Elliott H Leitman, MD Lt Col. USAF, Delaware Air National Guard
I was 6 weeks out from my orthopedic residency training when I got the call from my Sports Medicine Fellowship director to meet him up at Lehigh University for the start of Philadelphia Eagles training camp. Ok, despite the fact that there was only minutes notice , I was going to pack my bag for the 90 minute drive to my dream job. As a lifelong Eagles fan who was only a mediocre high school football player, this was as close as I was going to get to the NFL.
Upon arrival I entered the team meeting room where the medical staff and team were gathered. After about an hour, the meeting ended and to my surprise the other physicians were heading back to Philadelphia.
“Ok, Elliott. Call us tomorrow with any questions” Dr. B instructed.
“Where am I to sleep? I am not quite sure of my responsibilities “I replied.
“The trainer will tell you what to do” Dr B assured me.
I am a fairly laid-back person but was now feeling a bit anxious. This is NFL training camp, and I am thrown into the mix with “give me a call “? Really! Well, “I will just figure it all out”” What about food”?
I met with the trainer and received my instructions. I was part of the team! Wow! Dinner was with in the cafeteria with players staff, etc. I showed up hungry. They had lots of good food but where was I to sit? Feeling like an outsider, I sat with the training staff and team VP. They were welcoming. Pretty cool!
07:00am Day 1 of training camp. The players were up a bit earlier. I arrived and parked in the players’ lot. Some nice cars among a splattering of loaner cars provided by local car dealers. Getting out of my car I was impressed by the perfectly manicured field along with the smell of the mountain air and freshly cut grass. The training room has a unique smell which you can only be appreciated by those of us that love football. After checking in with the trainer I began examining players as needed. I had to hide my awe and act professional. Soon it was out to the field for practice.
The training staff was required to wear an official t-shirt and shorts, which I did not have. I was told to check in with the equipment manager. Politely, I introduced myself to Mr. Nasty. I explained to him that I was the team doctor and needed the appropriate gear. He threw me a tee shirt. “but this is just one shirt and I will be here every day. Can I have another? What about shorts? “
Mr. Nasty barked “you can have two but wear your own shorts and here is one more shirt”
I asked around about getting the standard shorts and maybe another shirt since I had no way of doing laundry. I was informed that the team was very tight with their clothing allotment. I managed!
Practice was a blast to watch from the sidelines and occasionally got busy with injuries. At the time I was close in age with the players and enjoyed talking football with them. Quick friendships often ended as many players were released from the team. There were interesting personalities including the team prima donna, anxious rookies, cerebral veterans, and team clowns. Some marginal players would malinger to keep getting a paycheck on the injured reserve, while veterans may downplay injuries in order to keep playing. The psychological element was always present.
As the team doctor I was quickly made to feel at ease and not only cared for the players, but coaches and team executives as well. A great start and foundation for my career as an orthopaedic sports medicine specialist. I have unforgettable memories of taking care of the Eagles for two mediocre seasons in the late 90’s. Lessons learned in that environment have served me well in taking care of a diverse patient population over the past two decades.