At the Kansas City Chiefs' training camp in Liberty, Mo. the other day, three-time All-Pro defensive end Art Still sat down to dinner: 13 plums, nine nectarines, three peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches and two cups of apple juice. For dessert he gathered up 21 more plums and 18 more nectarines, put them in a plastic bag, threw the bag over his shoulder and strolled off. Mike Bell, the other K.C. starting defensive end, says, "Art just wants to be different. All you can do is laugh and shake your head."
Indeed, you can laugh at a guy 6'7" who shuns meat, fried foods, caffeine—all the things that made America great—and is thrilled when his wife, Lizbeth, greets him during a practice break with a bowl of granola, yogurt, sunflower seeds and raisins. But more people have been shaking their heads than guffawing. Players routinely, if inexplicably, eat their way out of the NFL because of their affection for mashed potatoes and hot fudge sundaes. By last season, Still had nearly not eaten his way out.
As a 260-pounder in 1980, Still was considered one of the NFL's top two or three defensive linemen. But that year his weight started dropping, and when he reported to camp in 1983 at 238, the Chiefs were unhappy.
"You feel O.K. about your weight?" inquired Walt Corey, K.C.'s defensive line coach.
August 26, 1984
"Yes," said Still.
Whereupon he went out and had a miserable year. He strained his right shoulder in a preseason game. Later he was ineffective for four games (total tackles: six) because of a bruised left ankle. He was nagged most of the season by jammed fingers on both hands. His sternum was bruised by those big bullies on offense. Worse, people suspected his injuries weren't real. There was talk, Still says, that drugs had pulled him down, along with his weight loss. Not true. He refuses even to take aspirin, which at least would have eased the pain of the tendinitis in his knees. Furthermore, he was upset throughout training camp about his contract (in September he finally got a new one, which will pay him $335,000 this season, with the potential for $35,000 more in performance incentives). He was also mad that Kansas City's new coach, John Mackovic, had this weird idea that he should practice hard. Still was especially angry that people kept bugging him about his weight, that he continually heard himself referred to as the "nut and berry man."
But if he was sore about not making All-Pro in '83 after doing so in '80, '81 and '82, he shouldn't have been. He didn't rate it. "I think Art wanted to see how light he could play," says Corey, "and I think he found out."
Indeed he did. Still came to camp at 257 last month, went up to 264 the first week and has had no trouble holding that weight. He's still the nut and berry man—what else do you call a fellow who has bunches of grapes and a huge bag of peanuts in his room?—but a conscientious effort to stuff himself with even more nuts and berries and the addition of a protein drink have bulked him up. Now he never leaves home without his blender. Or his dozen different kinds of vitamins (he takes 60 pills a day). Or his bee pollen, for that matter. And he's talking about reaching 270 pounds, which could make for a big plus for the sagging Chief defense, 20th in the league against the rush in '83. Kansas City needs to improve there if it doesn't want to repeat its last-place finish in the AFC West.
After college football at Kentucky (where his sister Valerie later was an All-America basketball player), Still was the second player taken in the 1978 draft, behind Earl Campbell. He made the UPI all-rookie team that year and in his third season was selected for the Pro Bowl after leading the Chiefs in tackles (140) and sacks (14½).
But just before the Pro Bowl, he began reading up on nutrition. "Food had always seemed heavy on me," he says. "When I was eating red meat and all that other stuff, I didn't have any drive."
Hello, new diet, just in time for the 1981 season. By camp he was 252, and on Sept. 20 against San Diego he strained a ligament behind his right knee. That was his first NFL injury. He had only 68 tackles that season and his weight kept sinking. Last year he had 96 tackles and just three sacks.
Being tactful, Mackovic says, "He played a little on the light side. In football you're dealing against the mass of others, force against force. If both players are strong and both have ability, but one is bigger, bigger will win quite often." Yet the Chiefs tried to be understanding. As Mackovic puts it, "We say you should be in this stance. We say you should protect this part of the field. But we don't say what you should put in your stomach."
Now Still has found new motivation to stuff that stomach. His first child, Afa, a boy, was born last June, and he and Lizbeth hope to have, oh, eight or 10 more and perhaps adopt some as well. They are building a $250,000 house near Liberty on 35 hilltop acres Still bought for $50,000, and while surveying the property recently, he said, "I need to play well so I can pay this off in two years." With that, he shared a few—a very few—of his plums and nectarines with two horses that had wandered up.