But Smith doesn't
eat junk anymore. Fat is his mortal enemy. The last time he had a steak was
four months ago. Before that it was a year. "I haven't had a Big Mac in
three or four years," he says proudly. "Whopper, about the same."
It's all pasta, fish and hold the mayo. On a recent airline flight he just
looked at his complimentary pack of almonds. He hadn't eaten for hours, and he
loves almonds. Finally, he opened the pack, smelled the aroma, ate one tiny nut
and threw the rest away. "It's all about discipline," he says.
A hungry man is a
mean man, and just before Bills camp opened this summer Smith attacked the
stair climbers in an awesome frenzy at Wareing's Gym in Virginia Beach, Va.,
where he now lives. He rode one so furiously that the chain snapped. He moved
over to the next machine and overheated the computer, sending the lights into
spasms of gibberish. Bob Wareing, a co-owner of the gym, marvels at Smith's
dedication. "Two weeks after last season, he was right back in here,"
says Wareing. "I just said, 'Damn!' "
Of course, that
was shortly after Smith was named 1990 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. His 19
sacks were the second-highest total in the NFL and a Bills team record,
breaking his own mark of 15, set in '86. He so dominated some games, notably
back-to-back December contests against the Indianapolis Colts and the Giants,
that it seemed he could stop an opponent's passing attack by himself. Against
the Colts, he sacked quarterback Jeff George four times in a span of 14
minutes. George's head looked as if it were on a lazy Susan. Once George was so
startled to see Smith bearing down on him right after the snap that he nearly
fainted. "His eyes were big as plums," says Smith. "He said,
'Oh——!' and ran for his life."
The Bills played
the Giants again in the Super Bowl and lost 20-19, but Smith had one of the big
plays in the game, sacking Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the end zone
for a safety in the second quarter to give Buffalo a 12-3 lead. After playing
in his fourth straight Pro Bowl, he was back on the treadmill. Fat waits for no
Indeed, fat has
come to symbolize the swift wickedness of the world to Bruce Smith. Grease and
cholesterol are traps waiting for him, ready to destroy what he's earned, ready
to take away his $1.5 million average annual salary, his fame, his skill, his
purpose. It's just like those forces that want to take away his father, too.
Just when Smith was on a roll, signing with the Bills as a rookie after winning
the Outland Trophy as the best college interior lineman of 1984, just when
things looked the best for a former fat kid who was regularly whupped by
bullies, his dad's health went into a steady decline. George Smith, 69, has had
a few minor heart attacks, wears a pacemaker and suffers from arthritis and
emphysema. He is bedridden and hooked to an oxygen tank, and his adoring
28-year-old son doesn't know what to do. "With all the things I've
accomplished, I just feel so helpless with my dad," he says.
Not so with his
own body. If he can't whip fate, he can at least whip his mortal pile of flesh.
Smith feels compassion for 350-pound William Perry of the Chicago Bears, a man
who has had considerably less success controlling the weight yoyo.
"Everything he has is in jeopardy," says Smith. "Losing and gaining
weight is terrible. Half the battle is just knowing when to get up from the
table. I should know."
thing Bruce does in the morning is go to the mirror and look at his stomach, to
see if it's sticking out any more than yesterday," says Carmen Smith, his
wife of one year. Smith came into training camp this year honed to a razor's
edge. He weighed in at 262 pounds, with 6.2% body fat. That's less body fat
than most linebackers and many running backs can boast.
But the treadmill
never stops. In late July he underwent arthroscopic surgery to have loose bone
particles removed from his left knee. When he came to in the recovery room, he
felt queasy, but the first thing he did was reach under his hospital gown and
grab the skin around his belly. Was it thicker? Had he put on weight in
surgery? He slowly sat up and placed his feet on the floor. He walked
unsteadily to the door. He had to find something. There, out in the hall, he
saw it. A scale. He climbed on and weighed himself. Good news. He'd lost over
half a pound since checking into the hospital. "It's funny," says
Smith. "But I have to do that. I have to know."
As he progresses
through rehab—Smith expects to be ready to play in Sunday's season opener
against the Miami Dolphins—he continues to weigh himself many times each day.
"Wherever I go, I'll find a scale," he says. "Even when Carmen and
I went on a cruise last spring, the first thing I did was find one."
O.K., this weight
thing is an obsession. But there are few places where obsessiveness is rewarded
as handsomely as it is in the NFL. Smith thinks about former defensive end Lyle
Alzado, now suffering from inoperable brain cancer caused, Alzado believes, by
his illicit use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. "Back when
Lyle was playing, there wasn't much emphasis on not using steroids," says
Smith. "There wasn't much emphasis on anything but playing. I've been
guilty of [breaking the drug policy] myself. But it's not how you fall down,
it's how you get back up."