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Hey, everybody, it's the Lou Piccone-head Show! Here comes the star now, down out of the ceiling of the Ziegfeld Room at the Executive Motor Inn in Buffalo. The spotlight focuses on the 60-gallon cowboy hat perched atop his head like an open suitcase. Lou Piccone (pronounced pick-cone) graciously doffs the lid to reveal—ta da!—a two-foot-high, flesh-toned, official Saturday Night Live conehead. He steps off the hydraulically powered platform onto the dance floor and gives the 100 or so people a little Johnny Carson.
"How about that call in our game against the Raiders, huh? 'No kneepads.' No kneepads? They got a man coming around this year, he's an official NFL guy. looking for skin. That's his job. There will be no flesh on CBS.' Don't you love it? 'There will be no knee on NBC.' "
Piccone's not bad. He walks around, pulling the microphone cord behind him like a pro, trying out some simple gags, joshing the NFL's dress rules on the field.
"Can you imagine what this means? Guys running around trying to play football and look good at the same time? Players will be coming downfield and an opponent will say, 'Excuse me, your socks are down.' And you gotta stop and pull them up. Next thing you know, guys will be running past, yelling, 'Hey, take a look at the Goodrich blimp.' "
Who is this Piccone character anyway, with or without that head? Basically, he's a 31-year-old bomb-squadder-receiver-fill-in-the-blank player for the Bills, now in his seventh NFL year. He's small and he's compact, 5'9" and 175 pounds, and he's a great talker, an intense, self-deprecating, genuinely funny guy. He does these shows every Monday night between halves of the NFL game because, "I like entertaining, I like people, and I like getting off my rear." He's single, drives a red Cadillac (that seems to swallow him like a pig eating an acorn whenever he climbs in), and is one of the most popular sports figures in northwestern New York. All he has to do is line up at his R-4 position on the kickoff squad at Rich Stadium and 80,000 people begin chanting, "Lou! Lou! Lou!" To an unsuspecting visitor unable to distinguish "L's" from "B's," it sounds as though the crowd is booing some poor soul into oblivion.
Piccone came to the NFL via the tough-luck highway—from Vineland, N.J., through West Liberty State College ("located," says Lou, "somewhere in West Virginia"), to the semipros and the free-agent tryouts—and it's rather remarkable that he should be holding court in front of all these nicely dressed, receptive people in the Ziegfeld Room. It's even more remarkable that this self-described "poor little nobody" should be one of the rallying points on a team that is the No. 1 surprise of the NFL season.
After the show, Lou sits down at a table and says that, yeah, he has got a pretty good thing here in Buffalo. He loves the city (he lives in Buffalo year-round, running a firewood business during the winter). He loves his teammates. He loves the success of the team. But he's not exactly happy. Why? Because, well, he'd like a little more appreciation—not from the fans; he loves them, too—but from management. In short, he could stand a richer contract.
"Actually, it's not so much the money as it is a matter of establishing respect," Piccone says. "In this game respect is denoted by money; that's the only correlation you've got."
Piccone has been trying to get that respect (and the cash) since he first made it with the New York Jets in 1974. A stubborn, excitable kind of guy, Lou has a history of holding out to make his point. He walked out on the Jets in his second year, and he didn't show up at all for the Bills' training camp this year. Piccone has played out his option twice, and this year he signed only a one-year contract with Buffalo, meaning he may take a hike next season as well.
"I've only played for two pro teams, but I've had six head coaches," Piccone says, trying to focus some of his frustration. "They come in and the first thing they want to do is clean house. They look around, see me and figure, 'We gotta get rid of this guy.' They run me through a computer and I come out in the trash can. So each time I have to re-prove myself. And I've done it." Lou is heating up a little now; he doesn't need a cone-head to be a forceful speaker. "I'm consistent. I've got skills. I'm good. I've won games for these stupid bleeps!"