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He Blocked For Napoleon
Bob Ottum
August 09, 1982
Denver Guard Tom Glassic likes to play with toy soldiers that remind him of wars he fought in earlier lives
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August 09, 1982

He Blocked For Napoleon

Denver Guard Tom Glassic likes to play with toy soldiers that remind him of wars he fought in earlier lives

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"Confirmed, lifetime bachelor," Glassic says. "Just me and my dog, a refrigerator full of beer and cold cuts. Freezer full of TV dinners. Did you know they're making TV dinners a lot better now than they used to? It'll help some guys decide to stay single."

Glassic capsulizes his life; his present life, that is. "My folks were divorced when I was eight and I was largely raised by my paternal grandparents in Elizabeth, N.J.," he says. "We're all Polish, longtime coal mining family; we once had a "z" in the middle of our name. I have two sisters. And my dad, who now lives in Pennsylvania, is so proud of me that he's on Volume 3 of the Tom Glassic scrapbook. And I haven't done that much. He's wild. I swear, he'll drive into a gas station and say, 'Gimme five dollars' worth of the unleaded and my son plays for the Denver Broncos.' "

But it was Grandma Mary and Grandpa Joe who spoiled young Tom when he expressed an interest in toy soldiers (more like cowboys and Indians in those days). Soon the things were all over the place. "And then I began reading," Glassic says. He pulls a battered old book from the shelf. "I accidentally found this copy of Model Soldiers, An Illustrated History (John G. Garratt, New York Graphic Society). And, I'll be damned: I found out that playing with toy soldiers was legitimate. A real, honest hobby. Respectable grownups did it. The toys led me into history. I couldn't possibly understand or grasp what Napoleon did unless I knew what Caesar did. That's because Napoleon had studied Caesar. And Caesar had studied Alexander. Who, in turn, had studied the Egyptians."

And gradually, through high school and the University of Virginia, where he was an honors student in English and history, it came to Glassic that—of course—he had seen and done a lot of this before.

No, not the football. Glassic is perfectly candid about the fact that he was recruited for his size, not his sparkling talents. "I was always the big kid in the class," he says. "You know: I got to pull down the map." Indeed, he didn't play football until his senior year in high school—and while he was at Virginia, the team went 4-7, 4-7, 4-7 and 1-10. He had no intention of playing pro football, but when Denver picked him in the first round he decided to give the Broncos a season, and he figures the reason he's still around is that he's gotten to be very good at playing guard. Glassic has come to regard his occupation as a sort of game within a game. "The whole football experience is a bit like a war," he says, "except that it's much more accelerated. But consider the lowly lineman: In order to make my life interesting, I have to resort to mind games with my opponent. It starts with my leaning the wrong way to fake him out on which way the play is going to go. But that's pretty elementary, and the real old pros aren't having any of that sophomore nonsense. So then you progress to subtle eye-fakes to throw them off. And after a while, that doesn't work, either. And, ah, then you resort to the game's real strategy—you give them the false lead, which they know to be false, and then you give them the false-false lead, which really screws them up. You do all of this properly and you start to feel like a pro."

If it weren't for his mind games, Glassic fears, his interest in football would flag. "It's my job to sacrifice myself," he says, "but not blindly. To wit: I've got to keep my man from getting to the quarterback. It's a task that involves holding him off for so many seconds—but it doesn't necessarily mean that I've got to knock him on his butt. We must spend our energy wisely. Now that's tough, but it's not the toughest part of the game for an offensive lineman. The baddest part is in learning to follow. If you'll forgive the parallel to war games, as a foot soldier, if I start making decisions, we're lost. I gotta learn to follow. Last thing in the world the general wants to hear is that one of his troops has just got a hell of an idea. And so I play on, quietly."

And protects his general at all costs. When NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Raiders recently sent a letter to Bronco Quarterback Craig Morton threatening retaliation on the field for Morton's anti-union stand, Glassic responded, "It's my job to protect Craig Morton and a slap in my face if anyone thinks I'd stand aside so he could take an extra shot. If anybody lays an extra hand on Craig, I'll cut it off."

In spite of the fact that he takes an obstinate pride in being voted as the worst-dressed, worst-groomed guy on the Denver team, Glassic clearly doesn't want to be tagged as a kook. His teammates seem to regard him as a gentle eccentric, no more or no less screwy than any old pro. When Coach Dan Reeves considered laying on a rule that the players must appear in blazers, dress shirts and ties on the road, it figured that Glassic immediately would launch a world's-ugliest-tie search to preserve his image. He drives an incredibly beat-up 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo, its once-sleek silver body now a mass of welts. The front window is badly cracked and the wiper blades flop uselessly—but, as he points out, it doesn't rain much in Denver. Besides, Duchess loves the car and Duchess goes where Tom goes—out jogging, alongside on team wind sprints, into the locker room, the weight room, the shower if she wants—probably the only dog in the NFL who's permitted such liberties.

Candidly, and Glassic is nothing if not candid, he feels his football career doesn't count for much. "One lifetime is like the flip of a coin," he says. "It's all over so quickly. There's only so much you can do in that time. Yet, why do we have such a diversity of interests—a consuming passion, or an intimate understanding of one thing? It's because we must have done it before, that's why. I have a feeling that I go all the way back to Napoleonic times—and yet I also feel that I'm just getting started. I think you have to develop slowly; it may take you thousands of years. You do it by living by an honorable code so that you can be worthy to go on."

Glassic feels that he's popped up at many times and in many places: "I think that I appeared again in British Colonial times," he says. "Perhaps I served with the British in India. And the French Foreign Legion somehow feels familiar—as if I helped conquer Morocco. And, finally, I have this intense feeling about the South Pacific in World War II—I think possibly I served and was killed in action there. Funny, I have a fascination for the sea, yet I'm afraid of it.

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