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Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Updated: March 3, 9:06 AM ET
The NFL is living large

By Jim Caple
Page 2

The NFL says it was shocked -- shocked and appalled -- by last year's "Desperate Housewives'' promotion on Monday Night Football. And then the league went right back to its regularly-scheduled activities, which include cheerleaders wearing little more than thong underwear parading up and down the sidelines.

But if you want a really offensive promo, consider the recent partnership between some NFL players and Hardee's.

Hardee's is offering its customers a new Monster Thickburger, which is made up of two-thirds of a pound of meat, four slices of bacon, three hunks of cheese and -- just because all of that isn't nearly enough fat for one meal -- mayonnaise. The burger contains more than 1,400 calories and 100 grams of fat, or more than twice the calorie count and more than three times the fat content of a Big Mac.

Don't even think about super-sizing it.

This burger contains so much fat that Hardee's only promotion for it should be a free angioplasty offer with every purchase. Instead, some NFL players jumped in to help the fast-food chain peddle its beef. The league arranged for players to work the take-out window at Hardee's for two hours each in 10 cities.

Although the proceeds of the promotion went to the players' favorite charities, the NFL's players promoting the Monster Thickburger is like Mary-Kate Olson endorsing the Grapefruit Diet. This league has no business encouraging people to eat more fatty foods, because both the NFL and the country already have a serious weight problem.

You know how it seems that NFL players are dancing and strutting on and off the field more than ever before? They aren't -- they're just trying to walk normally under all those layers of fat.

Two decades ago, William Perry was one of just five players who were officially listed as weighing more than 300 pounds. There were less than 70 when we elected Bill Clinton and his pasty white thighs in 1992. But according to NFL.com, there were 339 players this season on opening day rosters who weighed at least 300 pounds. And the bigger you are, the better the league likes it. A quarter of the league's starters weigh at least 300 pounds.

Players are so big now that if the Fridge played today, he'd have to eat himself into the league.

Back when Perry played, the Bears repeatedly encouraged him to weigh less than 300 pounds. Today, they would shove slabs of prime rib and bowls of garlic mashed potatoes at him, and say, "Go ahead, there's more where that came from."

Even government spending hasn't kept pace with the NFL's growth. The 1979 Super Bowl champion Steelers starters averaged 229 pounds. Our current Super Bowl champion Patriots average 261 pounds, a 32-pound increase. Thank goodness for big-screen TVs; otherwise, we'd never be able to see more than one player at a time.

Weighty Concerns
  • The NFL weight rankings
  • All-heavy, all-light teams
  • Photo gallery: Vote for your favorite big-boned guy
  • '79 Steelers vs. '04 Steelers
  • Obviously, heavier doesn't always mean fatter. Sometimes, it can just mean bigger and perhaps stronger.

    Or in the case of Ted Washington, it can simply mean fatter.

    You know how league officials always moan about the dangers of steroids (while conveniently ignoring that their players continue to get bigger, stronger and faster)? Well, there's another danger, and it's just as pressing: obesity. According to a 1994 study, NFL linemen face a substantially higher risk of heart disease -- and remember, this study was done a decade ago before linemen really got big. Linemen also are much more likely to wind up with disabling arthritis due to the added burden of carrying around so much extra weight in such extreme conditions.

    As former Seahawks' team physician Dr. Pierce Scranton has pointed out, linemen might weigh 200 pounds more than their ancestors, but they don't have any additional cartilage to support that excess baggage.

    NFL Weight Cap Proposal
    With more than 300 players who weigh more than 300 pounds, the NFL doesn't need a salary cap. It needs a weight cap. (And some slimming pinstripes wouldn't hurt, either.)

    How would a weight cap work? You couldn't just place a maximum on the entire roster's weight, because teams would simply circumvent that rule by signing five or so vegan marathoners. Instead, the league should declare that a team can never have more than 2,800 pounds on the field at one time.

    The rule wouldn't be difficult to enforce -- just bring in those big truck scales the highway departments use, and place one on each sideline. And it wouldn't take any additional time, either. During a possession change, timeout or commercial break, officials could have the respective offense and defense go over to the sideline and jump on the scales. If it's over the 2,800-pound limit, the team gets nailed for a 10-yard penalty and has to substitute lighter players.

    Sure, a weight-cap sounds goofy. But it really isn't when you think about it. The players would be smaller, which means they'd be quicker. Offenses and defenses would be more efficient, because leaner, quicker lines can move the ball and defend better than their sluggish counterparts. The Broncos, after all, currently have the lightest offense in the AFC, but are fourth in the conference in yards per game. The Bills, meanwhile, have the heaviest offense in the AFC, and are next-to-last in yards per game. More importantly, players would be healthier and sustain fewer injuries.

    And there would be all sorts of entertaining new strategies. Teams would sign skinny guys just to get under the cap. Or maybe they could bring in their special South Beach Diet packages for short-yardage situations: seven 300-plus-pound linemen and four sub-150-pound defensive backs.
    --Jim Caple

    Of course, before we single out NFL players for being fat, we should look long and hard at ourselves in the mirror. And we would, if only we could get off our couches and squeeze through the bathroom door.

    Fortunately, we don't need to -- the NFL has a pretty good idea of what we all look like. Apparently, we're bald, can't get an erection and never eat anything other than the one-pound hamburgers we order from fast-food restaurants while driving SUVs large enough to hold entire extended families because we're too fat to fit inside anything else.

    Supermodels, however, will still sleep with us -- as long we drink the right beer, that is.

    The most recent sure-cure solution to our national weight problem, we've been told, is the Atkins Diet, a craze so popular that every fast-food chain and grocery store is offering low-carb alternatives. There are even low-carb peanut butter cups. Sure, all this stuff tastes like crap but so what? It's low-carb! That's all you need to worry about. Screw the calories -- with Atkins, you can eat your fill, eat until you puke, just as long as you avoid all those horrible carbohydrates! Have a Monster Thickburger -- in fact, have two Monster Thickburgers -- just make sure you remove the bun before you eat the beef, the cheese and the bacon.

    Yeah, right. The Atkins Diet has been a national fad for two years now. If it really is the answer, don't you think we would start seeing some thin people in the mall?

    Face it. There's no secret diet that's going to magically melt the fat from our waistlines. There is only one proven, effective method for weight control. And that's to eat less and exercise more.

    This obesity problem has been growing since before the first Krispy Kreme opened, and it isn't going to be solved anytime soon. It won't be easy -- heck, I'm eating right now as I write this -- but we have to start somewhere. And one way is for NFL players to stop promoting the fattiest, most-cholesterol-ridden hamburger in the country and start promoting some more sensible food.

    I'm thinking a commercial that features Ted Washington for the California Celery Growers Association.

    Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com