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If Gastineau had been an ordinary player, his dance card would have been torn up long ago. The NFL is, at bottom, a conservative institution that has always reserved its ugliest treatment for nonconformists. A kind of groupthink exists that does not make many allowances for individualism. Ram coach John Robinson, who obviously understands that better than Gastineau, says, "You tend not to see the champion do it [show off] as much as you see the guy who sees himself as an individual. If a successful offensive line danced every time it protected the quarterback, it would look like a disco out there."
Gastineau presented a different kind of problem simply because he was so good. In 1981 he finished second in the league in sacks to linemate Joe Klecko, and last season his 19 sacks were tops in the NFL. Still, he was constantly rebuked by his own teammates, reviled by the rest of the league, and eventually legislated out of his toe shoes and into submission by the new rule, which prohibits "any prolonged, excessive, or premeditated celebration."
Almost from the time the ban was passed, it became known as the Gastineau Rule—an honor, sort of. "I've never had a rule named after me," he says. The rule does have a provision permitting "spontaneous expressions of exuberance," and it will be interesting to see how the league's officials distinguish between one man's expression of exuberance and another's premeditated celebration. "We don't want to curtail enthusiasm," insists Don Shula, a member of the league's Competition Committee, which formulated the rule. "Gastineau could take one jump." Considering that Gastineau has danced on the Dolphins eight times in the past three seasons, it isn't hard to figure where Shula would like to tell him to jump.
Every year the league explains its new rules in a film shown to all players, coaches and officials during the preseason. Gastineau appears twice in this year's flick. "In one of the film clips," says Art McNally, the NFL's supervisor of officials, "Gastineau makes a sack and immediately raises his arm in the air. That would be fine. But if he goes into his dance...." McNally's voice trails off morosely. "We had a near riot in Shea Stadium when the Jets played the Rams last year," he continues. "And it's not just Gastineau. The ill feeling had been spreading through the league, and the clubs wanted to put a stop to it." The Jets voted with the majority when the owners passed the rule by a 26-2 margin.
Gastineau swears that the sack dance is never done to taunt the quarterback he has just knocked down or the lineman he has beaten on the play. "I've never done anything directly over the quarterback," he says. "I go off on my own and dance." But after Slater shoved Gastineau, he claimed linemen from all over the league called to thank him. And Gastineau weakened his own case last season when he did only a brief pirouette after a sack in Baltimore and later explained that his show of restraint was out of respect for Colt tackle Jeff Hart. "He's one of the nicest offensive tackles I've ever played against," Gastineau said. "To rub it in on a guy like that, to dance in front of his home crowd—I respect him too much."
Being respected too much is not a condition Gastineau has had much experience with. Just how high his peers' level of resentment is became apparent last season when he wasn't voted by the players to a starting spot in the Pro Bowl despite leading the league in sacks. "A lot of people don't like me, so they won't vote for me," he says. "They're allowed to vote for a third-stringer if they want to, and that is not right.
"But I think I've proved myself, and the dance has paid off for me. I signed the biggest contract in history for a defensive player this year." That contract was reportedly worth $4 million over five years. His off-field earnings are in the $200,000 range, so Gastineau pulls in about $1 million a year—certainly enough to keep him in leotards and leg warmers.
What Gastineau truly takes pride in is not his dancing but his body. "I don't call it the average body of a football player," he says. And indeed it is not. Gastineau's face is the only part of his body that is not rippling with muscles. It is, in fact, rather pudgy. He has flowing black hair that tumbles down what would be the nape of his neck if he had a nape, or for that matter, a neck. This summer he was sporting a gold earring, in the shape of a thunderbolt striking a fist, in his left earlobe, which meant that you could also call it not the average ear of a football player. A gold chain dangles in the cleft of his bosom, where only muscles are allowed to grow—he shaves his upper body. "I've been gifted with a great body," he says. "I want people to be able to see all of it."
"We go through razors like most people go through toothpaste," says his wife Lisa. Nevertheless, Gastineau feels he is a model of restraint. "Hey, I could shave my arms and legs," he says, "but I don't."
Gastineau spent his last week before reporting to this year's training camp working out at Gold's Gym in Venice, Calif., pumping iron with his personal trainer, Richie Barathy, then heading over to legendary Muscle Beach for some "cosmetic tanning," as he called it, so he would look good in the pictures for his upcoming book, The Body You Want. Gastineau feels that after football he might even pursue a career in bodybuilding. "Maybe not competitive bodybuilding," he says, "but I would like to go on and do some guest posing. I'm very proud of my body."