5-09-01, 5:05 a.m.
The lesson has hit Takeo Spikes as hard as Eddie George. As fast as Fred Taylor. As deep as any of the 37 losses he has suffered in three years as a Cincinnati Bengal.
Spikes, the linebacker who last year became the first Bengal in a generation to have three straight 100-tackle seasons, doesn't know when time is going to run out on his career. Or anything else.
Which is why the defensive captain was absolutely livid at Tuesday's first voluntary practice of the year for veterans.
He was angry that a handful of potential starters didn't show. He was furious that a couple of players strolled in late. He was upset that he couldn't assert himself on the field because of his rehabbing shoulder.
"Other guys from other teams are always telling me, 'We've already been here for two weeks with 100 percent attendance,' and their record wasn't as bad as ours. Now you do the math," fumed Spikes. "It's not right.
"We only have so much time slotted to do what needs to be done," Spikes said. "My thing is, the coaches only ask for one month (of voluntary workouts). If you can't dedicate one month. . .I mean, this is what we do. This is what we've got. This is how we live. If you can't dedicate for one month, something is wrong."
He was rolling. Spikes has spewed before. But never like this and never this early.
"The sad part is, during the season these are the same guys always saying, 'We can do this, 'we can do that. I hate losing.' But when you win games is before you even start to play them. This is the time you win games by developing chemistry with each other. You've got to be a leader from example. I'm not saying you have to stand up and talk all the time, but you have to lead by actions."
Spikes admits it.
He's different now. Last year, he would have sat at his locker, sighed to himself, and said, 'Well, maybe they'll come next week. I wish they would. I hope they will," and left it at that.
"Well," Spikes spit Tuesday, "I'm sick of wishing and hoping."
Things have been different since they found the tumor in his father's brain back in February. Tuesday marked Jimmy Spikes' second chemotherapy treatment and he's doing well. But it was not a day for Takeo Spikes to hear excuses.
His Dad is 61 years old,
three years retired since his son came into the NFL and bought him a house back in Sandersville, Ga., where he had worked in the lab analyzing the chalk from the local mines. And Takeo shook his head because, "After all that, it's always something.
"There's not a day I wake up or go to sleep that I don't think about it," he said. "It makes you realize nothing is promised to you. Tomorrow is not promised to you. I want to take advantage of it right now. It made me quit being a procrastinator. I could be doing other things. I don't have to be here. I could be rehabbing some place. But this is where I have to make my stand."
Spikes says he was a bad leader last year. Not assertive or loud enough. He wants this year to be different in so many ways.
"You know how you have older guys teach you, even in the leadership role?" Spikes asked.
"We had no leaders on the team when I first got here," he said. "I learned in the offseason. You'll probably hate to hear it, but Bryan Cox. I talk to him and regardless of what he may have done, he's a great motivator. A great motivator. I listened to other guys. Some people think they're old enough not to listen. But I always do."
Spikes has spent the last week listening to the club's moves. He spent the weekend listening to Dick LeBeau at his first minicamp as head coach. It's another reason he was disgusted Tuesday.
"Give a lot of credit to Coach LeBeau and the organization making moves like that," Spikes said. "I feel like they're trying to make moves showing that we're committed to win. I want to do my part. I feel like as captain, I've got to remind the guy, 'Why weren't you out there sweating with me earlier?'"
Funny thing is, now that Spikes has figured out how to lead, they have brought in the leaders he never had to observe. Just in the past week they've added two of the best known character guys in the NFL in 34-year-old left tackle Richmond Webb and 30-year-old fullback Lorenzo Neal to go with 36-year-old left tackle John Jackson.
"Neal and I are good friends," Spikes said. "When I first came in the league, we hung out for a day. He's hard-nosed. He knows how to keep it real. He'll tell you how it really is and if somebody is slacking, he'll keep you motivated."
Safety Darryl Williams was part of the first Bengals' recent youth movement in 1992. He noticed there was one every year until he left before the '96 season. When he returned last year, he said, "It was still real young. You looked around the locker room and you could see in some of the young guys' eyes that they really weren't ready to play yet. There seems to be a few more veterans now. We'll see what that means."
It's a little more veteran now not only because of the additions, but because the young guys like Spikes are suddenly fourth-year players and they've made their youthful mistakes.
And a guy like Spikes has just plain experienced more life.
"I'm not asking a guy to make football more important than his God and religion or his family," Spikes said. "But one month is one month. My Dad knows if he needs me, I'll be back there. But he's like, 'I know you've got things to do. I can handle things back here in Sandersville."
Spikes sat at his locker. He was the last guy left in the room on a beautiful spring day.
And he was no longer just wishing and hoping.