My new book "The King of Sports" -- say, have I mentioned "The King of Sports"? -- has a chapter titled, "How 307 Pounds Became Undersized." Among facts from that chapter: When the Green Bay Packers played in the first Super Bowl, their defensive line averaged 254 pounds. When the Packers played in the 45th Super Bowl, their defensive line averaged 320 pounds. No one on the 1972 Dolphins' perfect team weighed more than 300 pounds. In the most recent Super Bowl, Ravens versus 49ers, 13 starting players weighed at least 300 pounds. The chapter offers, via Mel Kiper Jr.'s storeroom of draft records, considerable detail on the steady rise in size and strength of linemen.
At the NFL level there is always pressure on linemen to gain strength. Professional athletes supervised by trainers and nutritionists can gain healthy weight and then lose it back once their playing days end. But in a nation with a childhood obesity epidemic, it just cannot be good that the No. 1 sport celebrates weight gain.
For every one NFL player gaining weight as lean muscle mass, there are a hundred of teens wolfing down bacon cheeseburgers to get big so they can start for varsity. "The King of Sports" gives lots of stats for weight increase in high school football, and the numbers are bleak -- high schools where the average offensive lineman weight is higher than the 1972 Dolphins, prep programs with multiple 300-plus lineman. High school players who gain significant pounds usually are not under the tight supervision of trainers and nutritionists, and they're on their own trying to lose that weight when no recruiting offer comes.
Beyond that, very heavy football players extolled by television as celebrities give young people the idea that weighing that much is not a risk. True, television also bombards young people with images of perfect-10 bodies. But a perfect-10 body is impossible for most young people to attain, while anyone can gain pounds by reaching for the French fries. Football needs to rethink the way in which it extols "getting big."
The Belichick-Welker Psychodrama: Back home at Foxboro, Bill Belichick called the Wes Welker hit on Aqib Talib "one of the worst plays I've seen" . . . a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib." Psychoanalyzing the Patriots could itself be a sport. Here goes:
• Welker felt unappreciated at New England. Despite being the franchise's all-time leader for receptions, he was shown the door the moment a less-expensive Welker-like figure, Danny Amendola, came along. Driven by subconscious oedipal conflict, Welker wanted to slay his father figure, but decided that defeating his father-figure's team would be more acceptable. In the first Denver-New England game, Welker played poorly and the father figure prevailed. That made it essential for Denver to defeat New England on the second try. Welker entered the contest filled with rage, which in football is a useful emotion.
• Welker was jealous of Talib, who was being welcomed into the Patriots' locker room just as Welker was being shown out. Welker was the good boy, Talib the prodigal son. Yet Talib received honors -- whether the Patriots sacrificed a fatted calf is unknown -- while Welker was banished.