CHICAGO — Some people have the image that once the football season is over, players flee the training table and head for the nearest fast food restaurant.
The truth is that some will go for fast food for an occasional meal. But most will stick to a year-long dietary regimen to keep their weight down and, more important, their body fat under control.
In the case of the Chicago Bears, the No. 1 concern would be to watch the weight of 310-pound rookie lineman-fullback William (The Refrigerator) Perry, who can often be seen sipping soft drinks or demolishing Big Macs on television advertisements.
Perry came to the Bears at a robust 330 pounds. He played his entire rookie season by losing a little weight each week and by season's end was down to around 300 pounds.
Fred Caito, the Bears' trainer, is generally credited with keeping the Chicago players in line both during and after the season.
"Don't give me too much credit. So much of the thing with diet is discipline. That's the case in Bill's example. He didn't have much discipline when it came to eating when he came here," Caito said. "When we got him and worked with him during the season, we cut down his intake. That's the major thing athletes have to be concerned with."
As a result, it isn't so much what you eat but how much you eat.
"We don't try to restrict them that way. Go ahead and have the beer and pizza. But don't have 12 beers and six pizzas," said Caito, who wouldn't reveal the number of players who have had that type of post-season snack. "In Perry's case, it's OK for him to have a slab of ribs. But we had to cut him down from four or five slabs of ribs."
Even when the season is over, players aren't expected to stay on the same regimen they had during the regular season. For one, the amount of exercise isn't as rigorous as during the regular season so the amount of calorie intake isn't as essential.
Caito said he urges NFL players--and those on the collegiate and high school level--to stress carbohydrates. Pasta is OK. Avoid the fats.
"Any type of pasta is fine. People seem a little surprised by that but they shouldn't be," Caito says. "You want to avoid the fatty foods. You don't want to go out and stock up on that. An occasional trip to McDonald's is fine but don't make it a regular habit."
Perry was a cause celebre for the media when he first signed with the Bears. When he made his first appearance in the Windy City, a television crew took him to a local rib eatery where he was photographed wolfing down several slabs of ribs.
Perry went back home to South Carolina and stayed with his family for about six weeks before heading to the Bears' Lake Forest training site for the mini-camp opening May 20.
"I'm going to take it easy, but then they have me coming back here to work out strong," said Perry, who had to juggle his diet and advertising schedule with the same devotion.
That isn't so much to keep a watchful eye on the girth of the nationally known rookie but to keep him in a rigorous training program.
"William went home like so many of the other players for six weeks," Caito explained. "But he came back. Back for hard work here."
Caito said he has every confidence players like Perry will have enough self-discipline to mantain a careful diet when they are away from the watchful eye of the Bears' trainers.
"Like I said, discipline is the key. If they want to stay in this organization they know they can't load up on foods that are harmful," Caito said. "In Bill's case, we know now that he has the discipline to watch himself. He didn't in college. They just allowed him to do whatever he wanted. Well, that's over."
Caito did have some advice for high school and college trainers who may have some players with a weight problem and a desire to overeat.
"The main thing is self-control. What many people don't realize is that it isn't going to be the same for every individual," Caito said. "You have to know an athlete's personal history, whether he has had any problems with a certain disease.
"In Perry's case, he had an excellent health record. But if you even weigh less than Bill you may be susceptible to some things. The best advice is to sit down with your trainer, go over what your medical history is and then stick to a diet that is comfortable for the individual."