Ball of Steal
The Governor of the tumultuous state of Michigan pro football extends his meaty hand and accepts his due. In this case it's two $50 bills from humbled Detroit Lion defensive end Marc Spindler. "Thank you," says Jerry Ball, sticking the cash into his cluttered locker at the Pontiac Silverdome.
This is how it works for the Governor: He decrees; his constituents pay. This time it was a simple bet. Would Ball's understudy at nosetackle, Lawrence Pete, weigh less than 280 pounds at his first preseason weigh-in? Spindler said no, which seemed a reasonable wager considering that last season Pete had eaten his way well past the 300-pound mark. Ball said yes. Based on what? "History, understanding, knowledge," said the Governor. Pete weighed a sleek 276.
Ball, who has been a three-time Pro Bowl selection in six years with the Lions, was named the Governor by Detroit coach Wayne Fontes. "Last season he was the Mayor," says Fontes. "This season he's the Governor. Next year, what? The President?" Why not? The 6'1", 315-pound Ball—who just might have the most appropriate surname in all of sports—is a Texan with an opinion on everything. He has a flaming desire to see things run the right way (his way); a snake-oil salesman's fervor (whether he's hawking T-shirts and his football camps, or demanding justice for the oppressed and support for his favorite charities); and an uncanny ability to outfox, outwork, outmuscle and outtalk anybody out of almost anything.
Ball's athletic ability is so remarkable that he has fleeced teammates with barely a twitch of his body. In August he stood with a football 25 yards from one of the goalposts in the Silver-dome and bet fifth-string quarterback Greg Jones $10 he could hit the post on his first throw. Better than that, he would hit whatever letter in the word LIONS on the goalpost padding that Jones desired.
"The O," said Jones.
Flick, whoosh, splat—bull's-eye. The Governor's till had a new deposit.
Feeling lucky today? Step into the Governor's office and pick a sport, any sport. Just pay on the way out. Ball has whipped quarterback Rodney Peete at golf, running back Barry Sanders at basketball, safety William White at racquetball, safety Bennie Blades at a variety of games and all the big guys at damn near anything you can name, including free-for-all, hide-the-children grappling. In training camp Ball went after tackle Bubba Paris so aggressively in a simple game of dominoes that Paris confessed, "I think he's crazy. Now I see why people get shot in Texas."
"Everything he does is competitive," says tackle Lomas Brown, who even dresses competitively with Ball. "I wouldn't tell him this, but he looked good the other day in a...what was it? Salmon? Yeah, a salmon-colored suit."
"He's just relentless," says Pete. "Everything is can-do with him. I don't think there's anybody else at 300 pounds who can do what he can do."