Nalen is Denver's five-time Pro Bowl center who should go straight to the Hall of Fame. "Is it true you guys don't talk to the press?" I asked him.
Nalen looked at me the way a Saint Bernard looks at a hydrant. Silence.
"But you guys are the real stars behind the stars! You've made mooks into millionaires! Don't you want people to know who's behind that?"
I tried everything. I suggested we conduct the interview with the linemen wearing paper bags over their heads. They said no. I said I'd conduct it by conference call, since I can't identify them by their voices. No. I suggested e-mail. No. I said I'd pay them $10 a quote. No.
It's not as if they aren't interesting. Nalen is constantly throwing up, sometimes even in the huddle. Left tackle Matt Lepsis may not talk to reporters, but he does send them Christmas cards. The other three--Ben Hamilton, George Foster and Cooper Carlisle--all had great stories. But no.
Turns out this whole thing can be blamed on former line coach Alex Gibbs, who was famously insular when he was with Denver for two stints in the 1980s and '90s, and Gary Zimmerman, who was one of the greatest tackles ever but would have been happiest living by himself in a cave. Kind of an us-versus-them deal. "Nobody was talking to you when you weren't doing well," Gibbs would scream at his linemen, "and now they want to talk to you? Screw 'em!"
Now you know why Zimmerman isn't in the Hall of Fame. Here's a guy who played 12 seasons in the NFL and was voted to not one but two NFL All-Decade teams, yet he's still not in. Of course, he was a Bronco, the Team Canton Forgot: six Super Bowl appearances, one inductee ( John Elway). The only other team that's played in as many Super Bowls-- Dallas (eight)--is about to get its eighth and maybe ninth inductees ( Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin). The Hall is picked largely by writers! Hell-ooooo, Mr. Nalen? Am I talkin' to a wall here?
Finally the p.r. guy told me, "Look, the O-line has designated a spokesman to talk to you. You can ask him any questions you want." It was Foster, a 338-pound third-year tackle. But he gave me quotes that were so useless and boring, they might as well have been in Swahili.