ARLINGTON, Texas - Casey Hampton is listed at 325 pounds. The way his jersey stretches tautly across his biceps (and belly) suggests that the real number is north of that. Asked for his actual weight, the Steelers nose tackle says, 'It's 300 and change. Lots of change.'
Hampton is one of 26 players on the Green Bay Packers’ and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl rosters who tip the scale at more than 300 pounds – an eye-popping number made even more startling when you put it in historical context.
Green Bay’s first Super Bowl team, 45 years ago, didn’t have a guy heavier than 265 pounds.
Meanwhile, Mean Joe Greene, at 275 pounds, was the biggest player on the Steelers when they won their second of six championships in 1976.
All of this largesse was roundly joked about and brushed off during Super Bowl media day Tuesday — as good a day as any to celebrate all the excesses that America’s favorite sport has to offer. But it also brings up some uncomfortable questions. Namely: How’d these guys all get so big, and could any of this really be good for them?
“In terms of food, yeah, they eat tons of food during their careers and they get very big,” said dietitian Michele Macedonio, who has worked for the Cincinnati Bengals. “And if they don’t do something to get back to their healthful weight, their rate of disease is very high.”
As for those who are using more than food, well, that’s a statistic that almost certainly won’t ever be properly measured.
The supplement creatine helps stimulate muscle growth and has long been considered an integral part of any NFL player’s bodybuilding regimen. But even that has its limits, while the growth rate of the players — even more noticeable while walking among them on media day when they’re not covered in shoulder pads and helmets — has been more or less exponential.
According to stats provided by Stats LLC, there was one 300-pound player in the league in 1970, three in 1980, 94 in 1990, 301 in 2000 and 394 at the start of last season.
Meanwhile, the NFL does not test for human-growth hormone and has a banned-substances list that’s considered laughably short by the people who run Olympic-style testing programs.
“That’s a difficult one for me to respond to other than to say that the sport played in my country, rugby union, the same thing has happened since the game went more professional, since there started being more money in it,” said David Howman, a New Zealand native who is the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency. “I look back to when I was a kid and remember the size of the players when I was a kid. Nowadays, they’d be lucky to make it to” a preseason game.
Packers starting nose tackle B.J. Raji is listed at 337 pounds. His nickname: “The Freezer” — a name he appreciates even though he was an infant when fellow appliance and big man William “Refrigerator” Perry was playing.
Raji says, “big guys, we’re always trying to keep our weight down. You have to stay on top of it. I have no problem with that.”
Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett does. He says his “magic number” is 338 pounds. Weigh-ins are every Thursday and he pays $500 for every pound he’s over.
“Right when I get on the scale, I start having flashbacks,” he said. “It’s everything. It’s, ‘Man, I shouldn’t have done that this week.’ Or, ‘Why did I do this?’ Or, ‘If I hadn’t done that, I’d have been fine.’ ”
“This” and “that,” Pickett conceded, are indulgences such as the huge bucket of chicken wings he and the other linemen “gorge on” after the weigh-ins are over.
It’s pretty much the same story on the Steelers side.
The heaviest Steeler, 344-pound offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu, said the O-line eats together a lot and sometimes that can be hard.
“Just looking at what the dude sitting next to you is eating makes you want to eat more,” Kemoeatu said. “But you have to watch yourself. The team invests a lot of money in you. And they fine you if you get overweight.”
Indeed, it is a dollars-and-cents business, and staying big is these guys’ livelihood, even if it sets them up for bigger health problems later.
Former Dallas Cowboys lineman Erik Williams, who limped into the Super Bowl media hotel Tuesday on a cane, has been diagnosed with severe degenerative arthritis in his hip — a result, in part, of playing in the 300-plus range over 11 seasons.
“I’m disabled right now,” he said. “I need two hip replacements.”
And yet, he concedes, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’d just tell guys to just keep doing things you love,” Williams said, “and whatever consequences come with that, deal with it.”