Joe Bugel, the Washington Redskins' offensive line coach, looked at center Jeff Bostic and guard Russ Grimm one day last season and decided they were built like hogs.
"They are short guys with big bellies," Bugel said. "I started to say to the whole line at practice, 'Okay you hogs, let's go down in the bullpen and hit those sleds.' Some guys might have resented it, but these guys loved it."
Now Bugel is Boss Hog. When wide receivers throw effective blocks, they are piglets. And 10 select Redskins are, well, just plain Hogs.
These Hogs are an exclusive bunch. The only members are starters Grimm, Bostic, tackles Joe Jacoby and George Starke and guard Mark May, reserves Fred Dean and Ron Saul (who is on injured reserve), tight ends Don Warren and Rick Walker and fullback John Riggins, who wasn't given a Hog T-shirt until last Monday.
That's right, the Hogs have their own shirts. Bugel brought them to training camp this summer: a white, burgundy and gold pullover with a picture of a fierce-looking porker between a goal post.
The Hogs are required to wear the shirts one day each week. It's a $5 fine if they forget, with the money going to a Boss Hog fund. Bugel, who has $35 so far, will use it to sponsor a Hog Feast at his house after the season.
"Don Laster (a rookie tackle) wanted to buy a shirt but we wouldn't sell him one," Bugel said. "This is an exclusive group. You only get in on a majority vote. Riggo wanted in since this summer but they are tough. They kept saying no but on Monday, at the team meeting, we gave him a shirt. He stood up and put it on immediately and the whole place went wild."
Coach Joe Gibbs even has superior Hog credentials (he once coached at Arkansas, land of the Razorback hog) and he can't get in.
Bostic: "Being called Hogs is appropriate. We're always doing a lot of work on the ground in the mud, just like hogs. Besides, this makes us different from everyone else on the team. It's something to joke about. It's still a kid's game, and when you can't laugh, you better get out."
The Hogs are playing impressively this season, even with the eight-week strike layoff. How else could the Redskins have the National Football Conference's No. 1 passer, No. 1 rusher and No. 2 receiver?
Prior to last season, the line had been considered a major problem. But Bugel took four virtual rookies, blended in veteran Starke and produced a surprisingly respectable unit that allowed only 30 sacks.
In the process, he benched May, a No. 1 draft choice, for Jacoby, an obscure rookie free agent who was signed by the Redskins only because of his enormous size (now 6 feet 7, 295 pounds). He also made a guard of Grimm, who had been drafted as a center, and a center of Bostic, who had been signed in 1981 only because of his kick-snapping ability.
This year, he moved May from tackle, where he had won the Outland Trophy in college, to guard, where he had never played. And he cut Melvin Jones, a starting guard in 1981.
"When you are grown up, you should have the guts to make decisions," said Bugel, who tells his players, "It's either our way or Trailways."
"But Joe Gibbs gives us the leeway to decide these things. He told me to run my show and neither one of us is afraid to take a chance. These guys are not the greatest line yet, but they have a chance to be very good. The line I coached with the Houston Oilers had one great athlete, Leon Gray. This one has more. They just need experience."
Bugel likes his players big, so the first thing you notice about the Hogs is their size. The line averages 273 pounds, and will get even larger when Starke, who is small for a tackle (260 pounds), retires and is replaced by Laster, 290. Grimm is playing at 270, Bostic 255 and May at 288 after falling to 255 last year.
"George was never a very good technical player," Bugel said. "He relied on his athletic ability, but he now could play another four years the way he's improved," Bugel said. "Jacoby is the most coachable player I've been around. He has great football sense. Grimm makes me bubble all over . . . He's so sound. He never makes a wrong step.
"We call May 'Big Foot' because he has size-16 feet. He isn't pretty out there -- he's a slasher -- but he makes up for lack of athletic ability by determination. Bostic may become the best center in the league. He's very, very consistent but he has to be, with all the nose men we face. Fred Dean is our Havlicek. He comes off the bench and never misses a step."
A year of intense work in the Redskins' weight program has made the Hogs strong, which shows up most in the rushing statistics. The Redskins are the NFC's No. 3 rushing team and No. 4 in total offense, even though Joe Washington, last year's best runner, has carried only once in three games.
Just as impressive, the Hogs have been able to sustain long drives late in all three games, either to bring the Redskins from behind or run off valuable time to protect a lead. The team no longer needs to depend on a hit-and-miss passing attack to survive.
Grimm: "You have to be a little loose in the head to play offensive line, and you have to be able to play with pain. But those drives make it worthwhile. They are giving us confidence, although it's no sure thing we can do it every time.
"Besides, if we don't play well, being a Hog wouldn't be as much fun. And we always want to have some fun."