He could crush you. He had those legs, that ass. He had arms nearly too thick for shirtsleeves. Over the years a man his size just naturally takes on names. Two of his were Angus the Bull and Brahma. People saw him and that was what came to mind. He went 6'5" and 305 pounds. Don't believe the old game programs that listed him as 275. It was all a ruse to deceive the enemy—that and a dream of his youth, a memory.
He had that noggin, too, that head. The Oakland Raiders had a hard time finding a helmet to fit him. You wonder where they found his jersey. They probably sewed a couple of black bedsheets together and added a silver number 78 to either side. He was that grand, that epic. He was a thousand other things the world doesn't even have names for yet. He was also nice. As a matter of fact, he was about as nice as they come.
"Hello," he would say to his opponent before a game, giving a smile from behind his birdcage. "How are you? Nice to see you again. Let's play hard and have a good game today." He would walk up to his left tackle position on the offensive line and, staring across the way, deliver this little bitty insult of a speech.
By now the stands were going crazy with noise, and the guys on the field were hopping with nerves, and there he was being Mr. Congeniality.
You halfway expected him to reach out and shake hands. All he needed was a name tag on his left shoulder pad that said: HI, THERE! MY NAME IS ARTHUR SHELL JR.
"Well, hello, Art," they replied. Or most of them did. Some just shrugged and looked away. These were the smart ones, the ones too proud to be afraid. They knew what was coming. He might be a perfect gentleman, a sweetheart of a guy. But he was still Art Shell. And he could crush you. It didn't make sense.
People with nothing better to do still argue over who the alltime best quarterback was. After a while the names begin to run together into one: Montanaunitasbradshawnamathstarr. Same with running backs. Brown, Simpson, Payton, or they reach way back and come up with Nagurski.
But offensive left tackle is a done deal, settled long ago. It belongs to Art Shell, the old Brahma himself. Shell played the position from 1968 until he retired after the 1982 season, and he played it better than anyone else, ever. In the end he will most likely be remembered as the first black NFL head coach in more than 60 years. But every defensive lineman who ever faced him will remember him for one thing: his utter greatness.
"Art was the man," says Dwight White, a former defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "You know what the most terrible situation in the world was for me? Fourth-and-one or third-and-two against the Raiders. Because you knew what was coming. They were running right over Art. My neck is shot today—I've got bone chips in it, it still hurts and gives me all kinds of problems. And it's all because of head-butting Art Shell."
"When you start thinking about left tackle and who was the best to play there, it really shouldn't even be up for discussion," says Dan Conners, a former Raider linebacker and teammate of Shell's. "Art was just it. He dominated."