Eager to hone and polish those skills Hogs sometimes let deteriorate during the long and slovenly hours of the off season, Mark May reported to the Washington Redskins' camp in Carlisle, Pa., five days early.
May had been through this hellish strife before, though probably with never as much obvious fervor. He was the first starter of his Hog brethren in a camp of rookie hopefuls, many of whom held their mouths open like starved babes and looked upon the 23-year-old offensive guard in a white, hot storm of rapture.
"He's a Hog," said Nathanial Newton, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound, free-agent guard from Florida A & M. "He's what all the linemen here in camp want to be. I go to bed thinking about Hogs. I wake up thinking about Hogs. Hogs, Hogs, Hogs. That's all I think about."
Living proof that Hogs are people too, May broke his nose a couple of days later when he crashed into the human wall that was Todd Liebenstein, a defensive end, and returned home to Washington for medical treatment. "See what I get for coming to camp early," he said. "That'll show me."
Although he won the 1980 Outland Trophy and was the Redskins' first pick in the 1981 draft, May is best known as one of the rare breed of domestic swine who, by groveling selflessly in the trenches for his team's greater glory, can now claim with no exaggeration to be a member of the most famous offensive line in football history.
"They're so popular, in fact, I may drop out of the Hogs," said running back John Riggins, the Hog who gained 166 yards on 38 carries in leading the Redskins over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII. "They get too much publicity for me . . . even for Theismann."
"I know one thing about it," May said. "People won't be gunning for us just because we were the Super Bowl champions, but also because we're the Hogs."
Praise for the Hogs extend far beyond the boundaries of the game. On April 19, when Columbia University alumni congregated at the Four Seasons Hotel and presented the John Jay Award for distinguished professional achievement to four celebrated honorees, George Starke (BA, '71) brought the house of black ties and evening gowns to its feet. He set aside the speech he'd spent four days researching and writing, gazed absently into the vast sea of faces and said without pretention, "Ladies and gentlemen. I am Head Hog."
With the standing ovation that followed and with everybody from ceremony host Herman Wouk to fellow honoree Joseph Kraft slapping his shoulders and begging for stories of his travail in the ignominous football sty, how could Starke not admit to "feeling good about all the attention, even though it was a little late in getting there. I suspect people, especially those who announce Hogs, from page 21 the games, are starting to realize that football's not just about quarterbacks and running backs."
Traditionally, most professional athletes wear anonymity as comfortably as one might a dense wool cloak in summer. Their play is appreciated only when scrutinized; consequently, the offensive line draws comment only when the ground game fails or the passing game falters under the rush.
"This Hog image is great," said center Jeff Bostic. "For so long the offensive line has gone unnoticed. And our line in particular was so young, they really didn't know the individuals but they knew the group, the Hogs. The nickname's an identity, and that's the greatest thing a young offensive line can have."
Last season, when Joe Bugel, the Redskins' offensive line coach, looked across the disheveled practice turf at the prodigious bellies bulging out of center Jeff Bostic's and guard Russ Grimm's jerseys, and said, "You guys look like a bunch of hogs," someone finally gave offensive linemen the chance to shed their cloaks of nonbeing. Hog Bugel had, with that seemingly innocuous appraisal, given an identity and a personality to an entire breed of football player--the offensive lineman.
"Any time you establish a nickname," said Bugel, who turned down a head coaching offer last month from the new Pittsburgh franchise of the United States Football League, "you'd better be ready to play, or people'll rub it right in your face."
At 6 foot 2 and 245 pounds, center Jeff Bostic is the smallest of the Hogs. Bostic went to Clemson, as did his brother Joe, a starting guard for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was originally signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent in 1980 but was released in summer camp and joined the Redskins only six days before the season opener to handle all punt and field goal snaps. His rookie season, Bostic played only on special teams. But when Gibbs and his new staff opened camp in 1981, Bugel admired his feisty, aggressive style and made him a starter.
"Ever since Joe Gibbs came to Washington I got a chance to prove the kind of ballplayer I was and that I could play," Bostic said. "It's been Hog Heaven since he and Bugel came along."
Russ Grimm, 24, was a rookie center the year Bostic became a starter and a highly touted third-round draft choice from Pittsburgh. Bostic's play was exceptional and, when a number of injuries hampered Grimm's progress, Bugel crossed his fingers and moved him to guard. Grimm adapted quickly and later started next to Joe Jacoby, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound tackle from Louisville who was signed as a free agent in '81 because of his terrific size.
Earlier in the year, however, when Jacoby first reported to rookie camp, Gibbs thought he was a defensive tackle and nearly released him when he found out Jacoby played offense. There were already five draft picks and 12 veterans in camp fighting for positions on the offensive line. Jacoby was less than unheralded; he was unknown.
"I looked like a Hog then, too," Jacoby said. "A big gut and a taste for beer. We rolled around in the dirt a lot."
A few days into the '81 summer camp, Jacoby's mother died and he had to leave Carlisle for a week. "It really shook everybody up," said Grimm, who was rooming with him then in a Dickinson College dormitory. "He was so quiet, such a good guy. We all wanted him to do well. Before he left for home, a bunch of us met in the room and just sat and talked to him. Later on, when he came back, you could tell it was still on his mind. But he played real hard and surprised everybody. He ended up making it."
Jacoby not only made it, he started in front of first-round pick May, who was benched after a poor showing at left tackle. "Maybe I was a little more celebrated coming out of college than the other Hogs," said May, who played right tackle in college, "but I got here and had to bust my tail like everybody else. Sure, I came here with pluses next to my name, but now I'm just part of the machinery like everybody else. I'm just a regular old Hog."
To add size and strength to the lineup and to quell the cries of those fans who balked at the notion of the former all-America sitting the bench, Bugel moved May to guard, next to veteran Starke.
"We were 0-5 at the time, and nothing was going right," Bugel said. "You not only find out a lot about yourself personally, you find out a lot about your people. Fortunately, we had enough character people that once we got the thing rolling, it snowballed. After we got in the middle of the year, on a seven-or eight-game winning streak, we found guys up front we felt could become permanent fixtures."
Which isn't to say Head Hog was not considered a regular all along. In 1971, the Redskins drafted Starke in the 11th round (272 overall) but traded him to Kansas City during summer camp. He was released a month later and, while waiting for another shot at the NFL, taught math and history at a junior high school in Yonkers, N.Y. He was signed by the Dallas Cowboys in the off season, released during summer camp and re-signed by the Redskins. Although he spent the 1972 season on the taxi squad, Starke played regularly the next year and was a starter by 1974.
May calls Starke, 35, "the elder, elder statesman. Our leader." But as the offensive captain and Head Hog of the Super Bowl XVII champions, Starke claims his responsibility "came naturally with the seniority. I've been around a while. A real long while."
Of no less consequence to the success of the Hogs was the play of backup tackle Don Laster, and tight ends Don Warren and Rick Walker, who has the distinction of also belonging to the Fun Bunch, the Redskins' receiving corps.
Laster is the most recent addition to the Hogs, filling in the tackle position formerly held by Fred Dean, who jumped to the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL for contract guarantees the Redskins would not give him. At a mini-camp team meeting, Laster was inducted into the Hogs when veteran swine Grimm, Stark and Bugel singled him out before reviewing film and awarded him a Hog T-shirt. "I had to go through a whole season of initiation, of paying my dues," Laster said. "There's nothing unofficial about it anymore. I'm a Hog, through and through."
Last season, a Hog not wearing the T-shirt one day each week was fined $5, the money going to the Boss Hog Fund which covered the cost of a post-season barbecue and beer bust at Bugel's home. Long before that, however, 10 Hogs went out to a Washington restaurant on the day before a game and ran up an $850 tab. "We were just doing what we do best," Jacoby said. "We ate a bunch and we drank a bunch."
But earning the right to wear the Hog shirt requires more than a beastly, outsized form; a Hog has to possess the heart of a lineman, one willing to crawl on all fours so that many may run.
When Theismann petititioned for membership in the Hogs after throwing a block in a game last year, the Hogs met in a very private "Hog Caucus" but, determined not to compromise their very nature, turned him down by a unanimous vote. Repeatedly this summer, Theismann has expressed interest in petitioning for another "Hog Caucus" and another shot at being accepted into the famed swine. "Joe? Joe Theismann?" said Bugel. "If Joe expects to become a Hog, he's really gonna have to do something more exceptional than just pull off one good block a game. That's not gonna cut it."
Starke incorporated the Hogs a few months ago, forming the Super Hogs Inc. He then contracted with a manufacturer to fill the breezeways of RFK Stadium with "official" Hog products --painters' hats, pennants, T-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, etc. Although a few of the Hogs did not contribute to the venture, Starke said he saw the opportunity to "make a little money for the guys. When everybody in Washington was going crazy about the Hogs and buying Hog products, we weren't incorporated and never got a penny."
But each one did receive a $2,000 Weathersby 460s rifle, made for hunting rhinos and elephants, from a grateful Riggins, who said the one silver bullet presented to each Hog was "just to let them shoot it once and see how strong it was. I figured if they were really that tough as Hogs, they could handle the rifles. They're supposed to be the most powerful guns in the world. And they're supposed to be the most powerful line in professional football. I thought it was a pretty good match."