Jim Pyne was born to the NFL the way some thin Waspy guys are born to regattas. It's a bloodline thing. The trio of helmets that represent the Pyne family's football legacy—the cracked leather antique worn by Jim's grandfather George Pyne Jr. for the Providence Steam Roller; the Boston Patriot relic belonging to his father, George Pyne III; and the version that Jim wears now for Virginia Tech—are all scarred and soiled as if they have been used to break rocks or haul dirt. Jim was bred to be a lineman, playing from a low crouch at center, that dark manhole of a position, where the games are long and everything sounds like one big whang.
The Pyne tradition reads like a dynastic saga, except that everybody ends up in pro football (or construction) instead of politics. Pyne is universally regarded as the best college center in the country and will certainly be a high, if not first-round pick in the NFL draft next April, which would make him the first third-generation player in league history. But Pyne's is not the most glamorous or enriching legacy a young man could have. The truth is, people don't pay much attention, or much of anything else, to centers. Pyne could have 10 illustrious forefathers and the only person watching him on every play would still be his mother—and, of course, his father, from whom Pyne received this family motto: "Just achieve, and don't be a real pain in the ass."
How do you tell a great center? It's kind of like picking out a great hammer: At first glance, don't they all look alike? Pyne's head seems to have been shaped by a helmet. He is bald on top and has the requisite cleft in his chin to suggest toughness and durability. A cursory examination of his physique reveals that he is 6'2" and 285 pounds, with a certain impenetrable quality. He holds Virginia Tech records in weightlifting, including a mark of 401 pounds in the hang clean. All are hallmarks of a born center.
"It's not a romantic position," he says. "We're different people, a different breed. You're always banging your head into something. Everything falls around you. I like the word relentless."
Certainly Pyne doesn't reveal his talent in an artful swivel of his hips. The real indicator of his NFL potential is the fact that when the whistle blows, he is usually still driving into some guy 10 yards down-field, his legs bent, back straight, eyes glazed. Or that in short-yardage situations Pyne will order the coaching staff to "run it over me." When the Hokies are facing third-and-one or fourth-and-inches, the call is likely to be quarterback wedge, a keeper by Maurice DeShazo right through center. "I wish I had a whole line of Pynes," DeShazo says.
Pyne, a four-year starter, has participated in more than 2,300 snaps. ("He even looks old," DeShazo says.) That fact is accompanied by this amazing statistic: In his college career Pyne has allowed only one sack by the man he is blocking.
In a blocking stance he looks like a pommel horse. He has a short trunk and long arms, which end in wrists so large he has to wear a custom-made band on his watch. But Pyne's defining feature is his neck, the 22-inch muscle mass that defies all conventional tailoring. This summer he went to a men's shop in Boston to buy a dress shirt. The shop attendant draped a tape measure around that neck, then pulled away, flapping the tape in distress. "We have nothing for you," he said.
Pyne inherited his build and stance from his 288-pound father, a self-made success story with an occasional tendency toward bullying. George Pyne III played defensive tackle for the Boston Patriots in 1965 before he went on to found a construction and machinery company and develop a thriving business building condominiums. That was a considerable advancement for a family with small-town working-class roots. George's family ran a flower shop; the parents of his wife, Rosaleen, were Irish immigrants, a fisherman and a cleaning woman whose names are inscribed on a plaque at Ellis Island.
"He's a tough man," Jim says of his father. "You got to understand, he loves carrying bags of cement. He's nuts."
George still puts on a game face every weekend, even though the games now involve the two sons who play collegiately: Jim and his brother David, a preseason All-America at tackle for Division I-AA Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. David, a 6'4", 295-pound specimen who is 13 months older than Jim, is also a pro prospect. George has been known to make two games on a Saturday, hopping puddle jumpers from Easton to the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg. If there is a big guy bellowing in the stands, chances are it's George Pyne III.