Means still doesn't see why everyone was so surprised by his big games. "Those were cold, loud places, where you're going to have trouble calling audibles, where you can't line up and throw it on every down," he says. "The best thing to do is to snap the ball on the quick count and pound it up in there."
Like Bettis, Means is blessed with sweet feet. Like Bettis, he wears down defenders. How does he know? They tell him. "What I like is in the second half, when guys start making arm tackles," says Means. "They start groaning when they get up and saying things like, 'I'm tired of tackling your big ass.' "
Means weighed in at 272 pounds when, shortly after having been waived by the San Diego Chargers, he signed with the Jaguars in March 1996. Today he's a trim (for him) 240 pounds and proudly points out that he put on just three pounds in the off-season. "I get tackled," says Means, "but never by just one guy. To a big back like me, that's like a slap in the face."
Some big backs screw up on a correspondingly grand scale. There have been the cannabis-and alcohol-related misadventures of Morris, who as a Steeler in March 1996 was pulled over by police in Texas and found to have six pounds of marijuana in the trunk of his car. The Steelers waived Morris, who received probation after pleading guilty to a felony marijuana-possession charge. He was signed by the Ravens, then served a five-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Despite missing four games for another substance-abuse violation this year—he tested positive for alcohol—Morris has run for 517 yards on 126 carries in 1997. He sat out Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles with ankle and toe injuries, but those are the least of Morris's problems. As a result of the positive test, he faces a hearing in Texas for violating his parole, and on Monday he was charged with second-degree assault for allegedly choking a woman at the birthday party of a teammate on Sunday night.
The latest big back to dig himself out of a big hole is the Chargers' Gary Brown, who as a 229-pounder in 1993 with the Houston Oilers rushed for 1,002 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. After the '95 season the Oilers cut Brown, who had gained weight and seemed to have lost interest in football.
Brown spent the 1996 season moping around his native Williamsport, Pa., exploring how many hoagies and cheese steaks he could put away in a day. (Brown reports that he usually topped out at eight.) "I was feeling sorry for myself," he says. "I kind of got overweight." Kind of? At one point Brown's weight ballooned to 262. He had lost his job and his lap. One day he became so disgusted with his condition that he vowed to lose the weight and return to the NFL. He got down to 220, and the Chargers signed him to a one-year, $300,000 contract that included a $1 million bonus if he rushed for 1,000 yards. It looks as if Brown's going to collect. Through 11 games he has 816 yards.
"The money's not an issue for me," he says, and it's possible that he means it. "The Oilers paid me five million bucks [over three years]. To me it's more important that I'll never have to look in the mirror and admit to myself, You gave up."
After regaining his self-respect, Brown earned the respect of the Oakland Raiders, whom he ran around and through for 181 yards on Oct. 5. He followed that three weeks later with a 169-yard day against the Indianapolis Colts.
While the aforementioned big backs possess physiques of the type seen in The Full Monty, George is more of a Chippendale: 6'3", 232 pounds. "He's not so much a big back as a freak," says Brown. George gained a franchise-record-tying 216 yards in the Oilers' season-opening win over the Raiders and has rushed for 1,031 yards this year.
How best to contain today's big backs? What advice does a coach give players assigned to stop these runaway vehicles? "Eat more," says Bills defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.