SAN DIEGO — Under his shoulder pads, on his T-shirt, he wears the likeness of a comic book character wearing a spider costume. His motorcycle helmet is in the shop, being painted in red and blue webbing. He runs around the locker room wearing a cape. He sometimes runs on the field wearing a cape.
He is a tight end and team leader for the Houston Oilers, his name is Jamie Williams and he's . . . well, allow him to explain:
"Call me 'Spiderman,' " he said. "That's who I model myself after. He is strength and speed with the agility of a spider. He overcomes great odds. He does what it takes.
"Spiderman, that's me. Ask anybody in the league. Last year I make a surprise block on Cleveland's Clay Matthews, he gets up and says, 'Good play. You must have used your Spider Sense.' "
Oh come on.
Is it not enough that Sunday in Houston the Chargers will be battling public skepticism? And self-confidence? And Warren Moon? And an Astrodome turf so bad, it is being replaced in time for next baseball season.
Must they also face \o7 this\f7 ?
"Every week, Spiderman runs into different villains, like the Uncanny X-Man, or the Silver Surfer," Williams said. "Spiderman knows he has to bite and scratch and claw those villains. This week, the Chargers are my villain.
"Like Chip Banks. He reminds me of 'The Dark Knight,' who once fought 'Conan the Destroyer,' forcing Conan down to a level of savagery even Conan thought impossible."
"Dan Fouts, he's like 'Dr. Strange,' " Williams continued. "He's basically a decent guy who can't punch you out, but who has all this magic stuff that enables him to beat you in other ways. Dr. Strange can get out of any situation."
Certainly, it is as unfathomable to picture a professional football player calling himself 'Spiderman' as it is remembering the words to the Spiderman television theme song (Not the tune, the words).
But in this case, though Williams cannot instantly extract webbing from the major arteries in his wrist, whatever he's trying to do is working.
Williams is one of only two Oilers to have started every game since 1984 (guard Bruce Matthews is the other). Since that time, the Oilers have gone from 3-13 to a couple of 5-11 seasons to this fall, when they won six of their first nine games. They have lost their latest two, to Cleveland and Indianapolis, but there's no mistaking progress.
It's December. The club has a chance of printing playoff tickets. Those two sentences haven't appeared together since 1980.
"That's what makes the Charger game so important," Williams said. "We can't lose any more and still have a chance. Every game is a must. We have to show that we are not the team of a couple of years ago.
"After the last two losses (by a combined margin of 91-34), we have been humbled. Any thoughts of greatness have been diminished. We will be blood and guts guys."
Geez, looks like a job for . . . no, don't say it. Rest assured Williams, who has already equaled his career-high three touchdown catches, will do whatever a spider can.
"You won't hear my name much in the scheme of our offense (just seven catches)," he said. "But I don't let up on anything. Even on those backside blocks, I will be going hard."
None of this is good news for the Chargers, whose defense would find it difficult to stop Spiderman under any circumstances, but particularly now, when they have been playing like Jughead.
"The Chargers are fine, they are radical, they are rebels, they wreak havoc everywhere," said Williams, who sounds like dialogue from a cartoon.
This comic hero thing is indeed alive inside the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Nebraska alumnus. It's as real as the pony tail he tucks inside his shirt because opponents try to pull it off. As real as Williams' white Honda 1,000 motorcycle.
It's as real as Warlock, the tough Japanese Akita dog he totes around. Dog is so tough, he chewed up the elaborate Spiderman mask Williams wore last Halloween, and lived to bark about it.
It's as real as Williams' 15,000 piece comic book collection, which, one surmises, is where he came up with all these funny ideas in the first place.
"Comic books mirror life," Williams said. "The good guys, the bad guys, the struggle, it's all I read. I bring them on the team planes and everybody reads them.
"It sounds obscure, but it's a way of touching people personally, getting inside their heads."
It may sound obscure to some that somebody out there even prints comic books anymore.
"Oh yes, I'm on all the subscription lists," Williams said. "I stop by my favorite Houston store--The Third Planet --and pick up 50 or 60 books a month."
He stops by on the motorcycle, sometimes wearing a black helmet and black clothes so he looks like Darth Vader. With a pony tail, of course.
"I remember once I rode to a party wearing a black tux and black helmet and everything, right through downtown Houston during rush hour," he said. "Everybody was staring. I could almost see them saying, 'Who is that masked man?' "
A Houston television station wanted an answer to that question, so this fall they gave Williams his own weekly show. Titled "Inside Oiler Report," it was to be a chance for Williams to show a few highlights and offer in-depth insight.
A nice idea, except what Williams considers in-depth is what everyone else considers off-the-deep-end.
On his second show, he contrived a sort of music video featuring a comparison of the Oiler five wide receivers to comic book heroes.
Drew Hill was 'Flash.' Ernest Givens was 'Kid Flash.' Curtis Duncan was 'Quicksilver.' Willie Drewery was 'Mr. Excitement.' And Haywood Jeffires was 'Vapor.'
"I must admit, the Texas mentality doesn't quite understand me yet," Williams said. "I think I am a little too upbeat for it."
In other words, the producers hated it. Williams' program was canceled after two shows.
"They said I was a little too contemporary for them," Williams said. "That's my problem here. I think people, like, notice me too much."