On a plate rail in the living room of my home rests the most unusual memento I have of my 20-odd years in sports columning.
It is a round, burnished tray, golden-hued, and on its face is inscribed the following curious salutation:
"To Jim Murray In Appreciation For Helping Me Make All-Pro. Bill Bain 62 Rams. 1984."
Now, in my day, I have had many things dedicated to me. A fight, for instance. Johnny Smith once dedicated a one-round knockout to me. But you can't hang that on your wall. An outfielder once dedicated a left hook to me, and Norm Van Brocklin, the football coach, used to regularly dedicate a series of expletives in my honor.
But I never had a plate before. But, then, I never helped make anybody All-Pro before.
Of course, Bill Bain is not your usual run-of-the-mill all-pro. Bain is kind of your world's biggest Teddy bear. If he didn't weigh 300 pounds, he'd be cuddly. He always manages to look as if he just rode into town on a load of turnips, the kind of guy they like to see show up on the midway of a carnival with the egg money.
The Rams list him at 290 because that's as high as the scales go, but Bill is so big a rival coach once innocently asked whether the light went out when he closed his mouth and where they put the ice-maker.
You could carve Presidents on his chest. In a Slenderella-oriented society, Bain looks like a pizza with everything in a helmet. They say if you poke him in the stomach, mustard comes out. Once, when an official dropped a flag and penalized the Rams for having 12 men on the field, he discovered that two of them were Bill Bain. It has been suggested that Bain play as Nos. 62 and 63 and that his birthday be listed Aug. 8, 9 and 10, 1952.
Bill works in an office, about four yards by four yards, and it's crowded and you can't get much air and it's his job to keep it cleaned out and ready for occupants, usually million-dollar halfbacks carrying footballs. It's his job not to leave things lying around that they might trip over--like 280-pound ends with plaster for arms.
It's a kind of complicated janitorial or crossing-guard job. Bain is a little like that guy who spent his life guarding and polishing a Civil War cannon in the park, who said one day when he came home and kicked the cat and yelled at the mailman and punched a hole in the kitchen door and someone asked him what was wrong: "Tough day at the cannon."
Bain considers his job more like being locked in a closet all day with a hungry wildcat, and he's more like a Brink's guard than a right guard, or, in his case, right tackle. His job is to protect the payroll, i.e., the guy with the football. If anything happens to that, Bill's out of work. And he's been there before.
In fact, Bain, although he was a college All-American at USC and a second-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers, always had trouble convincing coaches he was as good as he was. First of all, there was that silhouette. He looked like a bag of marshmallows. Some guys have no waistline. Bill was all waistline. He looked like a stomach with a helmet on it. His time in the 40 was just under a day.
He flopped around with the Packers, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants until finally he was cut adrift altogether. Even when the Rams picked him up, a reporter came to camp one day looking for him and inquired of a publicity man what Bill Bain looked like. "A little like the Hindenburg," admitted the press man. "He has to be careful in thunderstorms."
Whatever his configuration, Bain was as hard to get around as a tax audit. On the run-dominant Rams he was as at home as a bear in Yellowstone. Pass-blockers figure they need 3 1/2 seconds for their quarterback to get the ball off, and it takes that long to run around Bain even if he only stands there.
A chatty, gregarious man who talks to himself if nobody else is handy, Bain handed out eight commemorative plates last year, one of them to owner Georgia Frontiere, but life is not all that upscale even in the Pro Bowl.
Occupational hazards in Bain's business are supposed to be knee twists, headaches, ankle breaks, ligament tears, lower back strain and even spleen and kidney damage.
Bill thinks he is playing hurt because of the injury that may be worse than all of them: fat. It may be the worst damage you can do to your body.
"The actuarial tables show that linemen in this game die at the age of 53. I collect my pension at 55. Nice, huh?
"The doctors say I have to lose 100 pounds when I quit playing. My lean weight is 218. The rest is body fat. Body fat should be about 7%. Mine is I don't want to think what percent. Good for football, no good for the rest of life."
Fat may be the worst football injury because a much more important muscle is at risk: the heart. You can't put a brace or a crutch on it, or cure it arthroscopically.
When Bill Bain quits and retires with his wife and two little girls--and then gets down to 200 pounds, well, I'm going to send him a plate.