Football's most bighearted big man was Big House, 350-pound New England Patriot offensive lineman Steve Moore. In 1987 he was bundled off to Duke University's renowned eating-disorder clinic, where in six weeks of intensive therapy he gained 11 pounds. When the Pats saw no less of Moore, his career was finished, more or less. Within a year of his release he was killed by a robber. "He had absolutely no enemies," recalls Pats' offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong. "The bigger he got, the nicer he was."
That's true of so many 300-somethings. "A gentle giant," is what giant gentleman Eric Swann, a Cardinal defensive tackle, calls himself—though he weighs a mere 295. "A big teddy bear," is how 320-pound Reuben Davis, who plays defensive tackle for the Chargers, describes his demeanor.
Why is it that those men most bound by gravity are least burdened by gravitas? Call it the unbearable lightness of being heavy, the big man's inability to take himself too seriously. What's instructive here is not that 300-pound center Jeff (Deli) Dellenbach of the Patriots can fit his wife and three children into his boxer shorts, but that he has. "Let's face facts," says Parker of the Bills. "There's not a lot of well-paying jobs for 300-pounders. We found them, and we're happy about it."
"Big guys have to be jolly, as much crap as we take sometimes," says the Saints' Cooper. "I wear a 15 shoe, and I go to stores hoping they have a 15. So you go over to the guy and kind of whisper, 'Do you have a 15?' And it never fails. The guy will go, 'Hey, Johnny, do we have a 15?' Wheeewww!"
So why does Brad Hopkins get no jollies from Jolly St. Nick, or from the Jolly Green Giant, or from the stereotype of the jolly fat man gorging himself on Jolly Ranchers? "Jolly is bull ——," sneers the 306-pound Oiler offensive tackle. "A jolly guy is a fat guy in a bar. Norm from Cheers is jolly. Norm couldn't be a football player."
True. Make no mistake, the 300-pounder is an athlete. Last year alone there were eight 300-pounders in the Pro Bowl. Among the game's best linemen is Newton, who credits Perry for making fat phat. "He opened doors for people to realize that if you cut off a man's gut, the part that's hanging over his belt, there still might be a lot of football player behind it," says Newton.
And yet, in football, as with the movie-theater beverage industry, there is no Too Big, no outer limit. Large enough to wear muumuus, these men are lithe enough to wear tutus. Swann in Swan Lake? Don't laugh. "The most impressive thing I see is a guy who can be over 300 pounds and have the feet of a ballerina," says 300-pound Jacksonville center Dave Widell. (Widell. Newton. Eatman. What is in a name?)
Is it too much to suggest that 300-pound linemen—graceful giants engaged in ham-hand-to-hand combat—are America's answer to sumo wrestlers? Dallas offensive line coach Hudson Houck must think so; he has screened sumo films for the members of his not-so-thin blue line, to demonstrate the advantages of getting your hands inside and staying low to maintain balance.
"I love it, really," says 315-pound Indianapolis Colt defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, when asked his opinion of sumo. "I think those guys are sexy. I'd like to wear one of those thongs onstage and let people watch me."
Yet Swann demurs. "I think it's an insult to humankind," he says. "For people to get that big, try to grab each other and throw each other out of a ring? I think that's just absurd."