monitor the situation. Their findings indicated there was no risk for further contamination outside of the camp, and in time the outbreak petered out without any documented fatalities.

  • 1981, University of Notre Dame. Dr. Strangelove Syndrome.
    Hopes were running high in South Bend as new coach Gerry Faust stepped on campus, but things took a chilling turn for the worst on a hot day during training camp when Faust's left hand began acting entirely on its own free will. While the training staff initially brushed it off as a result of the stress of taking on one of college football's most demanding jobs, things took a turn for the drastic when two days later, future star tight end Mark Bavaro came down with identical symptoms. Two days later, a ten year old girl in South Bend and an incorrigible boarder collie from Mishawaka named Scraps were stricken, and the town was immediately placed under quarantine. For two agonizing weeks, national guard troops barricaded off the greater South Bend area while harried CDC directors briefed President Ronald Reagan about his heart-wrenching options should the disease break through the quarantine.

    Fortunately, the disease was stopped in its tracks during the quarantine, and the barricade was lifted in northwest Indiana. While there were no human fatalities, Scraps did perish in a tragic accident attributed to his free-minded paw. An animated movie documenting his heroic struggle during the dark days of the quarantine come out in 1985, to almost universally negative reviews.

  • 1951, Colorado State University. Severe Hiccups.
    A case of chronic hiccups tore through Fort Collins in 1951, striking down nearly 2,000 students and faculty for nearly two months. With the entire coaching staff and nearly all of the players in the throes of agonizing hiccups, coach Bob Davis had little choice the first three games of the season, derailing a promising season for the Rams.

  • 1888, Cornell. Koro
    While on its surface, the idea of an entire football team being stricken with Genital Retraction Syndrome seems hilarious, the epidemic and resulting Penis Panic that arose from Ithaca in 1888 is anything but funny. While widespread panics about genital theft is almost only found in the more remote areas of Southeast Asia and Africa, it sprung onto the scene in upstate New York with a vengeance in August of 1888, washing over the entire college and surrounding town in a matter of weeks. In a frenzy, many separate gangs of vigilantes took to the streets the bring to justice the alleged "penis-snatchers", and in a terrifying span of 72 hours, 14 suspected genitalnappers were gunned down, bludgeoned, or strung up in town square. Even more lives were lost as the overmatched police tried to disperse the mobs. Terrified and outmatched, the local law enforcement deserted en masse and left the city to the scraggly groups of bandits who continued their purge of witches for the next several months.

    Almost all records are lost from this lawless period, so it's impossible to come up with an estimate on the amount of carnage. In the autumn of 1888, refugees cautiously returned to the city with police and military escorts, and found, to their shock, a very calm and collected populace who had no memory of any violence occurring. After extinguishing a few fires in burnt-out buildings downtown, the refugees returned and normalcy returned to Ithaca. The Big Red even returned to action on the field, playing their opening game on October 28 against Palmyra High School, which they easily won, 26-0.

So there you have it, a quick primer on training camp outbreaks. So judge not, House Rock Built readers, for it's anyone's guess which campus will be the next victim. In the meantime, stay vigilant and do what I do to stay healthy: wash your hands in boiling bleach ten times a day.

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