WASHINGTON — The subject was pizza and the question was which size to order. "Small" was out of the question, since it fed a maximum of two. A "medium" could feed four, and a "large" could feed six. All together they were five, and they'd come for a snack.
"I'm not that hungry," one said.
"Neither am I," said another.
So they ordered conservatively: two mediums, one large.
According to the menu, nourishment for 14.
From the far end of the table one raised his voice proudly, "When we were down in Daytona Beach for the Bethune-Cookman game, the local newspaper wrote, 'What has 10 legs and weighs 1,475 pounds?' "
The Howard offensive line.
From left to right: at tackle, Garry Martin, 6 feet 2, 290 pounds; at guard, Pat Boyd, 6-2, 325; at center, Dwight Brunson, 6-0, 250; at guard, Calvert Thomas, 6-4, 305; at tackle, Roy Pierson, 6-5, 305.
"I want my linemen as large as I can get them so people can't control the line of scrimmage on us," Willie Jeffries, the Howard coach, was saying. "Our offense asks the linemen to go straight ahead most of the time-they don't have to be real elusive."
Eat hearty, guys.
Unless someone figures out how to get the Sierra Madres into a three-point stance, this is about as big a line as you're likely to see in Division I-AA. "And they're not fat, sloppy kids with potbellies," snorted Nick Calcutta, the line coach. "They're big, strong, wide-bodied men." Calcutta leaned back and smiled. "We're blessed," he concluded.
What must it be like staring across the line at such tonnage? "It's got to scare our opponents," said Brunson, who was the biggest kid in his entire high school and now finds himself almost dwarfed by his linemates. "Standing in the middle, when I look left and right I can't believe how big we are. I definitely think we intimidate teams even before we hit them . . ."
"Which is why," Pierson added quickly, "we've got to hit them hard the very first play: to let them know that what they were concerned with is valid."
Traditionally, the offensive lines have been the servant class of football: often seen, but rarely heard from. Other than Fordham's legendary "Seven Blocks of Granite," the Buffalo Bills' "Electric Company" and the "Hogs," how many can you name? Howard's 2-0 this season. Its nine-game winning streak is the longest in I-AA, and a victory Saturday over perpetual nemesis South Carolina State could hoist the Bison on the launch pad to fame. The field is wide open for this line if they come up with the right name.
"We call ourselves The Super Line," Pierson said, mustering some enthusiasm for the nickname. But after a while, the five of them concurred it really wasn't the most charismatic choice.
They've also been called The Silk Screen. "We're out in front of Harvey Reed, and he's called Silk," Martin explained. (Not a bad nickname, although it's in a supporting role to Reed, and you know how it goes with star running backs, they usually wind up with most of the publicity themselves.)
"Coach sometimes calls us Stallions," offered Thomas. But his teammates' uninspired expressions convinced him that was weak.
"Well, can you think of something?" Pierson said.
I mentioned I'd read where they'd been called "The Fat Boys," and thought it was a sensational nickname, considering how hot the real Fat Boys are now, with the movie and the records.
"Spoiled my whole day when I first heard that," Boyd said. "I'm thick and large-framed, but I'm not fat." (And honestly, who's going to argue semantics with a 325-pounder?)
"They're fat, we're healthy," said Martin.
"Fat's just a three-letter curse word," Brunson said. "We've worked long, hard hours in the weight room, getting muscle tone."
"Fat boys couldn't do what we do," Thomas said.
Boyd then told the story that the day before the opening game he heard the Newberry coach derisively refer to the line as "fat boys." Boyd then told his cohorts of the slur.
"Their coach thought we were too fat to play," Martin said. "He said we wouldn't be able to run by the end of the game."
"He paid for it," Boyd said triumphantly, "45-0."
"By the end of the game, he wasn't saying how fat we were anymore," Thomas recalled, gloating. "He was saying, 'Damn, what are those boys eating?' "
Some more pizza was eaten, some more sodas were poured, some more thoughts on the right nickname were exchanged. Was there an appropriate animal metaphor that could be appropriated? Something strong and sturdy?
Seeing them return to their normal, affable demeanor, I reopened the "Fat Boys" issue. You have to think tie-in, I said. The Fat Boys probably would be delighted to come to Howard and do a video with you. And a poster, too. Maybe they'd want to become the team mascots. The relationship could be very beneficial. These guys are stars. How often do offensive linemen from a I-AA school get a chance at this kind of publicity? Come on, did anybody literally equate the Redskins with hogs?
Video! Poster! Hmmmmm.
"As long as they didn't get the wrong idea," Martin said, warming to the idea.
"How could they?" Pierson said. "I mean we're driving people five yards off the football, and . . ."