But while the no-nonsense Lott viewed overt celebration as anathema, Hanks is not bashful about prancing around. Sanders's arrival last season loosened up the 49er locker room, and Hanks took his cockiness to another level, playing Showtime to Deion's Prime Time. Exhibit A is Hanks's celebration dance, an exaggerated strut performed while his "chicken neck," as Wright calls it, bops up and down like a pogo stick. Hanks says that the inspiration for the dance came from watching Bert's pigeon dance on Sesame Street with Maya. So call Hanks's creation the Sesame Strut.
With Sanders in town, Hanks also began to strut when he was away from the field. Says Marva, "I think the guys kind of used Deion as an excuse to do all the things they always wanted to do. All of a sudden Merton had to get limos to go out and eat, with sharp suits, bodyguards and an entourage—the whole bit."
But Hanks, like Sanders, also appreciates the value of hard work. As far back as junior high school he has held an assortment of jobs, from busing tables at a Wendy's to his position last summer, when he worked as a human resources intern at Bank of America's San Francisco office. Hanks is fervent about preparing for a postfootball career, even though he soon stands to make a huge chunk of change playing the game. With a salary of $650,000, he is among the league's most underpaid stars. His contract runs through 1996, but 49er president Carmen Policy says that shortly after the '95 season ends, the team hopes to open negotiations on a lucrative extension.
Money has been at the root of numerous disputes between Hanks and his mother, conflicts that have sometimes turned ugly. Harris has threatened to sue her son, demanding that he pay her routine medical bills and fund a major remodeling of her home. Hanks responded by writing Harris a letter detailing exactly what he will and won't pay for. "I think my mom was testing me," Hanks says. "As I got closer to graduating, and it looked like I might be drafted, she started cultivating a relationship that wasn't necessarily there."
Marva's long left arm reaches across the table and meets her husband's shaking right hand. "I tell Marva she's the person who keeps me humble," Hanks says. "I have a confidence in myself that borders on arrogance, but I know when I need to learn something, and I'm open to learning it." Marva nods, Merton smiles, and, for a moment, his head doesn't seem so big at all.