When those collisions are inevitable, it's better to be the hammer than the nail, as Rathman puts it. "Whenever possible you want to deliver a blow rather than absorb one," he says. "Backs who are always taking punishment and never giving it won't last long in this league."
Bettis is among the best at dishing out punishment, but like most running backs he has days when he is so sore that getting out of bed is almost as hard as getting into the end zone on fourth down from the one. Many backs say it's not the morning after a game that they dread but the one after that. Thanks to former teammate and fellow running back Roger Craig, Rathman learned early in his career about the healing powers of deep-tissue massage and chiropractic therapy, both of which are now common treatments around the league.
But there is no therapy that can completely erase the aches and pains, some of which last forever. Campbell, 47, walks gingerly, with a right knee so torn up that doctors have recommended replacement surgery and fingers so arthritic he avoids handshakes. No wonder that players like Rathman, by comparison, consider themselves to be in great shape. "I've just got little problems," he says. "I feel it in my spine and neck from pinched nerves, and I've got a little arthritis, but nothing too severe. I'm one of the lucky ones."