I like offensive lineman. They are articulate and unpretentious and accessible and nice and they have the toughest job in team sports.
I talked to Carolina Panthers tackle Jordan Gross, guard Travelle Wharton and center Ryan Kalil Thursday. But because offensive linemen depend on each other more heavily than any other unit on the team, I won't quote them individually. They are one.
Speaking of heavily, Gross, Wharton and Kalil weigh 912 pounds.
Watch practice Thursday. Quarterbacks throw, receivers catch, linebackers and defensive backs try to stop them. Fans applaud.
Farther down the field, in a place fans don't watch, whistles don't blow and the humidity is even more relentless, the offensive line gathers. Defensive linemen attack. The plays go so long that defenders eventually break through.
Drills such as these are the reason no kid grows up wanting to play on the offensive line. In related news, no kid grows up wanting to drive a minivan. Kids want a cool car. Kids want a cool position.
Am I right?
"Yes," the o-line says.
Gross, 30, wanted to be a fullback, Wharton, 29, a tight end and Kalil, 25, went to quarterback camp.
By the time they were high school sophomores or juniors they knew what they were.
They were players whose losses would be publicized and victories ignored.
They occasionally would notice a finger inside their facemask. The finger would not be theirs.
They would look up and see that the faces of the guys they blocked had changed. The starters had gone to the sideline.
Is the o-line envious? The o-line does not envy. The o-line is less five fingers and more of a hand, and the hand is steadfast. Change is dangerous. The o-line perseveres.
Gosh, what's it take to be an offensive lineman?
"It's not like we're a secret society," the o-line says. "To be one of us, you can't have qualms about anything in your life because we will make fun of everything in your life."
"Except wives," says the o-line.
"Girlfriends we make fun of," the o-line says. "Kids we don't make fun of. Except for wives and kids, we make fun of everything."
Can you be an honorary offensive lineman?
"You can," says the o-line. "But nothing soft, no pretty boys, and you have to play hurt."
The o-line's honorary members include tight end Jeff King and linebacker Thomas Davis, and former Panthers Jake Delhomme, Brad Hoover and Jordan Carstens.
Last season a certain offensive lineman clad only in his underwear would, with his back to the locker room, begin to shake. There was so much to shake that, if the dance had a name, it would be Richter scale.
"When the music comes on, that's what we do," the o-line says. "Do you see anybody else in the locker room do that? They're too cool."
Kids, it's too late for me. But the rest of you ought to go to your coach today and say, "I, too, want to be an offensive lineman."
But skip the minivan.