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I guess I was inspired when I walked into the office kitchen and saw a man staring into the blender. He's a big guy, a former Navy man and bullet-dodging war correspondent. A man who can power lunch with the best of them. And there he was, watching his thick, rich, delicious Ultra Slim-Fast shake whir to perfection.
Ah, yet another one of us who had been snared by those six formerly fat NFL coaches shouting in unison from our TV screens: "If we can do it, you can do it."
"It's marketing genius," my colleague explained, pouring his frothy lunch into a glass. "They market to men. Men won't follow women into something, but women will follow men."
My feminist instincts should have reared up at this, but he's probably right. About this same time I was going to war with my gene pool. I had weighed 125 pounds for years, and at 5'7", that wasn't bad. But like magic, my turning 40 pushed some metabolic button. My grandmothers began to turn up in my body. In later life, they were both shaped—not coincidentally—like refrigerators.
Then one day I awakened to find that apparently the steam heat had gone berserk during the night and had shrunk all my blue jeans. I stepped on the scale: The number 140 stared back. I heard the six fat coaches lined up in my TV like the Rockettes, calling out, "If we can do it...."
O.K., Art Shell, be with me now, I thought as I zealously bought a can of Ultra Slim-Fast. Instead, when I opened it, Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda fell out of the can, grinning at me from The Slim-Fast Newsletter. He assured me that "It tastes great so you don't feel deprived," and that I could Slim-Fast two or three times a day and still have "a sensible solid-food meal."
Five years ago I wouldn't have guessed that Lasorda, a potbellied, foul-mouthed, three-knockwursts-for-lunch kind of guy, would become the hero of the tofu set. What happened was that during spring training in 1988, Dodgers Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson bet Lasorda, who at the time appeared to be about to give birth, that he couldn't lose 30 pounds by the All-Star break. Coincidentally, Lasorda heard about the plight of the Sisters of Mercy in Nashville. Their convent had been condemned, and the nuns needed money for a new home. Lasorda suggested that the winning jackpot go to the sisters, and Hershiser and Gibson agreed. Slim-Fast Foods hooked up with Lasorda, the nuns got a nice home, and Slim-Fast moved on to football's corpulent coaches. "It was really pretty easy," says Slim-Fast manager of sports entertainment Alan Brown. "There were a lot of heavy coaches to choose from."
So in February 1990, Slim-Fast challenged three AFC coaches (Shell of the L.A. Raiders, Dan Henning of the San Diego Chargers and Chuck Knox of the Seattle Seahawks) to take on three of their NFC counterparts ( Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins, Bill Parcells formerly of the New York Giants and Buddy Ryan formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles) to a weight-losing contest. For each pound shed, the Miami Project, an organization of doctors, medical researchers and physical therapists dedicated to finding a cure for paralysis, would receive $500. "They were all really good boys," says Barri Rafferty, another Slim-Fast spokesperson. "We were a little worried about Chuck Knox at first, he was so big, but he really impressed us. He lost 63 pounds and changed his whole life."
At the coaches' weigh-in six months later, Knox stole the show. He, Shell and Henning led the AFC to victory, losing, a total of 143.4 pounds, or 18% of their total body weight. NFC tubbies Gibbs, Par-cells and Ryan dropped 105.5 pounds, or 13.8% of their body weight. Together, the six coaches lost 248.9 pounds, thus making $124,450 for the Miami Project.
And it didn't stop there. Soon Monday Night Football analyst Dan Dierdorf was showing sports fans the new slim him. Then, says Rafferty, "Kathie Lee Gifford started Slim-Fasting, and so did Frank. What happened is that he'd gained weight while she was pregnant." Oh.