For the second time in four years, tragedy struck the NFL brotherhood with the sudden death of 49er offensive lineman Thomas Herrion shortly after the conclusion of Saturday night’s game versus the Broncos. In 2001, Korey Stringer, then a starting tackle of the Minnesota Vikings, died of heat stroke, following a grueling August practice in oppressive conditions. Stringers body temperature had reached 108 degrees, at the time his body gave out. Prior to the passing of Stringer, it had been 22 years since the death of Cardinals tight end J.V. Cain, the last NFL casualty, who died during a practice in 1982.
At this time, the cause of Herions’ death is yet to be determined. Though the game was played in Denver with relatively balmy conditions as temperatures hovered around 65 degrees with 50 percent humidity, heat stroke has not been ruled out. It will be three to six weeks before toxicology results pinpoint the exact cause of death.
One thing is certain. In the aftermath of Saturday nights devastating loss of life, the attention shall refocus on the issue that plagues many NFL players, and in particular, offensive and defensive lineman; Obesity.
At six-foot-three, 310 pounds, Herrion was grossly overweight by any reasonable standards. Assuming Herrion was a “large boned” individual, his weight should have fallen within a range of 176-202 as per recommended guidelines. Stringer, incidentally, stood six-foot-four, and tipped the scales at 335. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute suggest that a BMI, or body mass index, that exceeds 30, would categorize one as being obese. Both players had BMI’s that exceeded 100.
But obesity goes beyond the number one sees when they step on the scale. The human body is comprised of bone, organs, ligaments, muscle fluids, and fat. Of equal or greater importance is the percentage of “body fat” as it relates to ones overall weight and mass. Men with a body fat content exceeding 25 percent have a much greater tendency to develop coronary and/or artery disease, which in this case more than likely contributed to or caused the death of Herrion. Visual observation of photographs would suggest that Herrion’s body fat percentage greatly exceeded that number.
Who could forget William “the Refrigerator Perry”, defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears and their legendary 46-defense, as he chugged onto the field, layers of fat seeping out his undersized jersey, to line up as a running back as the team was in the shadow of the opposition’s goal. During his career, Perry tipped the scales at between 308 and 370 pounds, the latter number being upon his graduation from Clemson in 1985.
The eccentricities of Perry’s antics, orchestrated by no nonsense coach Mike Ditka, were glorified by the media and the fans. It is rumored that Dikta’s usage of “The Fridge” as a running back was the bi product of his lingering animosity with former Bear defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who ridiculed and criticized the first round selection of Perry in the 1985 draft.
The problem lies within the fact that back in the mid 1980’s, Perry’s obesity was more an aberration than the norm. Consider that in 1980, there was but one offensive lineman that exceeded the 300 pound threshold. At this years NFL combine, more than 90 percent of the 60 offensive linemen that attended exceeded that plateau with at least two tipping the scales within an eyelash of 350.
On the other side of the ball, present day defensive lineman like Gilbert Brown may be heralded for their run stopping ability, but at six-foot-two, 340, he represents an ‘expanding’ trend in the NFL in which coaches take to big bodies, without regard to their physical health or abilities to keep up with the standards as set forth by the National Athletic Trainers Association. I would be hard pressed to believe that players like Brown are forced to endure anywhere near the practice standards that skill players like receivers and running backs are subject to.
Like steroid junkies, many linemen correlate their physical conditioning with their physical strength which unfortunately bears little relevance to their ability to run around a football field for three-plus hours, or climb a flight of stairs, for that matter.
Truthfully, I didn’t need to see ‘the Fridge’ and his endzone buffoonery or Warren Sapp jumping up and down, imitating Beyonce with a backside that more resembles something out of Herbert’s Hippopotamus. One can only hope that the NFL brass, as well as the players, coaches, and the union will allow Herrion’s death to serve as a wake up call to the ‘other problem’ that exists within the league.
Editor’s note: Paul Bovi’s insight and analysis can be read on VegasInsider.com throughout the football season. Be sure to get his expert insight each and every week in his discounted NFL Season Pack!