SAN DIEGO — He is only about 20 pounds lighter than William Perry, but no one is ever going to refer to him as The Refrigerator. It is hard to imagine how a man could weigh 285 pounds and appear almost slender, but Jim Lachey makes it, especially if you go by the Webster's definition, "narrow in proportion to height."
Lachey, the Chargers' rookie offensive tackle, is four inches taller and somewhat narrower than Perry, the Chicago Bears' heralded defensive tackle/fullback. Lachey's bulk is concentrated in his thighs, rather than in the abdomen and posterior, and thus is unlikely to inspire such descriptive prose as a Chicago writer applied to Perry, of whom it was written, "the best use of fat since bacon."
Lachey doesn't begrudge Perry the extra pork or the shtick it inspires, but he is just a bit envious of The Refrigerator's part-time employment in the backfield.
"I've never run with the ball, but, sure, I'd like the chance," Lachey said. "It would be fun. But I know where my job is. Up front."
He's right. As long as Dan Fouts has two serviceable knees and can raise his right arm to trim his beard, Lachey has a job up front. If the Chargers want to get cute with their blocking back, they can always try Lionel James.
In half a season, Lachey has established himself as one of the bookends of the Charger offensive line for the next decade or so.
"It isn't easy for a rookie lineman to start on a team that throws as much as we do," said offensive line coach Dave Levy, "but Jim has done nicely. The thing you worry about in a young lineman is a tendency to be erratic, but Jim has proved to be quite consistent."
Levy, as you might gather, doesn't spread praise quite as freely as a farmer spreads fertilizer. If Levy were in charge of awarding the little buckeyes that adorn the helmets of players at Ohio State--Lachey's alma mater--the headgear would be devoid of decoration.
Coach Don Coryell is a bit more generous in his analysis of Lachey's performance. "He's exceeded our expectations, which were high," he said. "He has a very bright future."
Lachey would prefer not to apply a measuring stick until he has 16 games behind him. But by his own midseason reckoning, he's holding his own.
"You never live up to your expectations," he said. "You always want to play the perfect game. I haven't been perfect yet, but I have had a lot of good games, I think."
While in search of the perfect game, Lachey has made the transition without much fuss.
He has gone from the cornfields of rural Ohio to the shores of the Pacific in Coronado and from fun-loving college boy to sober-minded professional football player with an eye toward a business career.
His problems have been minor. There was a bout with homesickness in training camp, and he regrets not getting to see his two younger--and smaller--brothers play back home for the St. Henry High School Redskins.
"I'm still a Midwestern boy at heart," Lachey said. "I'll probably go back to Ohio for most of the off-season. But I really like it out here, too. I like to go home in the evening (to an oceanfront condo in Coronado) and look at the water.
"I have lots of time to myself, and I need that during the season. I need my privacy and time to think about football. After the season, I'll want to be around people again."
There is nothing serene or contemplative about Lachey on game days. He has been tested by several defensive linemen, including Jeff Bryant of the Seattle Seahawks, but they quickly have discovered it was useless to try to intimidate him, verbally or otherwise.
"I'm sure Lyle Alzado will try next Monday night," Lachey said. "I'll go into the game knowing that. Most guys complain or tell me to quit holding, but I just walk away. You can't let yourself be pushed around."
Unless Alzado shows up behind the wheel of a tractor, he isn't likely to push Lachey too far.
Lachey's list of rookie problems is a short one. He has recurring episodes of insomnia the night before a game, but he doesn't really rate that as a problem.
"I need to be nervous before a game," he said. "I start getting nervous on the Wednesday night before a game, and I have a lot of trouble sleeping the night before. I think I tossed and turned all night before our game at Cincinnati. I remember looking at the clock and it was 6:13, or something. Then I fell asleep for an hour and a half before mass. I had a good game that day, too."
The Chargers would like to see Lachey acquire additional bulk, and he probably could carry 305 or 310 pounds much more sleekly than Perry. But it isn't going to be simple for him to fatten up with dietary habits that include eating only a candy bar for a pregame meal.
If he never puts on another ounce, Lachey won't suffer. His drive is more important than his weight.
"I want to establish myself as a great player," he said. "And I really love what I'm doing. There's nothing I would rather be doing than playing pro football at this stage of my life. It's not a job, it's something I love."