During the six months between trying out with the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots, Brian Musselman worked at a slaughterhouse where men in bloody white coveralls butchered pigs.
"It was something to see," he said at the Washington Federals' training camp. "There were dead pigs everywhere."
Although the former Virginia center followed closely the success of the Washington Redskins' offensive line, which rooted its way to victory over the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl, Musselman admits he would have had trouble living and working with a bunch of guys nicknamed "Hogs."
"I'm not a big fan of pork," he said. "I'm more a steak man."
Because employes of the Hatfield Packing Plant in Hatfield, Pa., received a discount on all pork products, Musselman loaded his deep freeze with rib racks and chops, seeing all the while flashbacks of gutted beasts on iron hooks.
Sometimes when he tossed a football with kids in the neighborhood he could almost feel the grainy, imperfect texture of his future in his hands.
Released by two NFL teams in less than a year, he decided he would either make it in the new United States Football League or return to Hatfield and the packing plant, where he pushed pigs from the butchers' block into cold storage 11 hours a day.
There were more pigs than men in that plant, and more lengths of sausage in his freezer than ice cubes. Sometimes he dreamed about pigs or, counting them into sleep, he tossed and turned fitfully.
"Pigs, pigs everywhere," he said. "At Virginia, our offensive line was called the Hooch Cows. I never had any trouble with that."
Unlike Musselman, Dave Pacella likes pork on his pizza. He likes the easy life at Victor Emanuel's restaurant in Reading, Pa., where he goes often with his girl for a cold draft and pepperoni deep dish pies and Linda Ronstadt on the quarter juke.
"I don't have anything against hogs or anything," he said. "But eventually I hope we'll establish ourselves and find our own name."
One cold winter during semester break, Pacella returned to his home town and spent almost every night at Emanuel's, celebrating the precious season off the gridiron over Italian dishes and chatting with the occasional fan, who might say, "Hey, Dave, home, huh?" "Eating again, huh?" and punch his shoulder with his best right on the way to the cash register.
During the day, he pumped iron at a fitness club owned by his lawyer, or watched the snow fall in hard white sheets on the city. He admits the only time he felt comfortable was while lying on his back. He hated to get up off the couch to change the channel on the tube. In a couple of weeks, he had gained 30 pounds, ballooning from 255 to 285.
"I couldn't even move," he said. "I felt like a whale. Hey, maybe we could be the Whales. No, no. That wouldn't work. The Whales sounds kinda dumb."
Many times, the hotel porter here can find kitchen china and silverware smudged with cherry pie outside Joel Patten's door. Sometimes finger smudges of whipped cream tell a tale on the glasses.
"It's not me that's ordering that stuff," Patten said. "But I guess we're more apt to pig-out on room service than the little defensive backs next door."
Late at night, Patten usually chews a wad of shredded tobacco and calls his fiancee back home. He tells the operator to charge the call to his mother's house, then he calls his mother's house collect to tell her he charged an earlier call on her phone, to his girl's place in Fairfax.
It's a vicious cycle, he knows, but training camp at night can be a lonesome place and staring at the color portrait of his girl--next to his digital clock on a night stand so that it's the first thing he sees every morning--can make his heart ache or sing, depending on how practice went that day.
"It's those nights at Casa Maria's in D.C.," he said. "We were there all the time eating Mexican food. I can hear Emmylou Harris and John Prine on my stereo right now. Country and Western, that's my music. Mexican, that's my food.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound tackle from Duke, and before that Robinson High School in Fairfax, often mulls over possible names for the Federals' offensive line. Although he believes the team should make a name for itself rather than have a part of it singled out, "The Pony Express" would suit him just fine.
"Why, with Craig (Jesse) James in the backfield and me," he said, "I mean, I like it.
"But we're still young. It's not quite fair to compare us to the Redskins' offensive line, or even settle on a name for our group. We're a new team with a new offense and a whole new concept.
"We're just getting to know each other," he said, chuckling. "Shoot, we don't even know the names of all the guys on the team yet."