The legend of George Burma

In The Light — Football Preview

What’s your best memory about playing sports?

Was it some big win or heart-wrenching loss (and all losses are heart-wrenching)?

Was it playing a football game in the snow?

Or a baseball game in the rain?

Whenever I look back at “yesterday,” I remember “Burma Roads.”

If you played sports you know all about conditioning drills.

They are those activities (a.k.a. torture sessions) at the end of every practice where a coach makes you run.

Well, mostly run.

Sometimes you pass out.

And then crawl.

Or get carried off.


Take five tackling dummies, put them 20 yards apart on both sides of a football field and then sprint from back and forth across the field hitting the tackling dummies.

That’s a Burma Road.

They were named after some guy who graduated a couple of years before I even entered high school.

Legend had it George Burma loved that drill.

Sick, sick person.

He also ALWAYS finished the drill under the time allotted — something like 22 seconds.

Legend — again — had it that George was so good at running this drill (it was named something else before the legend that was George Burma came along), and he liked it so much, he started “dogging” it so he wouldn’t finish in 22 seconds and he was allowed to run it again.

The way the coaches talked about him, you would have thought George Burma was Sigourney Weaver, Jim Thorpe, Chuck Norris, Wyatt Earp, and Dick Butkus rolled into one.

There’s just something fundamentally wrong with someone who would enjoy this particular conditioning drill (a.k.a. breaking of the human spirit exercise).

I didn’t mind sprints, crab-crawls, or running steps.

Well, I did the first time I was forced to do them, but walking barefoot over hot coals in a gasoline suit was more fun than running a Burma Road.

My first Burma Road came on the first day of two-a-days — after the evening practice.

At the end of the morning practice we ran sprints — 20 yards or so. About 156 of them if I remember correctly.

But that first evening practice …

“Get ready for Burma Roads,” one of the coaches shouted.

I was a freshman. I thought we were going to do something fun.

I mean, we had just finished a pretty decent practice, surely it was time for something fun.

But football practice is never going to be about “fun.”

“Oh, Burma Roads? Is that a new formation?”

I should have known better. The guys who had played before — the sophomores and juniors and seniors — all sorta collapsed. Some of them began to weep.

A few called out ... “Mama.”

Mostly, everyone got real quiet.

I knew then I was in serious trouble.

You get a bunch of hormone-driven teenage boys together and everyone gets quiet.

That’s not supposed to be possible.

I threw up after my first Burma Road.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the first I would run that day.

And it wouldn’t be the first time I painted the sidelines with my lunch.

I kept missing the time — the 22 seconds we were given to complete this medieval game of run and be sick — and I wound up running something like 40 of these things.

I couldn’t walk one now.

I don’t even want to think about walking one now.

For some reason these conditioning drills (a.k.a. weeding out the sick and lame) always carry more importance, more credence, during the first days of practice.

It’s like the coaches knew we all laid around on the couch all summer watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, eating ice cream, and generally being slackers.

But I lived through that year.

I learned the story, the legend, of George Burma.

I survived.

And our coach was right, that entire team always felt fresh in the fourth quarter.

It was, after all, a conditioning drill (a.k.a. a show of who’s boss) and a lot of guys were in the best shape of their young, miserable lives after three weeks of those.

But I still remember the first night after my first experience of Burma Roads … Being asleep in bed, my legs churning like I was running.

Trying to beat that time so I wouldn’t have to do it again.

Which I finally did beat the time … When I was a sophomore.

And unlike George Burma, I didn’t “dog” it so I could run it again.