Didn't know? The
first time they met was head-on, at full gallop, on an outside running play in
1976, when Macek was a rookie and Carter a second-year man. Every cell in
Macek's body recorded the introduction. "It felt as if my body was
crumbling," he recalls. "I knew then that to play in this league I had
to get strong."
No two men lined
up with so little air separating them as the noseguard and the center, and
Carter lined up as close as any noseguard in the league. He did nothing to
camouflage the evil that emanated from his eyes. In their early years, the
prospect of facing Carter made Macek run frequent shuttles to and from the
locker-room bathroom in the hours before the game. Only Curley Culp of Houston
could make Macek run to the bathroom the way Rubin Carter of Denver did.
spoke to him, and Macek was a man who remained quiet near a stranger. Their
shyness had roots. Both had been huge, husky children who matured early and
felt the pain of being different. Some kids ran away when Donnie Macek came to
play, and girls sometimes shunned him. In New Hampshire, a state that has just
one current player in the NFL—Macek—people could not perceive the connection
between poundage and potential.
Up and down the
East Coast, children taunted Carter for his thick body and thick glasses. He
grew up the youngest in a family of eight children, migrant workers who moved
from Florida to New York picking vegetables and fruit. He would take the
teasing silently for a long time, and then something would snap, and he would
lose all control. One day in sixth grade in Fort Lauderdale, preparing to deal
with one of his tormentors, he drove a nail through a two-by-four. His brother
confiscated the weapon, and so Rubin went at the tormentor with his fists.
"When the cops pulled me off him, he was gasping for life," Carter
frightened him, and he gripped his emotions tighter and tighter, until most
people never knew they were there. In the Bronco locker room in 1978, 230-pound
linebacker Godwin Turk taunted him once too often and was shocked to find
himself crunched headfirst in a garbage can.
In high school
and his first years of college, he might celebrate after a big tackle, predict
a score or demonstrate his anger. But the risk of showing any emotion, of
losing control, so worried him that he trained himself to become a quiet,
efficient machine on the field.
He was playing
what might be football's most dangerous position, and one wrong gesture, one
wrong word, could end his career. The noseguard was the focal point of the
game's anarchy—how simple for the center to straighten him up, and the guard or
tackle, the tight end or the running back to drive a shoulder pad into his
knee. One team last year put a wide receiver in motion who suddenly slanted
into the line at the snap and cut Carter's legs. He had missed the last five
games of his senior year in college when two opponents teamed up on a cheap
shot. By keeping his head on a swivel, and his tongue in the shade, he had
missed just two games in his pro career.
used their tongues as a tool, hoping to gain some advantage by perturbing their
opponents or making them laugh or relax. Rashad would whistle as he ran
patterns, and say things like. "I think I'm going to catch this one" or
"Did you see Hill Street Blues the other night?" even as the ball was
on its way to him. "Ssssnake," the Packers would hiss at him, the
veterans warning younger teammates not to listen to him. But his jabber worked
like a lullaby on ex-Raider Jack Tatum, who never failed to tackle Rashad
hospitably, although he seemed to be trying to decapitate every other Viking
The two quiet men
frowned on such frivolity. Carter remembered all the bad air that hung over his
room his last year of college, when he roomed with the center he faced each day
in practice. The only show of emotion Carter could ever remember from Macek was
a tiny fist pump during a Charger drive. To the San Diego center it was a
matter of logic to keep himself and Carter calm. "Every lineman I've ever
played against only plays better when he's mad, and an offensive lineman who's
mad only plays worse," he says. "It breaks concentration to talk. We're
out there to do a job. Everything else is unnecessary."
Macek had gone
several seasons without a personal foul, Carter 11 seasons with just three.
Just a few weeks ago, Macek had eliminated the one bit of flair he had
permitted into his life, selling his Porsche Carrera 911 in order to use the
money for shrubbery and trees outside his new home. The more the two men muted
themselves, the more controlled they were on the field and in the locker room,
the less was the likelihood of their gaining notice or acclaim. Reluctantly,
they accepted the trade-off, preferring longevity and security to fame. Even to
play spectacularly well was a risk. The Bronco defense is designed for Carter
to occupy as many blockers as possible so the linebackers might flow
unencumbered to make the tackles, but he played so well against the Cowboys in
the '78 Super Bowl that a man telephoned authorities at halftime and said
Carter would be shot with a rifle if he played the second half. Carter didn't
learn of the threat until after the game, and he became even more reserved,
more wary. He wouldn't pose for pictures with people he didn't know unless
someone from the Broncos vouched for them, nor finish a soda if he'd left it
unattended for even a moment. He would tense up when a stranger recognized him
and said, "Hey, aren't you Rubin Carter?" He kept his Super Bowl ring
in a safe-deposit box, stopping by a few times a year to gaze at it.