For 6'4", 282-pound Mohammed Thomas David Elewonibi—let's call him Mo—the road to Hogdom has been long and full of wallows. His excellent porcine adventure started on the day he was born in Lagos, Nigeria, the son of a Nigerian businessman and his Canadian wife, but the journey had no focus until one night six years ago. Mo, who was 20 at the time, was working as a bouncer at a bar called Go Bananas in the logging town of Kamloops, British Columbia. Inside, a male stripper was dazzling the Ladies' Night crowd. Outside, Mo was soul-searching. This gig is fun, he said to himself, but is it a career? "I felt my life was going nowhere," he says. Good call.
Mo's parents were by then divorced, and he was living with his mother. His father was shuttling between London and Nigeria, but it was his advice—"Go to college, you lazy bum!"—that Mo heeded. He enrolled at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, choosing that school because a friend there had written to tell him how nice it was. "He lied," says Mo.
Though he had never played organized football, Mo went out for the team at Snow, whereupon coach Walt Criner prodded him further down the path of destiny. "He asked me what position I played," says Mo. "I said I didn't know. He flipped a coin and said, 'You're an offensive lineman.' I said, 'O.K.' "
Let's fast-forward past Mo's transfer to Brigham Young in 1987, his winning the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman in '89, the five operations on his left shoulder, his selection by the Washington Redskins in the third round of the '90 draft, and his languishing for two years and the first four games of this season on the injured-reserve list with shoulder and knee injuries. Let's pick up his story in the week leading to Sunday's NFC East showdown between the Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles at RFK Stadium.
The top Hog, All-Pro left tackle Jim Lachey, had gone on injured reserve after tearing a knee ligament in the second quarter of the previous Monday night's romp over the Denver Broncos. Suited up for a game for the first time, Mo had suddenly been thrust onto the field against the Broncos and hadn't embarrassed himself. Now he was slated to start in place of Lachey against the NFL's No. 1 defense, and he would line up across from the Eagles' All-Pro defensive end, Clyde Simmons, whose 7½ sacks tied him for third in the league.
"It will be my first start since Penn State in 1989," Mo said last Thursday, as he checked his message machine in the apartment he shares with a young woman who works as a bartender but who is not his girlfriend. They're just pals. Her name is Felicia Robinson, and she has a boyfriend. Still, Mo took her to London when Washington played there in the preseason. Being the buddies they are, they slept in separate beds in the same room. That's the kind of guy Mo is—friendly, respectful, unflappable. "Simmons," he said with a shrug. "He's a big guy with really long arms. He doesn't have a stop on his motor. I'm a little nervous, but I can't let it bother me. What can I do? Prayer? Old Nigerian voodoo chants?"
The matchup, Mo knew, was an important one, a microcosm of the larger contest between the 4-1 Eagles, with their vicious defense and explosive offense, and the 3-2 Redskins, with their forceful style of play and their rock-solid system that can replace seemingly irreplaceable parts anytime it must. Remember Washington's All-Pro cornerback Darrell Green, out since the second game with a fractured arm? Sub A.J. Johnson's stellar play could make you forget him. And when Johnson missed a start against the Broncos with a dislocated finger, Alvoid Mays—signed off a Bradenton, Fla., juice-packing line in 1990—filled in without missing a beat.
But the Skins' proud offensive line, the Hogs, is in disarray, with center Jeff Bostic out for three months with a torn rotator cuff and only right guard Mark Schlereth playing the position at which he started the season. Further, Mo would be filling in at the spot that, when played poorly, can greatly hasten a quarterback's brain-cell loss. "To be missing Lachey and Bostic, that's tough to swallow," said Washington quarterback Mark Rypien after Friday's practice. "But I'm going in with confidence. The offensive line is an elite club. Mo will surprise some people."
On Saturday at the Eagles' hotel in Crystal City, Md., Simmons pondered his mysterious opponent. He was bothered that the only videotape of Mo was of the three quarters of action against Denver. "It's unusual not to have much to study," said Simmons, shaking his head, the two gold hoops in his left ear flashing. "I hadn't known he won the Outland Trophy, but I figured anybody who could stay on injured reserve that long must be good. He has everything to gain, and I have nothing to gain. If I play poorly, I'm going to get crucified."
In the game, Mo locked up with Simmons from the start, occasionally getting outside blocking help from H-back Terry Orr or tight ends Don Warren and Ron Middleton. Simmons made two tackles on running back Earnest Byner on the Skins' opening drive, but one was after a five-yard gain, the other after a six-yard gain. Rypien threw a 10-yard scoring pass to Gary Clark, and Washington quickly took a 7-0 lead.