It's gut-check time in the NFL.
So check the gut on Irv Eatman. The Houston Oiler offensive
tackle weighs 310 pounds, and his very name confesses, "I.
Eatman." To which we can only reply: You certainly do, man.
But that's cool. Fat's cool. And cool, in hip-hop slang, is
phat. Thus: Fat is phat. "Fat on fat" is how 330-pound Nate (the
Kitchen) Newton, the Dallas Cowboy guard, describes blocking
335-pound William (the Refrigerator) Perry, who spent the last
two seasons as a tackle with the Philadelphia Eagles. "If we rub
up against each other the wrong way, we'll start a grease fire."
All summer long, NFL teams have been trimming the lean from
their rosters. Fat's where it's at. "It's almost a status
symbol," says New Orleans Saint offensive tackle Richard Cooper.
"I'm 340. It's almost like saying, 'I'm a Lexus, I'm a
I'm a Lincoln. Offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy of the Atlanta
Falcons will begin the season at 350 pounds, an entire Olympic
gymnast less than his off-season high of 415. When Arizona
Cardinal offensive tackle Larry Tharpe was with the Detroit
Lions, he was known as Magnum because, says then teammate Lomas
Brown, "He weighed 357." Cleveland Brown offensive tackle
Orlando (Zeus) Brown stands 6'6", weighs 325, wears a size-64
suit coat and declined to be interviewed for this story by
casting verbal lightning bolts at his inquisitor. "You think I'm
some kind of ---- freak?" loosed Zeus.
Freak? Au contraire, mon frere avec le grand derriere: Three
hundred and twenty-five pounds is not far from the norm for a
lineman in the National Football League. As Pittsburgh Steeler
offensive tackle Leon Searcy (weight, 306; shoe size, 17EEE)
puts it, "Now 300 pounds is considered light."
And so we celebrate sport's newest roll models, football
players the size of the federal budget deficit, several of whom
we gathered for a (very) round-table discussion of sumo
wrestling, suit shopping and the relative shortcomings of wicker
furniture. We asked all kinds of impertinent questions of these
300-pounders. They graciously gave us their gut reactions.
Example: Is fat ever good?
"Yeah," says 305-pound Buffalo Bill offensive lineman Glenn
Parker. "When it's on a prime rib."
Which reminds us. You can chew the fat all day with these guys
and never hear the word. Fat, that is. "I'm not fat," says nonfat
329-pound Minnesota Viking offensive lineman Bernard Dafney.
Huge is the adjective favored by 300-pound defensive tackle Dan
Saleaumua of the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Enormous," suggests 351-pound offensive tackle Jerry Crafts of
the Green Bay Packers.
"I prefer planetlike," says Parker, whose girth resembles Earth
when he pictures himself in certain suits. "Like window-pane
suits," he says. "They look like someone has drawn the lines of
longitude and latitude on me."
Only Newton uses the F word. "Fat helped me get into this
league," reasons the two-time Pro Bowl starter. "And it gets me
attention. It's all you guys write about: fat, fat, fat. Some
people think I'm so fat that they have to see it for themselves.
So they hire me for a personal appearance and pay me lots of
money so they can see how fat I am."
In other words: No gut, no glory.
In the beginning, there was but one Monster of the Midriff. Les
(Bingo) Bingaman played defensive tackle for Detroit from 1948
to '54, when men were men and personal scales were like bowling
scores: They stopped at 300. But a grain scale in a Michigan
feed store registered Bingo at 350 pounds, which seems about
right when you consider that a pilot once asked him to move from
the rear of the plane to the front to facilitate takeoff.
The writer Kingsley Amis has noted that outside every fat man is
an even fatter man trying to close in. But in the three decades
that followed Bingaman's retirement, fewer than two dozen
300-pound men made it into the NFL. They were rare specimens
like Sherman Plunkett, a 330-pound offensive tackle for the
Baltimore Colts, the New York Jets and the San Diego Chargers
from 1956 to '67. Plunkett's Colt roommate awoke one night to
find the Sherman tank snuffling in a five-pound tube of
liverwurst in the darkness.
Plunkett notwithstanding, in those days the round one was more
likely to play on the defensive rather than the offensive line.
As late as 1986 only two 300-pound offensive linemen were taken
in the entire NFL draft. Compare that to the five 300-pound
offensive linemen taken in the first 31 selections of this
year's draft--including the second pick overall (by the
Jacksonville Jaguars), tackle Tony Boselli, flab-free at 325
This seismic shift from one side of the scrimmage line to the
other is simply the result of a cyclical tipping of the balance
of power in the NFL. "It's evolution," says Joe Woolley,
assistant general manager of the Arizona Cardinals. "All of a
sudden these big guys were overpowering the offensive linemen.
It's like the time the league went through a series of small
wide receivers to get past big cornerbacks. Teams started
getting small corners. Now there are big wide receivers, and
you'll see bigger cornerbacks."
Bigger is better, in all areas.
Football's most bighearted big man was Big House, 350-pound New
England Patriot offensive lineman Steve Moore. In 1987 he was
bundled off to Duke University's renowned eating-disorder
clinic, where in six weeks of intensive therapy he gained 11
pounds. When the Pats saw no less of Moore, his career was
finished, more or less. Within a year of his release he was
killed by a robber. "He had absolutely no enemies," recalls
Pats' offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong. "The bigger he got, the
nicer he was."
That's true of so many 300-somethings. "A gentle giant," is what
giant gentleman Eric Swann, a Cardinal defensive tackle, calls
himself--though he weighs a mere 295. "A big teddy bear," is how
320-pound Reuben Davis, who plays defensive tackle for the
Chargers, describes his demeanor.
Why is it that those men most bound by gravity are least
burdened by gravitas? Call it the unbearable lightness of being
heavy, the big man's inability to take himself too seriously.
What's instructive here is not that 300-pound center Jeff (Deli)
Dellenbach of the Patriots can fit his wife and three children
into his boxer shorts, but that he has. "Let's face facts," says
Parker of the Bills. "There's not a lot of well-paying jobs for
300-pounders. We found them, and we're happy about it."
"Big guys have to be jolly, as much crap as we take sometimes,"
says the Saints' Cooper. "I wear a 15 shoe, and I go to stores
hoping they have a 15. So you go over to the guy and kind of
whisper, 'Do you have a 15?' And it never fails. The guy will
go, 'Hey, Johnny, do we have a 15?' Wheeewww!"
So why does Brad Hopkins get no jollies from Jolly St. Nick, or
from the Jolly Green Giant, or from the stereotype of the jolly
fat man gorging himself on Jolly Ranchers? "Jolly is bull----,"
sneers the 306-pound Oiler offensive tackle. "A jolly guy is a
fat guy in a bar. Norm from Cheers is jolly. Norm couldn't be a
True. Make no mistake, the 300-pounder is an athlete. Last year
alone there were eight 300-pounders in the Pro Bowl. Among the
game's best linemen is Newton, who credits Perry for making fat
phat. "He opened doors for people to realize that if you cut off
a man's gut, the part that's hanging over his belt, there still
might be a lot of football player behind it," says Newton.
And yet, in football, as with the movie-theater beverage
industry, there is no Too Big, no outer limit. Large enough to
wear muumuus, these men are lithe enough to wear tutus. Swann in
Swan Lake? Don't laugh. "The most impressive thing I see is a
guy who can be over 300 pounds and have the feet of a
ballerina," says 300-pound Jacksonville center Dave Widell.
(Widell. Newton. Eatman. What is in a name?)
Is it too much to suggest that 300-pound linemen--graceful giants
engaged in ham-hand-to-hand combat--are America's answer to sumo
wrestlers? Dallas offensive line coach Hudson Houck must think
so; he has screened sumo films for the members of his
not-so-thin blue line, to demonstrate the advantages of getting
your hands inside and staying low to maintain balance.
"I love it, really," says 315-pound Indianapolis Colt defensive
tackle Tony Siragusa, when asked his opinion of sumo. "I think
those guys are sexy. I'd like to wear one of those thongs
onstage and let people watch me."
Yet Swann demurs. "I think it's an insult to humankind," he
says. "For people to get that big, try to grab each other and
throw each other out of a ring? I think that's just absurd."
So does 315-pound guard Dwayne White of the St. Louis Rams. "I
don't like to see those big guys splashing each other," says the
man whose nickname is...Road Grader.
It is impossible to say how many 300-pounders will be splashing
each other in the NFL this season, because the Planetlike
Person so often lies about his weight. Thus, the Oilers list
only five 300-pounders on their roster. "But if you put
everybody in here on the scale right now," says 304-pound guard
John Flannery, who spent the last four seasons with Houston, "I
bet you'd have at least a dozen 300-pound guys." Not to mention
one very crowded scale.
Many reasons are offered for this bevy of heavies in the NFL:
Human evolution, sophisticated weight training, hyperactive
glands and simple birthright. (As 302-pound San Francisco 49er
defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield says, "I was big when I was
little.") Some front-office types suggest that it's an optical
illusion, that the league's crackdown on steroid use has
resulted in sloppier, not heavier, men. But the two biggest
reasons--the two all-beef patties of explanation, if you will--may
well be fast food and slow metabolism.
The Three Hundred Pounder. It is not yet a menu item at
McDonald's, but if it ever is, Newton will be sorely tested. "I
used to see a Burger King commercial and drive right to Burger
King," he says. "I'd see a Popeye's commercial and drive for a
12-piece bucket. I'm more careful now. I went through Jenny
Craig, NutriSystem, all of them. None of them got me off french
fries. I looked into Overeaters Anonymous--but I didn't want to
get hypnotized. I once thought about getting my jaw wired, but
then I figured I'd just take french fries and put them into the
"There were times," says Parker, "especially in my rookie year,
when it would be nothing for me to down a case of beer and a
couple of large pizzas. And 50 chicken wings on top of that."
As it is imprudent to interrupt these guys when they are eating,
so it is dangerous to stop them when they are talking about
eating. So hear out Widell. "I used to be able to eat quite a
bit," he says, modestly employing the past tense. "I'll tell you
one little story.
"One of my high school buddies is named Steve Pinone. He's an
assistant basketball coach at Villanova and played on the 1985
Villanova national championship basketball team. We used to go
to an all-you-can-eat buffet called Custy's, in Rhode Island. We
went with Steve's older brother John Pinone, who played for the
Atlanta Hawks. We called the restaurant and said, 'Hey, we've
got four or five guys who can really do some eating.' This place
served filet mignon and lobster. We said, 'We're going to come
in there and try to set a record. We're going to try to beat
Andre the Giant's record for eating there.' Which was, like, 12
lobsters and 12 steaks. They said, 'Oh, don't worry about it.
We're sure we'll be able to accommodate you.'
"We're all pretty big guys. The first thing we do is drink the
water in the glasses and go fill them with melted butter. We
start with the lobster tails. For a lobster to be an official
eat, you had to eat the tail and the large claw. Steve had what
we like to call a triple-double at Custy's, meaning he ate 21
lobsters, 12 filets mignons and five dozen assorted cocktail
shrimp and baked stuffed shrimp. I had 18 or 19 lobsters and 11
steaks. As we were dunking our lobster tails in our glasses
filled with butter, they finally stopped serving us lobster. We
said, 'We warned you.' It was all you can eat for $21. You eat a
couple lobsters, and you're putting them under. They closed that
place down about two months later."
No wonder, then, that when interior linemen talk interior decor,
they dare not consider wicker. "Wicker," says Widell, "isn't a
good choice for most offensive linemen." Indeed. After pancaking
a patio chair at a Pier I Imports, Widell admits, he grabbed his
wife and "sort of slithered" from the store undetected, his rear
end rattan-splintered like a Singapore graffiti artist's.
The Big Man, it seems, is always crushing things accidentally.
"I broke the seat of my truck," says Road Grader's 335-pound
former teammate, Jet offensive lineman James Brown, the
Godfather of Soul Food. "I hit a bump and bent it all the way
"I broke a barber's chair," one-ups Ray Brown, a 315-pound
Washington Redskin guard. "I was trying to get a shave, and the
chair snapped. I was probably a little heavy then, I must
And so on. It seems the Planetlike Person spends the better part
of his summers violently buckling aluminum-framed lawn chairs.
"They make those things for 98-pounders," says Hopkins, whose
life is set to a soundtrack of shattering furniture. Each
blown-out chair is like a cymbal crash punctuating ridiculous
Crash! "I don't know how many times I've sat in a director's
chair and just crumpled it," says Parker. "And those aluminum
chairs? They just collapse."
Crash! "Just folded to the ground," says Swann, recounting a
freak picnicking accident. "Now, that's embarrassing. With a
plate of food in my hand...."
And so forth. Each of these men is an awesome force of nature, a
weather system unto himself, his path of destruction strewn with
twisted metal and fallen timber and the slack-jawed stares of
the Non-Enormous. "I just happened to sit on the corner of this
table, thinking it was sturdy enough," recalls 340-pound
Cincinnati Bengal defensive tackle Keith Rucker, and you think
you know where he's going with this one. "And the leg just,
like, crumbled. Everyone just stood there in amazement."
And yet, when it comes to man's ability to use his rear end as a
hydraulic press, Cooper takes the (pan)cake. The tackle had just
completed a tryout with the Jets in 1989 when he and four other
airbus-sized players sat down in the gate area at LaGuardia
airport to await a flight. Their five connected chairs--each
anchored to a single steel support beam--groaned and then snapped
simultaneously, like a five-seat dunk tank.
"We were laughing so hard we couldn't respond to the stewardess
who came over to see how we were," says Cooper. "Everybody was
laughing. Now that I know better, I should have yelled,
Lawsuits, windowpane suits, the pursuit of happiness: Their
common interests have fostered fraternity among full-bodied
football players, whose unifying slogan seems to be, "Ain't he
heavy? He's my brother."
And so they are comfortable speaking for one another. "We'd all
like to be built like gods," said 300-pound Derek Kennard, who
retired from the Cowboys this summer. "Look at Chad Hennings.
We'd all like to be built like that. You dream about that. You
dream of being a little scatback. But...."
He considered his own frame.
"But my dream isn't coming soon to a theater near you."
In fact, Kennard spoke a canard. As a rule the Big Man does not
dream of being lean. "No," says Dellenbach. "My dreams are a lot
better than that."
"No," says Brown. "All my dreams are still big."
"I like being a big guy," says 330-pound nosetackle Gilbert
Brown of the Green Bay Packers. "I love being a big guy. That's
all I wanted to be, a big guy. I was always a big, short [6'2"],
It's no small feat, the Big Man finding happiness in this small
world. Slim dreams? Fat chance. Small minds? Big deal. The Big
Man has faced bigotry big-time, but really, he's just like you
and me. "Big guys are no different," Kennard said this summer,
as a parting shot to his 10-year NFL career.
"Except," he added proudly, "we're big."