The Indianapolis Colts' equipment staff keeps a three-ring notebook filled with pages of details about players' uniforms. Everything from the length of inseams to the thickness of neck rolls is recorded. The page on outside linebacker Duane Bickett is caked with white correction fluid. No other Colt is as finicky about his gear as Bickett. "He's a nightmare," says Dave Hicks, a part-time Indianapolis equipment assistant.
On game day Bickett's locker is stocked with so much paraphernalia that it resembles a sporting-goods store. Most of his teammates ask for one pair of pants, but Bickett requests as many as three, with waists ranging from 30" to 34" and inseams from short to long, so he can wear the size that fits his mood. Most of the linemen specify tight-fitting jerseys, but Bickett's has to be tight on the body and loose in the shoulders, and the sleeves must be altered so they end within two inches of the small number 50's up near the shoulders. "Duane wants his biceps to show," says Hicks.
The equipment staff also makes sure that Bickett has his special three pairs of sweat socks from which to choose. Believe it or not, Bickett will wear a sock that has a distinguishing mark only on his right foot. Doing so, he contends, makes him less susceptible to injury. When it comes to shoes, he wants four types available in his size, 13.
Three hours before kickoff, Bickett can be found at his locker, trying on one pair of pants after another. If none fits just right, he storms into the equipment room to demand a new pair from Jon Scott, the equipment manager. Bickett complains about his neck roll—adjust it to the right, Jon; no, back to the left; ahhhh, right again—and he whines about his helmet, which is lined with an air-filled rubber bladder. Most players have theirs pumped up before the game. Bickett sometimes needs an extra blast of air at halftime.
Finally, just minutes before pregame warmups, Bickett stares at himself in a full-length mirror. "I check my stuff," he says. "If I look O.K., I'm ready to go."
Ever since he entered the NFL in 1985, Bickett has been dressed for success. At 25, he is one of the standout players at his position, worthy of mention with such stars as Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks of the New York Giants, Andre Tippett of the New England Patriots and Wilber Marshall of the Washington Redskins. In fact, some scouts rate the 6'5", 243-pound Bickett the most complete outside linebacker in the NFL. They base their opinion on Bickett's ability to stop the run, play pass defense and blitz the quarterback. He has no weakness for the opposition to exploit.
"Duane's so big and strong he's more like a defensive lineman than a linebacker," says New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien. "You've got to put a tackle or a guard, some big guy, in his way because Duane comes at you with a full head of steam."
Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula says, "When you line up against the Colts, the first thing you ask is, 'Where's Duane Bickett?' "
On running plays, Bickett's powerful hands and long arms (his sleeve length is 37�") help give him the leverage to throw blockers from his path. Quick feet and excellent balance allow him to stay with tight ends step-for-step on pass coverage. When he rushes the passer from the right side, his best move is the "right-hand grab" in which he grabs the outside shoulder of the blocker with his right hand, then sweeps his left hand through the blocker's ribcage area and pushes him away, clearing a path to the quarterback.
As daunting as his physical attributes are, scouts agree that Bickett's most important trait is his intelligence. He has an accounting degree from USC where he maintained a 3.67 average and breezed through calculus and statistics. His unusual awareness of what's happening on the field allows him to remember every step he takes in a game. "Bickett makes fewer mistakes than any other outside linebacker," says one scout. "He's so smart, nobody's going to fool him. He'll play a long time in the NFL because he has never relied solely on physical skills. He has learned to play the position faster than anybody."