Last February, Packer free safety George Teague finally admitted something was wrong. Despite constantly eating to feed a voracious appetite, Teague had been losing weight at an alarming rate since joining the team as a rookie eight months earlier. His clothes were falling off him, he had no strength, and all he wanted to do was sleep.
"He came home after training one day, and he couldn't lift his arms," says Teague's wife, Consuela. "He couldn't put his glasses on his face. He couldn't lift a fork to his mouth. I said, 'George, you need to find out what's wrong.' "
In March, Teague, whose weight had dropped to 150 pounds, 40 under his usual playing weight, was found to have hyperthyroidism, a condition that accelerates the body's metabolism. Teague feared he might not be able to play football again. He was given Tapazole, a medication that inhibits thyroid activity, in the hope that it would control the malfunctioning gland. Teague, however, had an allergic reaction to the medication, requiring doctors to shut down his thyroid altogether. A few weeks later, he ingested a radioactive pill to kill the gland. The dosage was so powerful that a doctor told him that he couldn't have any close contact with his wife and seven-month-old son, James, for two days afterward for fear that they might become contaminated.
"The hardest times were when my son wanted to be held," says the 23-year-old Teague. "I just couldn't do it and risk contaminating him."
Afterward, Teague was given Synthroid, an artificial hormone similar to the one produced by a healthy thyroid, and was told he would have to take it for the rest of his life. Doctors also said that he could continue playing football. He had only four months to get ready for the season, so he visited Mike Colgan, a San Diego-based strength-and-conditioning coach, who put him on a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. In addition, Teague began working out, but that was difficult because his weight loss had weakened his knees, making running painful and backpedaling nearly impossible. To help ease the pain, Packer strength coach Kent Johnston had Teague use a state-of-the-art mechanical harness system called a Zuni.
Teague, a first-round draft choice from Alabama who had earned a reputation as a big-game player by intercepting two passes in the '93 Sugar Bowl against Miami and returning one of them for a touchdown, responded to the exercise. He brought his weight all the way up to 202 pounds before the season opener against the Vikings, though he still had some difficulty running and backpedaling. He approached the game with great trepidation, but once it got under way, he looked like the big-play Teague of old, intercepting two Warren Moon passes.
"When you excel at football and you put up with all the physical abuse, you start to believe that nothing can ever hurt you," says Teague. "I hadn't taken care of my body as well as I should have. I figured: I'm an athlete, I'm healthy, I'm invincible. I won't ever take my body for granted again."