For 3 hours every Sunday, he is a giant.
Cameras isolate his surprisingly quick movements. Fans revel in a clunky but lovable celebration dance. John Madden awards him turkey legs on Thanksgiving.
Then the stadium empties, the uniform is peeled off and he makes a painfully slow walk to a car in a dimly lighted parking lot.
The illusion of greatness becomes the reality at the end of another workday.
The giant becomes a fat guy.
“On the field, it’s, ‘Boy, that guy is big,” said Louie Kelcher, one of the original 300-pound National Football League defensive linemen. “Then they step into the real world and it’s, ‘Oh, look, a fat guy.”’
He walks into his house and sits on a custom-made bed that is still too short.
He hangs his clothes in a closet full of overpriced clothes that could double as painters’ dropcloths.
He hugs a wife who once admitted to a fear of intimacy.
“Have you ever thought about sleeping with a guy who weighed 300 pounds?” she asked.
He eats a normal dinner of chicken and rice, but by 10 p.m. is hungry again. So he eats another one.
Before going to sleep, he peeks at his three young children and sighs.
If he doesn’t lose weight, he will be dead before they graduate from high school.
But he can’t.
Because in 12 hours he will be back on the football field, underneath a helmet and in his glory.
In 12 hours, he will be a giant again.
When tackle Jerry Crafts goes clothes shopping, his first stop is women’s lingerie.
It’s where he buys his T-shirts.
“I buy women’s nightshirts, wash them once, and they fit perfect,” Crafts, a 6-foot-6, 360-pound tackle, said during a break at the Green Bay Packers’ training camp.
“OK, so the shirts don’t always look so great,” he said. “When you’re this size, you don’t care what it looks like or what color it is.”
Guard Bernard Dafney of the Minnesota Vikings never travels anywhere by car unless he knows exactly where he is going.
He knows a 6-foot-5, 331-pound man cannot simply pop out of a front seat at a gas station and ask for directions.
“People are so scared of me,” he said softly. “They see me walking toward them, they will tell me anything to get me going.”
Joe Phillips, defensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs, was thrilled the day he reported to his new law offices.
Until he saw that his desk was up on blocks.
“It was the only way they could make it big enough for me,” said Phillips, 6-5 and 300. “They even had to bring in a special thousand-pound chair.”
The world knows these big men as warriors. But the world forgets that the weight doesn’t come off with their shoulder pads.
A big man’s asset on the football field becomes his burden almost everywhere else.
“In this game, it’s a blessing to be big,” Crafts said. “But when you get into the real world, there are more negatives than positives.”
There will be more loads in the league than ever this year, as defenses counteract last year’s record-setting offenses, and offenses hold their ground.
As teams line up today, expect each 22-man starting lineup to include at least a few 300-pound men.
“It seems like the trend now is to get bigger people on both sides of the ball,” said Tom Donahoe, director of football operations for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Everybody wants somebody who just cannot be pushed around.”
The Miami Dolphins got such great work from the two round guys in the center of their defensive line last year - Tim Bowens at 310 pounds and Chuck Klingbeil at 301 - that they have become an AFC favorite.
The Cleveland Browns, another favorite, will counter with a splendid new offensive tackle who also happens to have a big belly, 325-pound Orlando Brown.
Perhaps most important among the stars of the San Francisco 49ers defense is the man teammates jokingly call their fattest - defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, at 6-2, 300 pounds.
And don’t forget the Dallas Cowboys and the man whose ability helped inspire the roly-poly revolution - 6-3, 320-pound Nate Newton.
The Cowboys are so enamored of Newton’s size that they kept grossly overweight guard Derek Kennard under contract even though Kennard - 6-3, 365 - has tried to quit.
What fans don’t see are the eating disorders.
They don’t see the players who induce diarrhea before mandatory weigh-ins.
They don’t see them trying to buy clothes. Or trying to impress potential off-season employers who reflect not interest but intimidation.
They don’t see the big guys in nice restaurants with their wives, when some little guy walks over, trying to act big.
Phillips remembers the time he was lunching with his wife at a trendy Kansas City eatery when a stranger walked over and said, “Hey buddy, let me arm-wrestle you. I’ll rip your arm right out of your socket.”
Phillips rolls his eyes at the recollection.
“I thought to myself, ‘Right, I really want want my arm out of my socket,”’ he said. “I just looked at him.”
And fans don’t see big guys long after they have finished playing.
They don’t see what Kelcher, who played for the San Diego Chargers and 49ers from 1975-84, saw in that mirrored office building several years ago.
He was walking through downtown Austin, Texas, when he looked at the building and saw a person with a huge gut engulfing a huge belt.
He had gained 50 pounds in the eight years since his retirement.
“I thought, ‘Gawd almighty, I look like Shamu,”’ Kelcher said. “I thought, ‘That’s disgusting.’
“When you are playing, you think you are invincible. Then reality hits you in the teeth.”
He has since lost the weight, fearing that he would not live to see his 3-year-old twins begin high school. But he is one of the lucky ones.
According to Elliott Pellman, an internist for the New York Jets, many heavy players face special problems when they retire.
Not only do they face the usual byproducts of obesity - hypertension, increased risk of heart disease - but they also have an increased chance of developing arthritis.
And many players, according to Pellman, cannot just quit and become thin.
“Often the large guys have eating disorders,” he said. “They eat like people with drinking problems drink.”
The only reason they are not bigger is that they are forced to exercise. When that motivation deteriorates, so does their health.