The great ones find a way to get themselves ready for what seems like an impossible task: Paul Gruber of Tampa Bay, Jim Lachey of the Washington Redskins, Luis Sharpe of the Arizona Cardinals, Richmond Webb of the Miami Dolphins. Will Wolford of the Indianapolis Colts, Gary Zimmerman of the Denver Broncos. And then there's Mike Kenn of the Atlanta Falcons, who has spent 17 years in the NFL. How many times have the Falcons talked about replacing him? But he's still there, perhaps not quite as dominant in his run blocking but still quick enough to keep people off his quarterback. "There aren't really that many younger left tackles out there right now," Kenn says. "Maybe that's why I've lasted so long. We're hard to replace."
Last year I played all 16 games, and after every one of them I sat down in front of my locker and said, 'Thank the Lord, this week's over with.' For 16 weeks it's a battle, a struggle every day, every play, every down. You have to approach every play like it's your last, because if you mess up, it could be your quarterback's last.
Cleveland Brown left tackle
When you've played the position long enough, you measure your career by the men you've bested—and by those who have turned your Sundays into nightmares. "I remember bad days more than good days," Shell says. "Remember the right end Houston had, Elvin Bethea? Quick as a hiccup. One time he beat me and Gene Upshaw on the same play. I didn't touch him. Neither did Gene, who was backing me up from his guard spot.
"One time in Oakland I had a bad day against the Steelers' Dwight White. He even intercepted a screen pass when I tried to cut him and couldn't. That year they were giving out free flying lessons in a Cessna for the defensive player of the week, and that week he won."
"When I first came into the league, Reggie White was on a roll," says Harris Barton of the San Francisco 49ers, a right tackle who protects lefty Steve Young's blind side. "I'd lost sleep worrying about him. So we got into the game, and after a while Reggie said, 'You're blocking me pretty good today. Have you accepted Jesus as your savior?'
"I said, 'Reggie, I'm Jewish.' From then on he didn't say a word to me."
Tony Jones says that the most sacks he ever gave up in a game were two, in the first game he ever played against the Giants. The year was 1991, and the culprit was Taylor. And what was that afternoon like?
"Terrifying," Jones says. "I wanted the day to be over with. I was embarrassed. LT wasn't talking much, but at one point he did say, 'You're gonna need some help before this day's over.' I told him, 'I think you're right.' What else could I say?"
"I was playing Renaldo Turnbull this past year," Pittsburgh's John Jackson says, "and he had this sack streak going. He kept talking and talking. He told me, 'Jackson, it's going to be a long day.'
"I told him', 'Every day's a long day for me.' Then I started laughing."