Newton blows a $30,000 bonus every year because he can't meet a series of weight-related incentive clauses in his contract with the Cowboys. He would pick up the extra cash if he weighed 305 or less and had no more than 17% body fat. Plus, he's fined regularly for being over the Cowboys' prescribed weight of 317. "That's double jeopardy," says Newton, who usually weighs around 327. "Isn't that against the law?"
It figures that the Raiders would have an innovative approach to weight watching. Art Shell, estimated at 295, was the biggest linemen coach John Madden had ever seen when he arrived in Oakland in 1968, but he played so well that Madden didn't weigh him regularly. "I just told him, 'If I can't see daylight between your thighs, then it's time to lose a little,' " Madden says. In 1978, Al Davis plucked 310-pound tackle Bruce Davis of UCLA in the 11th round of the draft. Al Davis loved Bruce Davis's lower-body power, but the player was too slow. So Al Davis sent him to work with the Raiderettes' choreographer following his rookie year, and by 1982, Bruce Davis was a full-time starter.
Then there's Perry, the biggest weight-problem child in the NFL. Bears brass believe that making an estimated $4 million during his Fridge-manic rookie season of 1985 dulled Perry's desire and pride. For whatever reason, he has been totally undisciplined about his weight, reporting this year, to the Bears' shock, at 370 pounds. They would like him to be around 315. It's almost inconceivable that an iron-fisted coach like Mike Ditka would let Perry get away with this. But there is a law of the jungle in the NFL: If the guy's better than the man playing behind him, hold on to him. Perry's a decent player at 350 and very good at 325. The other tackle in the Bears' 4-3 scheme, Steve McMichael, is 33, and his career is winding down. Dan Hampton just retired. Fred Washington, a promising second-round pick in 1990, died in a car wreck at the end of his rookie season. There's nobody else remotely good. Perry might not be able to jump over a barrel, but he sure has the Bears over one.
The strangest weight story? Friends and teammates say they have had no contact for several weeks with Zimmerman, the Cowboys' backup guard. A quiet guy who hadn't been very competitive since being drafted in the third round in 1987, Zimmerman went into a funk at the end of last season, perhaps because of the constant harping on his weight by the Cowboys and the Dallas media. He should have been playing at about 315, but he ballooned to about 350 by the end of last season. Then he didn't join the Cowboys' off-season conditioning program, and he was left unprotected during the Plan B free-agent period. When nobody signed him and Zimmerman did not show at the Cowboys' training camp on July 14, he was placed on the "reserve: did not report" list. As of Monday, the Cowboys still had not heard from him.
According to Hinton of the Falcons, the players with weight problems survive only through discipline. "I feel sorry for guys who can't discipline themselves," Hinton says. "It's a constant battle. Early in my career, I could pretty much not do a lot [of working out] in the off-season and be O.K. And I used to be able to eat everything in the house. German chocolate cake was my weakness. And cookies. And ice cream. But that German chocolate cake.... You know what I used to do? Sometimes I used to get so hungry in the middle of the night—two o'clock or so—that I'd go to the 24-hour supermarket, buy a German chocolate cake mix, come home, mix it up, bake it and then eat half of it."
Hinton's weight has fluctuated from 283 pounds as a Colt rookie in 1983 to an uncomfortable 310 pounds late last season in Atlanta. Now he's at 300, and he claims that he'll be smart enough to stay within a few pounds of that figure for the rest of his career by sticking to a regular diet, eliminating late-night snacks and lifting weights year-round.
Some clubs are taking similar steps to help maintain the conditioning of all their players. The Browns have a nutrition consultant, dietitian Susan Kleiner, who has radically cut the fat content of the team's training table. Out are fried eggs, whole milk, traditional french fries and fried chicken. In are fresh fruit (a 16-foot-long table of it, replenished at each meal), cholesterol-free egg substitutes, skim milk, skinless baked chicken, fresh pasta with meatless sauce.
"At first, I think the players thought I was trying to turn them all into vegetarians," Kleiner says. "There was grumbling, but I stressed to them that fat in the diet becomes fat in the body, and fat won't fuel the muscles."
But then there's the guy who can carry 330 pounds easily, like Ballard of the Bills, who weighed 342 in Buffalo's last preseason game and still moved nimbly in a pulling and trapping run-blocking scheme. Ballard's an oak tree. He's as tall as a power forward, with the legs of a sumo wrestler, the upper body of a lumberjack, the neck of a powerlifter and the feet of Bob Lanier. "I'm blessed, compared to some of the other guys who are big," Ballard says. "Nobody's ever told me to gain weight, and nobody's ever told me I needed to drop 15 or 20 pounds, because I don't. I'm natural. It's God's gift to me that I'm big-boned and I can handle my weight."
The struggle for some big linemen ultimately will extend beyond their football careers. When their playing days eventually end and they are able to back away from conditioning programs once and for all, their overall health is more easily threatened.