“If you had a bad day at practice, you’d come in there and do all your cussing and complaining, and it stayed there. It was almost like a counseling center,” recalled All Pro Tackle, Joe Jacoby.
When the evangelical Joe Gibbs, a Christian who neither drank nor swore, became head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1981, he inherited more than a few renegade players. Chief among these renegades was none other than John Riggins, the skins’ legendary running back who after a few too many drinks at the Washington Press Club, told Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “loosen up, Sandy baby, you’re too tight.”
As Gibbs got to know his new team, he discovered that Riggins (AKA Riggo) and the entire offensive line (AKA The Hogs) would retreat into an old equipment shed after each practice at exactly 5 o’clock. Noticing Riggo and the O-Line creep one-by-one into the shed, Gibbs likely asked himself, “what’s going on in there?” At the same time, he knew not to ask. Had Gibbs’ investigated the matter, he would have discovered the “5 O’clock Club,” an unofficial social club for Riggins and the men who blocked for him.
All Pro tackle, Joe Jacoby, recalled, “We had officers and everything. I was Sergeant at Arms and Riggins was El Presidente.” While Riggins held court inside their metal box, he along with The Hogs drank beer -- lots and lots of beer. When the weather turned cold in November, they brought in a kerosene space heater to keep their “meetings” going.
On one occasion, hall of fame commentator John Madden stopped by their club for a drink. When they ran empty, Madden liberated his tour bus refrigerator so the Hogs and Riggo could keep chugging. The laughing, ball busting, and beer drinking inside that equipment shed, according to Jacoby, was a release. “If you had a bad day at practice, you’d come in there and do all your cussing and complaining, and it stayed there. It was almost like a counseling center,” Jacoby recalled.
When asked, Jacoby described the 5 O’clock Club as “tighter than you could ever imagine. [We’d] just sit and tell stories.” Yet, in a league where the average career spans just a few years, their fellowship inside the shed would eventually end. By the end of the 1980s, it did.
For young men, there always comes a point when he parts ways with his team, his platoon, his college buddies, or his pals living in the city. There comes a time when he marries, has kids, and attends parties with his wife and “their” friends. Most men in middle age don’t have a club house (or equipment shed) in their backyard to banter with their friends – those men who would bleed for them. In our busy days as modern men, earning a living and being a good dad and husband leaves little time for fellowship. Yet, without a brotherhood to confide in, it’s easy to dip into a post-brotherhood domestication of loneliness and even despair.
This Barbarian in You needs a tribe. He cannot survive alone. Our hunger for brotherhood is evolutionary. For the first 99.5% of our 200,000-year existence as a species, love and connection from other men meant biological survival. Early in our manhood, many of us belong to a tribe. As middle-aged men, however, life outside the platoon, team, school, or club is especially hard. The barbarian in you still needs that warm hand on your shoulder, inviting you into a circle of brothers around the fire.
So, call your friends. If you don’t have many friends, do what I did: call the boyfriends and husbands of your wife’s friends – there must be a few you like. Then gather together for a purpose – even if it’s just to go around the room and listen to each man talk about his life. It’s very rare in life that a circle of men will just listen to what each man has to say about his life.
You’ll soon discover that without women in the room, men will be more vulnerable and less competitive. You will feel the barbarian in you awaken, because like your ancestors before you, you too will be gathered with brothers around the fire, north of the wall, and in fellowship.