John Donovan
Thursday January 20th, 2005

HOUSTON -- Ted Washington is not a big talker, which is about the only thing about him that isn't big.

See? Right there. We're starting in on him already.

Washington is not a big talker, at least not to most media types, because somehow, somewhere along the line, somebody always brings up his weight. He can't go five minutes with a reporter before the subject of his poundage is pounded into the ground. And it's never how much he's lost, either.

As much as he'd like to keep his quiet streak alive this week, though, he can't. Washington is here, along with the rest of the New England Patriots, preparing for Super Bowl XXXVIII on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

And that means lots of mandatory sessions with lots of nosy reporters and lots of dumb questions about lots of weight.

Let's get this straight right now: Ted Washington has a little weight on him.

"I'm a big guy who always gets asked about his weight," he says, and then his voice -- full of resignation at having to answer these questions again -- rises just a tad. "It doesn't matter how much I weigh. I've played for 13 years. I must be doing something right."

And Washington does plenty right. A ton.

But before we can get to that, the inevitable question arises: Exactly how much do you weigh, Ted?

"Huh?" he says. "What?"

And that's about what you get out of him on that topic.

If you believe what the Patriots say, Washington, the team's nose tackle and a four-time Pro Bowler, weighs a jaw-opening 365 pounds. He's about 6-foot-5. He is, as we've said, a big guy.

But to call Washington simply big -- or a load in the middle, or a run-stopper, or a space-eater, or even just fat -- is not giving this guy nearly enough credit. Washington can play, too, and the way he plays is critical to how the Patriots' top-ranked scoring defense plays.

"There's a lot of big people out there," says Jeff Mitchell, the Panthers' 300-pound center. "But he's fast. He has great hands to get separation. He's talented. He's an athlete. The guy can control two, three gaps. That's why he's out there. He's not out there to rush the quarterback.

"Even with two guys on him, you don't hope to move him. You just have to count on controlling him."

Just about everything the Patriots do, defensively, starts with Washington tying up a couple of offensive linemen. The Panthers, more than likely, won't even give Washington a single snap off Sunday. Every play he's out there he'll be double-teamed.

And with a couple of Panthers on Washington, that leaves the Patriots' defensive ends and linebackers free to make plays.

"We give him all the credit," says New England linebacker Roman Phifer. "Without him, we couldn't do what we do. We know he makes the linebackers more successful by doing what he does."

Washington, a 1991 first-round draft pick from Louisville, began his career in San Francisco, spent a year in Denver, moved to Buffalo for six seasons and then spent the past two seasons in Chicago. The Patriots traded for him just before the 2003 season began and have handed Washington his first Super Bowl trip.

The August trade came as a bit of a surprise to Washington -- his wife knew before he did -- but he says he's over it now. He's also glad to be rid of the Bears' 4-3 scheme in favor of New England's 3-4, a defense he learned to love in Buffalo.

He says he's healthy, too, overcoming the leg injury that cost him six games this year. What he's not over is the constant questioning. He still has Thursday sessions he must attend, and then there's game day Sunday.

"I just don't want to talk to the media at times," he said earlier this week. "Period."

And then someone asked him about his weight, so Washington drifted away, without another word, through a throng of reporters, like a big leaf in the wind.

A very, very strong wind, of course.

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