Monday, November 1, 1999; 12:14 p.m. EST
For too long the statisticians have been obsessed with the simple dimension of distance, ignoring such other important kind of performance, such as the number of decibels in a given grunt. Who has the record for Loudest Grunt? No one knows! The record books are silent.
Football isn't about fingertip catches and end zone dances. It's about collisions. It's about what happens when multiple enormous slabs of meat come crashing together. Mostly what happens is the meat collapses into a pile. There is spitting and gurgling and bleeding and retching. And that's entertaining to watch. What's best of all is when one of the giant meat slabs somehow gets his hands on the actual football and attempts to run, or more accurately, "rumble" downfield.
We saw it yesterday. In the first quarter against the Chicago Bears, the Redskins' defensive lineman Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson almost certainly set the record for Rumblingest Touchdown. He plucked a deflected pass out of the air at his own 12-yard-line, and began the long process of turning around and running toward the other goal line. Oil tankers have changed direction more nimbly. The other goal line was so distant that Big Daddy says he didn't think he could possibly make it. Lewis and Clark didn't attempt so ambitious a journey.
Wilkinson weighs 313 pounds – dry – and has an abundance of what Sir Isaac Newton would have called "inertial mass." In high school he was almost surely voted Most Gravitational. In theory he shouldn't be able to move at all, but should be pinned to the earth. He's so big, if he were somehow manage to leap high in the air he would technically be classified as a satellite.
Professional football players, however, are like bumblebees: They defy physics. Big Daddy heaved his way down the field, huffing and puffing. The ground shook. Birds exploded from trees near the stadium. Seismologists sprung to attention as far away as California. It easily could have been the first interception return with time for a commercial interruption. When he was at the 40 they could have cut to a Budweiser ad and gotten back when he was at the 20.
Big Daddy would never have made it all the way were it not for the generous escort of Darrell Green, who can run backward faster than Wilkinson can run forward. Green screened the behemoth from his pursuers. Touchdown! My calculation is that 313 pounds times 88 yards results in a rumble of 27,544 yard-pounds.
Is this the record? I can't be sure. This morning I spoke to statistician John Labombarda of the Elias Sports Bureau, which handles the stats for the NFL, and learned that the record for an interception return is 103 yards, held jointly by Louis Oliver and Vencie Glenn. Oliver is in the books as 224 pounds, and Glenn as 191, which gives us yard-poundage of 23,072 and 19,673, respectively – short of the Big Daddy standard. Also not measuring up was the 104-yard fumble return by Jack Tatum (200 pounds, hence 20,800 yard pounds). The closest I've found to the Big Daddy mark was the 23,600 yard-pounds of Kansas City's Chris Martin, who weighed 236 pounds when he returned a fumble 100 yards.
Ideally the record should also incorporate the THE DURATION OF THE RUN. In other words, the speed, or lack thereof. Slower the better. Unfortunately I can't quite figure out how to do the math on that.
Now, a Halloween story. Like many members of the Washington media I received an invitation to the vice president's residence for his annual Halloween party. I viewed it as an excellent chance to give my kids a civics lesson. So far they have managed to exist in a world remarkably uncontaminated by knowledge of politics and government. Their world is one in which the Tooth Fairy remains a far more important force in the economy than Alan Greenspan.
On the drive over I gave them a crash course, explaining who the vice president is, and how he's the second most powerful person in country, except that the job is also sort of lame, and how he's really stiff except when he's really loose, and how he grew up in Tennessee but also in a hotel on Embassy Row, and how he lives at the Naval Observatory where they discovered the moons of Mars in the 1800s, and so on. They may have started to get bewildered at that point. Then we reached the grounds, and saw police officers on bicycles, with guns. I explained the security issue. My youngest child, who is 3, asked, "If I hurt the vice president, will I be shot?" I said I didn't think so (but it was a good question – she's a born journalist!).
Two officers then checked the underside of our car with mirrors, and I explained that they were looking for bombs. "WE don't have a bomb," the pipsqueak said. The civics lesson was getting awfully complicated.
We parked and took a shuttle bus to the residence. There were more police officers and staffers. We walked through the metal detectors. The kids brightened at the sight of the amazing carved pumpkins. A moment later a security person told us to pause. The vice president and Mrs. Gore, he said, were about to emerge from the house.
And here they came.
She wore a blond curly wig; she was Polly Purebred.
She was accompanied by Underdog. Underdog had a big U on his chest and wore a red superhero outfit with a cape.
That's Underdog, I told the girls. "Who is Underdog?" the eldest asked. I tried to explain – he's a heroic dog who takes a secret energy pill – but it was simply too late, there were too many layers of weirdness, we'd actually LOST GROUND in terms of our knowledge of politics and government.
I've tried to finesse the situation by going with the flow. I am telling them that the vice president is a man who ALWAYS WEARS A DOG MASK. He's just that way. The second most powerful person in the country believes that he is a superhero called Underdog. It's what makes America great! And keeps us feeling so secure.
Rough Draft will continue to appear Monday, Wednesday and Friday until we run out of Underdog secret energy pills.
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