Let it be known that those were the first words uttered by the now famous T.N.T. Wall at Dolphins training camp. It wasn’t easy getting an interview. Had to go through several high-level channels. But after some prodding, I was granted a one-on-one with what has become a prevailing storyline of this training camp.
The “Takes No Talent” Wall.
It stands there so proudly on the side of the end zone, those big letters glistening in the late morning sun. But it’s something nobody wants to be part of. It is there as a punishment. You make a silly mistake, you do something that should take no talent – maybe a botched center snap, a wrong substitution, an unforced error – and you’ve got to run and touch the wall. It’s one of the many motivational tools incorporated by first-year coach Brian Flores.
We see players running to this wall all during practice. Back and forth they go. Running those 100 or so yards from the field to the wall, smacking their palms against the concrete and then returning to the field.
Last Sunday alone, the entire defense visited The Wall two times and the offense once. By all accounts, this was a training camp record, a dubious one at that. Nobody knows exactly how many times the wall has been touched over the first week or so of training camp. But let’s just say it’s been busier over there than Flores would have liked. I guess in his way of thinking, one trip to the wall is probably one too many.
Is it working, though? We’ll know that when the season starts. The players, though, seem to have gotten the message.
“I have no issues with the wall,” said defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. “It represents discipline and that’s very important to me.”
Added offensive lineman Jesse Davis: “Everybody dreads it, but it keeps us accountable. We don’t go over there unless we mess up. I’ve been over there one time and I’d sure like that to be the only time.”
With all this talk, and after watching from a far large groups of players sprinting across the practice field to touch that wall, I decided it was time to get a close up look, time to find out what that huge piece of cement had to say about all of this.
So last Sunday, when practice was over, long after the players had entered the locker room, I took a stroll down the field, walking past the stands that were now mostly empty, veering slightly to my right as the wall came into clear focus.
And there I was. Just me and the wall. Two strangers in the thick, humid air. It was truthfully a little scary at first. You hear so much about something and then you finally get to see it close up and, well, it can be a little intimidating.
“Why me?” the wall whispered as he I walked closer. “Why couldn’t they have picked a different wall? I just wanted to be out here alone working on my sun tan, or is it my whitewash? Instead I’m the dreaded wall. Nobody wants to come close to me. Nobody is ever happy to see me.”
I tried to explain that it was nothing personal, that Flores simply needed a way to underline an important point: Don’t beat yourselves with silly mistakes. And, well, the wall was a way of making his point.
As I inched closer, I looked for handprints. There were none, not even the mere outline of a single palm, surprising considering the amount of activity we’ve seen at the wall this summer.
“They do a good job keeping me clean,” the wall says. “A new coat of paint goes a long way.”
But there is writing that I couldn’t see on the wall from far away, words written on each of the letters obviously as a learning tool for the players whose transgressions necessitate that long jog across the field.
“Knowing the rules”
“Trusting & Believing.”
The more I looked at the wall, the more messages I found.
“They spent a long time working on me,” the wall confides. “Some very careful painting.”
I tried to dig deep in my interview with the wall as any reporter would. What’s your background? What were you like as a growing wall? Are there more like you at other football fields?
“Best I can tell,” the wall said, “I’m one of a kind.”
It was getting late. The wall had a busy morning. Far too busy, in fact. Needed some time to rest. So, after saying thanks for this exclusive interview, after giving the wall a few final warm, touching pats, I parted with a final question.
“What’s your goal this training camp?” I asked.
The wall answered right away. “I want to be seen and not touched,” came the response.
There’s an entire football team that sure hopes your wish comes true.