- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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They remain quiet, but their teammates can see the eagerness burning in their eyes. Now each man is winning every confrontation he pictures in his mind. They trot out of the tunnel into the human thunder of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, glancing at each other now and then during warmups. During the national anthem, rocking his weight from one foot to the other out of nervousness, Carter stares across the field at Macek. Macek steals his stares but then looks elsewhere so Rubin doesn't notice. "I just want to make sure he didn't grow 10 inches and gain 90 pounds since the last time," Macek says. "There's always that fear."
They come on the field, nod and load themselves into their stances, Carter's knuckles inches from Macek's football, both so wide and strong and close to the earth that neither can gain the leverage advantage they enjoy over other players.
It was at this precise moment, one warm, sunlit day in San Diego about five years ago, that they looked at each other and spoke the only words they would ever exchange during a game.
"Hey, Rubin," said Don.
"All right, Don," said Rubin.
The first pop expels the anxiety, their helmets meeting, glancing off and burrowing into the other's shoulder. A few years back their facemasks tangled and they shook a little like two horn-locked bull moose trying to free themselves, achieving nothing. Then they relaxed, probably realizing there were worse NFL linemen to go through life attached to, and were able to disengage.
They feel each other out the first two series, rationing their intensity, then settle into a grim, quiet struggle. A pattern quickly establishes itself. Carter doesn't try to steamroll Macek—he uses his quick feet and hand motions he learned in two years of karate lessons during college to bat away Macek's clutching hands and to shake free of his bearded shadow. Macek counters with a new wrinkle, moving more quickly off the ball than normal, waiting for Carter to commit in order to nullify any stunts the Bronco noseguard has up his biceps-hugging sleeve.
No psychological one-upmanship exists between them, except the little chess game of trying to set each other up for a move. Lester Hayes, the Raiders' cornerback, would try to intimidate an opponent by running a mock defensive coverage of that player's favorite pass route as the offense broke from the huddle, but the two quiet men have long since given up trying to overpower each other mentally or physically. They have even stopped searching each other for tips like the whitened fingernails that can be spotted when some linemen shift their weight forward to explode out of the stance. Both of them are too stoic, too controlled, too sly. One year, Macek came out hoping to take advantage of a damaged thumb Carter was listed as having in the Bronco's pregame injury report. Rubin trotted out with both thumbs heavily bandaged, scuttling that plan.
Macek remembers throwing Carter to the ground two plays in a row and feeling a sudden flush of pride and surprise because that was so rare. This game is more typical in that neither dominates the other—they are both too consistent, too well prepared to make major mistakes.
Once, however, on' a sweep left, Macek's mind blanks and he veers right. Carter is so immersed in their confrontation that he follows him, and two wrongs help make a 10-yard bite for San Diego.