Peter Smith remembers a cure-all liniment

Peter Smith wwears No. 74
Peter Smith wears No. 74 in this team photo of the Libertyville, Ill., Wildcats high school varsity football team in the autumn of the Kennedy era.
Photo courtesy Peter Smith

They called it "Atomic Balm"--B-A-L-M. Balm.

It was a mentholated rubdown compound of some sort--an industrial strength Ben Gay that came in a red can with a mushroom cloud on the label and all but blistered your skin when you put it on.

Coach kept it locked in the training room cage--out of reach of the practical jokers on the squad--the towel snappers and water bottle squirters and the guys who waited until everyone was in the shower, then flushed the toilets so the water would go scalding hot for a second and send everyone out of there hopping and swearing.

Football seasons come. Football seasons go. The smell of Atomic Balm abideth forever. When two-a-day practices arrived in August, you wandered over to school to pick up your equipment. The locker room may have been locked and unventilated all summer, but the vaguely medicinal scent of last year's Atomic Balm was still there.

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Coach let team captains and star running backs use the stuff all the time. The rest of us never got near it unless we had some sort of major injury. Then he'd slather you in it.

His faith in the curative powers of Atomic Balm seemed rockbound. It wasn't just for major muscle groups. No. He prescribed it for deep contusions and sprained joints. He seemed to think it could fix anything. You got the idea that, had Mrs. Coach gone into labor, he would have reached for that red can with the mushroom cloud on the label.

He made believers out of us too. All these years later I wouldn't be surprised to learn researchers at Mayo have discovered Atomic Balm can repair torn knee ligaments in running backs or eliminate the need for Tommy John surgery in baseball pitchers.

I just Googled Atomic Balm, and there it is--still for sale everywhere on the Internet--no longer in the red can, no mushroom cloud on the label--but still there, still for sale.

And even though it's been decades since I played, it's two-a-day practice season... That old football knee always twinges and aches a little more this time of year.

What do you think, Coach?

Is it time for the Atomic Balm?