- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The score was 31-0, Kansas City over Oakland, and on the Chiefs' sideline, No. 58, their center, was acting like a madman. "Don't let them breathe!" Jack Rudnay kept yelling. "Don't let them breathe!"
The Chiefs, winless in their first four games this season, unable to score more than seven points in any first half, had run up 31 points in the first 30 minutes against the Raiders. Was it a coincidence that this was Rudnay's first game back after four weeks on the injured list?
"No coincidence," said K.C. Coach Marv Levy after the Chiefs beat the Raiders 31-17. "Jack Rudnay is our inspiration." Indeed, with Rudnay in the lineup, the Chiefs are 4-0 this season.
Undersized, underrated, underpaid, Rudnay is the kind of guy whose name pops up on the Pro Bowl roster every now and then—he has played in four Pro Bowls in his 10-year career—and you say, "Oh, yeah, Jack Rudnay." Occasionally you will see his name in a preseason scouting report: "The Chiefs' offensive line is unsettled, except for Jack Rudnay at center." Rudnay has always been an "except for," but it has never bugged him too much. You make a decent wage, you give a decent day's work, and if you get hurt, you get yourself taped back together and go out and work some more. Until this season Rudnay had missed only one start, but he hobbled in and played in that game anyway. Once, in 1977, he fractured the little finger on his snapping hand—the bone popped out through the skin—but he missed just three plays while the finger was being taped up. He has played on knees that were shot and with back spasms, but it wasn't until this year that the law of averages caught up with him.
"I popped a hamstring in the exhibition season by going against one of my most important rules—don't do any extra work after practice," Rudnay says. "I was running some extra sprints, and it just popped. I'd never had one before. I thought it was a cramp."
Rudnay tried sitting in the press box the next game. No good. People wanted to talk football with him. He tried sitting next to his wife in the stands. "That was even worse," he says. A few weeks later Levy got Rudnay back into uniform—a coach's uniform—and put him on the sidelines so he could hand out advice to his teammates.
That's one side of Jack Rudnay, No. 58. There's another side. Around the locker room everyone tells Rudnay stories. They talk of the way Rudnay got even with people he thought had wronged him; they talk of how he copes with the world's madness by outloonying it; they talk of his flair for parody. In K.C. they still talk about the TV short Rudnay did on fishing for bass in the city's Volker Fountain, a parody of the death-and-deliverance struggles of the fish and the fisherman.
Without his credentials on the field, Rudnay would be just another zany in a business full of them, another transitory oddball who came and went, an anecdote. As he marches along in tune to his own band, indulging his love of hilarity, pursuing his profession with a high level of proficiency and an extraordinarily high pain threshold, Rudnay will occasionally stop and take a long look at the world around him. And that's when the laughter stops and another emotion—an overwhelming feeling of sadness—comes in. He will see children in anguish—the suffering, the crippled—and he'll give of himself, and yes, he'll cry, too. Tears are very much a part of the total picture. But we're getting ahead of the story.
I had heard Jack Rudnay stories before—everyone around the game has—but until one bright, sunny day last May on Interstate 70 on the way to K.C.'s Arrowhead Stadium, I hadn't seen anything firsthand.
We were moving along smartly in Rudnay's 76 Jeep Cherokee. Rudnay was heading for the weight room for a final workout before beginning a two-week family vacation in Yellowstone Park. Weights aren't his thing. "I've seen guys who could lift 500 pounds but couldn't block anybody," he says. But the book says everybody goes through the program, and Rudnay draws paychecks from the Chiefs.