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Little Big Men
Michael Silver
January 26, 1998
Denver's line, the smallest in the NFL, is a huge—and generally offensive—part of the Broncos' success
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January 26, 1998

Little Big Men

Denver's line, the smallest in the NFL, is a huge—and generally offensive—part of the Broncos' success

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All the starting linemen are married with children, and only Nalen, 26, is younger than 30. They form a clique that is tough to crack, even for the most esteemed Broncos. "They can dice you up in a heartbeat," Elway says. "You can tell when they're talking about you because they won't look at you when you walk by." The linemen constantly rag on Davis for his status as a burgeoning superstar. "They don't talk to me often, and when they do, I'm not really sure what they're talking about," says wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. "You almost feel guilty even venturing into their area."

But these guys heap most of their abuse on themselves. Jones, acquired in an off-season trade with the Baltimore Ravens, is constantly under fire for his flashy wardrobe. Zimmerman supposedly retired after last season only to re-sign with Denver on Sept. 9. The hiatus allowed him to skip training camp and ride his Harley-Davidson to Sturgis, S.Dak., where he participated in a motorcycle rally. When Zimmerman rejoined the Broncos, he was immediately fined $8,000 by the kangaroo court: $5,000 for skipping camp, $2,000 for being a prima donna (he received extensive media coverage) and $1,000 because popular backup Scott Adams was released to clear a roster spot.

Zimmerman is a notorious practical joker whose favorite target is the high-strung Habib. One time Zimmerman had a Denver trainer call Habib at his off-season home in Woodinville, Wash., and inform him that he was required to take a league-mandated drug test. Habib had planned to drive across the state to Spokane with his family, but he delayed the trip and reported to the Seattle Seahawks' facility. The Seattle trainer, who was in on the prank, handed Habib a cup in which to urinate and then revealed the ruse with an acrid, "By the way, Zim says, 'Hi.' "

In October, Diaz-Infante skipped practice to be with his wife, Audra, when she gave birth to the couple's first child. Only Habib objected to Diaz-Infante's absence. He suggested a $100 fine, arguing, "When I have my baby, I'm not going to f—-the guys over." Two weeks later Habib missed practice when his wife, Shannon, gave birth to their third child. He was slapped with a $3,000 fine.

Another quality that makes Habib an easy target is his obsessive cleaning. He has been known to wash his car three times a day, and he regularly hoses down the outside of his house. He often spends his nights painting over handprints or scuff marks his children have made inside the house. 'I'm very anal," he says. "Everything has to be just so. I drive my wife crazy. People don't really believe this, but I'm in charge of cleaning the bathrooms, the floors, the windows and the dishes."

It's not tough to imagine how Habib clashes with Nalen, he of the vomit and unwashed practice jersey. "He won't even let you eat in his car," Nalen says of Habib. "Hell, people can pee in my car."

Nalen is downright hygienic compared with Schlereth, the other blocker most likely to do battle with the massive Brown. The first Alaska-born NFL player, Schlereth is known as Stinky—supposedly a reference to stinkheads, an Eskimo delicacy made from rotting fish heads. You make the call. "Stinky throws up on the field during games," Nalen says. "He also pees his pants. He used to get away with it when he played for the Redskins because they wore those dark red pants. Trust me—sometime during Super Bowl XXXII, Mark Schlereth will pee his pants."

Mr. Schlereth, how do you plead? "Guilty," he says. "It's absolutely true. I figure, it's not much different than sweating."

Holding up O.K., Gilbert?

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