Football gets sudsy at carwash

By Nathan Lindquist

Ah, what a day. A day when 50 degrees is the high and the infamous DeKalb wind pierces flesh and bone. It’s a morning when the gray skies hanging over DeKalb do not allow a single ray of sunshine to penetrate. This is the perfect day for … a car wash?

But that’s exactly what the NIU football team was doing Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon at the Castle Bank parking lot on Lincoln Highway – their day off, no less.

After a primetime, nationally-televised beating of Miami-Ohio Wednesday night, the team didn’t need to suit up or mentally prepare for an afternoon game.

But the team wasn’t scrubbing down dirty trucks for their own benefit. All donations and proceeds from the car wash went directly to Hope Haven and displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Surprisingly, the line of cars was going strong around 11 a.m. despite the less-than-favorable weather. Coaches Mike Sabock, Greg Bower and Thomas Hammock collected money at the entrance and directed cars to pull forward for hosing off.

One staple of any car wash is to spray the other people with the hose. It’s a natural human reaction as instinctual as breathing or watching Steven Seagal movies, no matter how terrible they might be.

Junior running back Garrett Wolfe was one such troublemaker who somehow got a hold of a hose. But in his letterman jacket and St. Louis Cardinals hat, he looked quite dry.

“I’m a firm believer in staying as warm as possible,” Wolfe said. “I’ve sprayed a lot of people with the hose but no one’s gotten me back yet, and hopefully no one will.”

As lighthearted as such horseplay may seem, a car wash can be a hazardous activity. Just ask MLB star Jeff Kent. He broke his wrist in 2002 while washing his truck. Coach Joe Novak addressed the issue first thing that morning.

“No question, we don’t want any injuries here today,” Novak said between scrubbing shifts. “We want to keep things healthy.”

In order to prevent injury and prepare for a grueling three hours of scrubbing and spraying, Wolfe said some arm raises to stretch out the rotator cuffs would be in order. Senior strong safety Ray Smith jokingly agreed.

“You got to use all your muscles,” Smith said. “In football you only use some of your muscles. For a car wash, you got to use arms, legs, head, everything.”

Senior running back A.J. Harris didn’t take the mental and physical preparation for the wash lightly. For him, the importance of being ready for car washing was quite similar to the rigors of the preparation for a big football game.

“A car wash is so much more work,” Harris quipped. “You have to think so much before and get ready for the nooks and crannies you got to get into. I’ve been training for this for the last week.”

It’s a good thing Harris took the event so seriously. With the big Homecoming contest against Eastern Michigan the following week, a lot was at stake. For the 30 or so players present at the time, their performance might even determine a starting spot in the game itself. But Wolfe seemed skeptical.

“Not at all,” the junior starter said. “But actually, you never know. You’d be surprised what determines who’s going to start.”

Novak quickly debunked the rumor as baseless.

“I hope not,” the 10-year coach laughed. “If it does, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

As the time inched closer to noon, a steady line of trucks, vans and compact cars were still entering the parking lot. Always a forward thinker, Harris admitted he had considered attracting more customers by “showing a little skin.”

“I was thinking about going out to the street and pulling up my pants to show off my legs,” Harris said. “But I thought that would just scare people off.”

In terms of overall performance, there was a divide whether the offense or defense did a better job. Novak, a former defensive end at Miami-Ohio, sided with the defense. He cited their blue-collar work ethic and joked that his renowned offensive players tended to be prima donnas with such work.

Wolfe disagreed and showed off his hosing technique which he conveniently named after a song by rapper Mystikal.

“I’m using the ‘Shake It Fast’ technique; that’s what I call it,” Wolfe said as he vigorously shook the hose from side to side. “I try and get as much water on the car as possible.”

At the end of the day, Hammock placed the total car tally at 51 and estimated the car wash raised between $1,700 and $1,800.

For college athletes, a day off is a rare thing that is cherished and involves sleeping until the wee hours of the afternoon. But there was a bigger reason why the football players were at the bank – the satisfaction of charity work.

“It brings a lot of satisfaction just to see the little kids out here and they’re very happy to get autographs,” Wolfe said after signing an enthused young fan’s jersey. “I think it means a lot to everyone out here, just to see the smiles on people’s faces who just came out to get their car washed.”