Seth is running wind sprints—through an obstacle course of chairs and toys. He weighs 37 pounds, not extraordinarily big ("John weighed that when he was a year old," says Page Hannah. "He was very fat"), but sturdy enough, very solid through the shoulders and chest, big in the legs, like his daddy. He is running at top speed, all out, but under complete control, with absolutely perfect balance. There's not a trace of a wobble. Every now and then he stops and throws back his head and lets out a loud roar. The Hannahs watch him, waiting for the motor to run down. It shows no signs of it. He turns his head to look at his daddy, and then runs smack into a high chair, bop, forehead first. He blinks, shakes his head and starts running again. "An offensive guard for sure," Page Hannah says.
The blood of two generations of linemen runs through Seth's veins. There's grandpa Herb, who came up to the New York Giants from a Georgia dairy farm in 1951 as a 30-year-old rookie and won the starting offensive right tackle spot on a team that finished one game out of the playoffs. There was Herb's late brother, Bill, a starting guard for Alabama. And there are John's two younger brothers, Charles, the Tampa Bay tackle, and David, who started at defensive tackle for Alabama. Three knee operations cost him a pro career.
An athletic lineage is just one of the similarities in the backgrounds of many of the keynote offensive linemen. They all had speed, they all had high intelligence. And none of them was especially interested in lifting weights, either because they didn't believe in it or because it wasn't fashionable at the time.
"I always felt that wrestling helped me more than weightlifting," Parker says. He was a fully grown 6'3" and weighed 248 when he came out of high school. "I was always more interested in agility than strength."
"For us, weights were taboo," McCormack says. "It was the old traditional idea about getting yourself muscle-bound, just like those ideas about swimming being no good because it would loosen your muscles, or the evils of drinking water during a workout because it would give you cramps. I was a big man in those days, 6'4", 250. Now I'd be just average, or maybe even small."
Hannah, who weighed 11 pounds at birth and 150 by the time he reached the fifth grade ("I was just a big fat kid who looked like a balloon"), played at 230 at Baylor School for Boys. A picture in the Baylor yearbook shows him as a very imposing-looking sophomore wrestler, built much as he is now, bulky rather than fat. That was the year he won the prep championship.
Weightlifting is something he got into only a year or so ago, and then he did it to keep his weight down. He was coming off knee and ankle injuries that limited his effectiveness in 1979 and forced the Patriots to cut back on a lot of their running plays. Their rushing yardage had dropped from an alltime NFL record of 3,165 yards in 1978 to 2,252 in '79 (trading Gray to Houston didn't help), and they suggested that Hannah keep himself lighter to save his legs from the pounding they'd get on the Schaefer Stadium artificial turf. He says the weights made him feel tighter and quicker. Last year his game-day weight, which in other years has been as high as 270, never went over 261, and he played as light as 255. It was his best year in football. He showed up at this spring's mini-camp in May at 265 and ran a 4.85 forty.
Hannah had built his strength through work—farm work and heavy equipment work at the family farm-supply business. Parker held down three jobs after school as a high school senior. Kramer grew up bucking bales in the Idaho hayfields; McCormack worked in a lumberyard in Kansas City when he was a youngster; in the summer he'd follow the wheat harvest. Gibron held down a job on a section gang when he was a kid. "I worked in construction all my life," he says. "A lot of people don't realize it, but we were doing almost the same things on the job that kids do in the gym these days. You work on a cement gang all day long, you're doing a lot of 500-and 600-pound dead lifts. You carry a hod up a ladder while you're holding onto the ladder with one hand, well, you're doing one-arm dead lifts. And even in the pros, we were always doing strength-type things. We'd go out at night and instead of chasing broads we'd get a six-pack and then arm-wrestle all night long."
Another thing the great ones have in common: When they first came up, pass blocking was a mystery.
"I started in my first exhibition game with the Browns," Parker says. "It was against the Bears. Here I was, just a few days out of the All-Star camp and I was going up against Doug Atkins and Earl Leggett. We threw 47 passes that night. In my three years at Ohio State we'd thrown 27 passes, and half of them were just throwaways... 'Just throw it deep down the field so they'll think we've got a passing attack,' Woody Hayes would say. Leggett and Atkins humiliated me all night long. They were driving me 15 yards past John Unitas. They were laughing at me and calling me 'Buckeye.' The game was played in Cincinnati and when it was finally over I told Weeb, 'You can just turn me loose here, and I'll get back to Columbus. Don't even take me back to camp.' "