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Scott Ostler

Why Do the NFL's Heavyweights Have to Be the Heavies?

September 10, 1987|SCOTT OSTLER

Guaranteed to happen every Sunday: The TV camera isolates on a mammoth interior lineman and catches him in an awkward moment, doing something like getting knocked backwards into a mud puddle, or being penalized for eating an opponent's helmet.

There aren't many graceful, ballet-like moves in your playbook if you weigh 300 pounds and your job is hand-to-hand combat.

Up in the TV booth, the announcers have a field day.

"Look at that Delvin (Dumpster) Dugan, will 'ya! Is he a big 'un, or what?"

"Big? Big? Dumpster's the only guy on the team who wears a license plate and turn signals. He's the only guy in the league who can fit his social security number on the back of his jersey. Big?"

Then the TV boys just about fall out of the booth whooping and chuckling over another slow-mo replay featuring the Dumpster.

The print media isn't much kinder. But starting this season, I vow to show more compassion and sensitivity toward the big guys. After all, they are sensitive people, not just towering tubs of goo.

Example: Louie Kelcher, the San Diego Chargers' huge defensive tackle, now retired, once lined up opposite Rams' tackle Russ Bolinger, also retired.

"Hey, Russ," Louie said quietly as the two gladiators dug in nose-to-nose, "I visited a children's hospital this morning, and I promised the kids I'd get 'em a sack today."

Many of these guys are artists, or musicians. Chuck Rogers, a 6-9, 335-pounder who was cut by the Chargers early in camp this year, is a tuba player. Of course, for Chuck the tuba is a small instrument, something to whip out when sitting around the old campfire.

You begin to realize just how sensitive these fellows are when you try to find out how much they weigh. Bubba Paris of the San Francisco 49ers is listed in the team's press guide as 6-6 and 299 pounds. I double-checked the cover of the book to make sure I didn't have Bubba's junior high school yearbook by mistake.

Paris, the Eye-full Tower, is generally considered to be heavier than his listed weight. One estimate is that he checked into camp at 330. In the past, the 49ers have offered Bubba expensive gifts and large (like $50,000) cash bonuses to trim down to 300.

But other than these trinkets, where's the motivation to slim down? If Bubba gets to his program weight, not only will he have to quit eating, one of the small pleasures in the big man's world of constant pain, he would also sacrifice some precious bulk.

If your job is to block William (Refrigerator) Perry, why would you want to spot the guy 40 pounds?

Perry himself shows no signs of going after Jim Palmer's skivvie-modeling job. The Chicago Bears list Perry at 325, which is about 15 pounds lighter than what he played at last season. The Fridge has somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 of his salary tied up in weight clauses, and coach Mike Ditka rides Perry's back like a rodeo cowboy, trying to get the big guy to slim down.

Again, where's the motivation? How many millions of dollars in endorsements do you suppose Perry would have landed if he weighed 278 and his nickname was Bill?

One dieting success story is San Diego's Jim FitzPatrick. Drafted in the first round by the Chargers a year ago, Jim checked in at about 314, was nicknamed FatsPatrick, and sat on the bench all season. This year he's down to about 286 and figures to start.

However, 286 seems dangerously frail in today's NFL. Preseason listings showed a total of 27 men in pro football weighing 300 pounds or more, including 14 rookies. And that's not counting coaches or TV announcers.

And it's also not counting the Bubba Paris types, who list themselves at a shade under 300. I guess 300 looks bad on your driver's license. Jim Dombrowski, a New Orleans tackle, is on the books at 298.

Irv Eatman, the 6-7 Kansas City Chiefs tackle, whose last name probably should be divided between syllables by a comma, is listed at 293.

The Eatmans and Parises are battling a trend. Players are getting bigger fast. Minnesota had a 322-pound rookie in camp, and the New York Jets had a 321-pounder. The Raiders drafted John Clay, who reported to Oxnard at about 325 and has worked off about 1/80th of a ton (25 pounds).

How do these guys get so big? No one knows. It can't be steroids, because no NFL player has ever been fined or disciplined for steroid use or abuse. Must be that a lot of American kids are eating their vegetables.

Whatever the reason, it's clearly time to start showing some sensitivity in our dealings with these fellows. They're entitled to dignity. We can't all be pretty-boy quarterbacks.

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