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I'll never forget the first day I walked onto the Dallas Cowboys' practice field, five years ago. This was the team I had idolized as a kid. After a couple of years in the USFL and trials with the Redskins and Chiefs, there I was, a free agent invited in for a look—standing on the same field with Tom Landry. Every eye in the place was on me. I was the biggest guy they'd ever had on that field.
Now, this was a team with 260-, 265-pound tackles, and I came into the place weighing about 355. They couldn't believe I was that big. I could see it in their stares. It was 1986, the year after William Perry had made his mark in Chicago, and right away a couple of Dallas players, Todd Fowler and Dennis Thurman, took one look at me and said, "That guy's bigger than the Fridge! He's as big as a kitchen!" That's how I came to be known as the Kitchen.
I don't mind, but my size and my nickname give people a false impression of me. It's the same thing with Perry. People don't judge us as football players. They just judge us as fat guys. Well, we are that. I admit it. I'm around 327 now, and I need to get down to 315. But my message is: We're football players. And we're damn good ones.
I'm going into my fifth straight year starting for Dallas. The last two years, John Madden's put me on his All-Madden Team. Would the Cowboys get rid of me if they found somebody better? In a minute. But I'm still here.
Of course, I've gone to extremes to try to lose weight at times in my career, and that can be dangerous. During the off-season three years ago, I weighed about 325, and I had to be at 315 for a weigh-in that night. This time I thought I'd try water-loss pills. Well, I took two of them around noon, and almost forgot about them for a while. Then I started going to the bathroom, and before long I'd lost four pounds. It was great. I was doing nothing, and the pounds were flowing out of me—every three minutes.
I was out driving that afternoon with my girlfriend, and I'd lost so much water that my body cramped up. She had to pull the car over, and I got out, standing there on the side of the road like a statue, totally dehydrated. She went to get water for me, and while she was gone, I was standing there in intense pain, saying to myself, "I don't give a——what I weigh, or how much they fine me. Football's not worth killing yourself for." Turned out I was O.K.—even made my weight that night—but I learned my lesson.
I wish some parents would learn, too. Some mom and dad will see me and shove their fat, sloppy, out-of-shape son at me. And they'll be all proud. They'll say, "Look, Nate! It's the next Kitchen!"
"Not at this rate," I'll say. "Don't believe your lyin' eyes. At this rate, he'll be the next damn House."
You've got to be an athlete before you can be the Kitchen. Growing up in Orlando, Fla., before I got really big, I played running back, tight end and defensive end—athletic positions. I guess I started getting big in high school, when I was working part-time at my dad's filling station, which also was a convenience store. In a day, I might eat a few pieces of chicken, three or four honey buns, a big bag of chips and a few candy bars.
Then, during my senior year in high school, because our football team had been losing, my dad motivated me by taking me to Wendy's for an all-you-can-eat meal every time we won. We called it the Home Run—one single hamburger, one double and one triple, a large fries, a large Frosty and a large Coke. We won seven games, so I ate well that year. I got big, but I could always play.