It always seemed impolite to walk up to a large fellow and say, "You're a big hog." Such a gentleman might jump off his Harley and rearrange your teeth. But now, in the Nation's Capital if nowhere else, it is more than nice to call a dinner guest a hog. Such high flattery might move the guest to rip loose the buttons of his shirt and expose his Redskin jersey with Joe Jacoby's No. 66.
That's because the Redskins' offensive linemen have named themselves the "Hogs." They have printed T-shirts with drawings of angry hogs on the chest. These shirts are awarded to Redskins who prove themselves macho porkers able to block superbly. When the Redskins built the longest winning streak in the NFL, the Hogs became famous because, as John Madden once said in praise of offensive linemen, "The route to easy street goes through the sewer."
It's about time someone stood up for offensive linemen, even if the fellows doing the standing up are the offensive linemen. Look at the coaches in the NFL. Of the 28 coaches, 12 were offensive linemen. Vince Lombardi was an offensive lineman at Fordham, one of the Seven Blocks of Granite (more on that later). It's about time someone dreamed up a catchy name for offensive linemen, even if that name isn't as scarifying as those the defensive linemen get.
"The Steel Curtain."
"The Purple People Eaters."
In these defensive lines, a gentleman who was any good would become "Mean Joe" or "Mad Dog" or "Too Tall." It is always the defensive men who chew up beer bottles, set their hair on fire and carry sparrows in their mouths. Dick Butkus said the perfect tackle would cause the ball carrier's head to fall off. Look at the Lite Beer commercials with Butkus, Bubba Smith and Deacon Jones -- all defensive monsters.
Meanwhile, offensive lines with their cool-headed practitioners languish in anonymity and carry such second-class status that when the quarterback in "North Dallas Forty" gets angry in the huddle, what's he do? He kicks the center out of the game. "One of the Cleveland Browns once told me," Jerry Kramer wrote, "that if he ever had to go on the lam from the law, he'd become an offensive lineman."
Richard Nixon was an offensive lineman.
Lyndon Johnson said Gerald Ford's problem was that, while playing center at Michigan, he forgot to wear a helmet. As a guard at Eureka, Ronald Reagan was nobody; then he made a movie as the Gipper carrying the ball and now everyone knows him.
The sad plight of the unrecognized offensive lineman is made obvious by the ineffectual nicknames coined the few times anyone cared to create one at all. Think about the "Seven Blocks of Granite." Sounds like a cemetery row. Can a tombstone lead interference on a sweep?
Or think about the line in front of "The Four Horsemen," the Notre Dame backfield mounted on noble steeds for publicity photos. The men blocking for this distinguished cavalry were known as "The Seven Mules." Somewhere this Christmas, a little boy will say, "Gramps, did you play football?" and an old fellow will say, "Yup, I was a Mule."
At first, the name "Hogs" seemed inadequate for the Redskins' young line even though the Encyclopaedia Brittanica reports, "A mature pig has 44 teeth, carries its head low, and eats, drinks and breathes close to the ground." With the change of a couple words here and there, that's close to the job description of an NFL lineman.
Who wants to be a plain ol' hog? Hogs are born to be tomorrow's bacon bits in the Roy Rogers fixin's bar.
So, trying to be helpful, I wrote that the Hogs were "mean as a barnful of barrows." A summer on my buddy's farm taught me that barrows are what you called pigs after the unkindest cut. It happens that barrows, as an agribusinessman pointed out in a letter to the editor, are docile creatures instead of the aggrieved parties we might expect to wake up from such surgery. What I should have said, further research shows, is that the Hogs are "mean as a barnful of sows at farrowing time."
Sows? Would we have Russ Grimm walking around with Miss Piggy's pretty snout on his T-shirt? Miss Piggy in a burgundy and gold gown? That doesn't have the ring of mythic force you need to face Doomsday II.
"Hawwggs," is the way Harvey Martin put it. The rendition by the Cowboys' defensive end suggested a respect for the Redskins' linemen with whom he had rooted around for a couple hours last Sunday.
"Yeah, Hawwwggs," Martin said again, his voice deep, rumbly and so frightening that a listener figured Harvey must have slopped the hogs once upon a time.
Until you have slopped hogs, you haven't lived. You take a can of the week's garbage--potato peels, coffee grounds, sports sections--and fling it over the fence toward the hogs. This is how those animals earn their name: they come running, oinkety-oink, and dive into the slop, behaving like hogs.
We city slickers in Atlanta, Ill., pop. 1,300, only ocassionally saw a hog that wasn't riding a motorcycle. But my wife slopped hogs on her daddy's farm long enough to know, as Martin seemed to, that a hog can be tough to handle. "Sows are the meanest," she said. "They'll roll over on their babies without even caring. Then they'll eat them. Same thing with all hogs when you slop 'em. If you get in the pen with them, they'll chase you. Their mouths open like this . . ."
My wife spread her hands wide enough to chomp down on a two-door Ford.
" . . . and if they knock you down, they'll eat you, too."