The Hogskins

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The Boston Globe
Friday, City Edition

These veteran, voracious linemen have no beef about lack of attention because in Washington, they’re the toast of the town

Here’s to people unashamed that they keep their appetites when all about them are losing theirs. To those who keep their eyes wide open after stepping on the bathroom scale. Those who walk with pride as they enter Big and Tall Man’s stores, who are first for seconds in the buffet line, who reach for the remote when a Nutrasystem commercial is aired, who admire Oprah Winfrey and Delta Burke, and who couldn’t care less that there’s yet another high-fiber cereal on the market.

Don’t you get tired of hearing how great it is to be slender? Of a society that caters to a thin waistline? Thank goodness for people like former Washington Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel. Early in the 1982 season, he sought to add cohesiveness to his young unit – Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, George Starke, Mark May – who all weighed in at 275 pounds or more. One day before practice, he addressed the troops with a nickname he had no idea would take off.

“All right, Hogs, hit the blocking sleds!”

The team responded well to the label that day, so Bugel had T-shirts made with “HOGS” in large letters printed across the chest. As a unit, the offensive linemen had to wear the shirts once a week. They were fined $ 5 for not doing so, about all they could afford at the time. But how could they not wear the shirts? Someone had finally cast the spotlight on the most overlooked unit in football. And he did so not because they are fast, strong or good at run-blocking or pass-blocking, but because in the coach’s mind, they resembled chubby-cheeked pigs.

As it turned out, the Hogs were fast off the line and strong. They were good run and pass blockers. They helped the Redskins finish second in the NFL in time of possession. They helped Joe Theismann lead the NFC in passing and opened gaping holes for running back John Riggins. They became the focal point of the ’82 team, which finished 8-1 in a strike-shortened season. In the playoffs, Grimm and Jacoby made famous the running play “counter trey” – two guards pulling side to side -which surprised many to see players their size move so well. The Redskins averaged 153 yards rushing in the playoffs. The team went on to win Super Bowl XVII, Washington’s first, as most valuable player Riggins rushed for 166 yards. The Washington Post headline the next day: “Riggins, Redskins Hog it All.”

For one of the first times in pro football, the smaller, slender, flashier guys got the yards, but the heavyweights got most of the credit. “Hogs” T-shirts and rubber snouts became popular sales items among Redskins fans. Overweight men attended games in dresses, wigs and snouts, calling themselves “Hoggettes.” Local merchants began calling for spots on commercials.

A decade later, the Hogs are still the most celebrated and, without a doubt, the most quoted offensive line in NFL history. And they are still going strong; Starke and May are gone, but Jacoby, Bostic and Grimm remain, and the Redskins have added fine talents like All-Pro Jim Lachey, Raleigh McKenzie and Mark Schlereth, who has supplanted Grimm as a starter. Together they allowed quarterback Mark Rypien to be sacked just seven times this year, tying an NFL record set by Miami in 1988.

For some, like Jacoby and Bostic, the first time they were interviewed extensively was when the nickname took off. “At first, it felt different because very seldom do offensive linemen get mentioned for anything other than a holding penalty, or something negative,” said Bostic, a 6-foot-2-inch, 278-pound center. “It finally started coming to a point where we were getting recognition for something positive.”

“I think what helped most was television,” said coach Joe Gibbs. “Now there’s instant replay and different camera angles and focus on one play. TV has done a great job of exposing a lot of positions that were hidden for a long time. Now you’ve got close-up views of linemen making great blocks. People get a greater appreciation for it; it’s helped expose some of the best part of football, the line play.”

But what does he know? If it had been left up to Gibbs, a couple of players may have never stuck around long enough to earn the nickname. Gibbs wanted to trade Bostic because he was considered merely a long snapper “and we couldn’t have a guy running around here just being a long snapper. He ended up going to the Pro Bowl the next year.”

Then there was Jacoby (6-6, 314), whom Gibbs initially thought was a defensive player. “When I came in here, signed as a free agent, I sat down to talk with coach Gibbs,” said Jacoby. “It was his first year here, and he was going off for about 20 minutes how great an opportunity I would have to make the team as a defensive lineman. So as a young guy, a kid out of college, I didn’t want to say anything, so I didn’t. I left things at that, walked out of the room, went over to the general manager’s office and signed a two-year contract. From what I heard, he was yelling at Bugel later when he found out I was an offensive lineman.”

“We tried to run him out of here,” said Gibbs.

Fortunately for the ‘Skins, the Hogs remained intact and made the best of their opportunities. “Looking back on the nickname now, it was done because we were such a young offensive line at the time,” said Jacoby. “It was done to keep us with a common goal. We’re together, we have this nickname, let’s live up to it.”

But who can carry the nickname, and who can’t? What makes a Hog a Hog?

“Once you come in on the offensive line and do your job and if you’re there a season or so, you’re qualified,” said Grimm (6-3, 284).

Bostic says the label doesn’t apply exclusively to linemen. “We’ve got tight ends that are Hogs,” he said. “Don Warren’s a Hog. He doesn’t catch many passes, but he doesn’t care about attention being brought to him. He just does his job.”

It also helps to be a lover of cuisine. No Ultra SlimFast candidates here. “I enjoy eating,” said Grimm. “As they say, I don’t eat a lot, but I do eat a lot. I usually never eat breakfast, and sometimes I don’t eat lunch. I’m one of those guys that when I do sit down and eat, it’ll usually last me for half a day.”

Is there any thought given to calorie intake, to fats and cholesterol, when you’re a Hog? Of course not.

“Do I watch what I eat? Yes, when I pick it up. That’s it,” said Grimm, a pasta, Italian and Polish food lover. Especially Polish food. As far as worrying about cholesterol intake, he said, “Hey, I look at it like this – everybody’s gotta go sometime.”

But while the Hogs might be big on chow time, they’re also serious about conditioning. They say that’s why they’ve been so durable.

“You don’t just show up in July and just play,” said Bostic, who battled back from a ligament-damaging knee injury in 1988. “You have to prepare to play well, spend time in the weight room. But you also have to be lucky to stay around this long.”

Like other offensive linemen, the Hogs don’t keep personal statistics on who blocked well and who didn’t. There’s no need.

“You can easily judge how good an offensive line is,” said Bostic. “When you see a team whose quarterback has been sacked a lot or a running back that doesn’t have many 100-yard games, it tells. You look at their won-lost record, and it usually shows there, too.”

Said Grimm, “I kinda think if we pick up the paper and see Rypien throw for four TDs or that running back Earnest Byner rush for 100 yards, then you sit back, have a cup of coffee and feel good that you did your job.”

The Hogs have been mainstays of the Redskins. Washington has taken three starting quarterbacks, several running backs and numerous wide receivers to Super Bowls. But most of the Hogs are still there, making it easier for the slender guys to make the transition. And unlike most offensive lines, getting the credit they deserve.

“Hopefully, every offensive line in the NFL – and in college – will start getting more attention,” said Bostic. “In 1982 and 1983, much of the success of our team was centered on what the offensive line did, but our situation is not unique by any means. All teams that are successful to the point of getting in the playoffs or the Super Bowl have to have great offensive lines.”

Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Joe Burris

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