Had the Vikings really wanted to fix in court – heck, prevent completely – the sudden setback along their defensive line, they would have sought a restraining order against Pat Williams and Kevin Williams themselves, ordering them to stay at least 100 yards away from their refrigerators.
It was, after all, the Williams Wall’s desperate attempts to meet the team’s own body weight restrictions that created the biggest news story of their season and greatest threat to their postseason ambitions, which continue Sunday in Detroit. The two Pro Bowl defensive tackles, who tip the scales on a good day at 317 pounds (Pat) and 311 pounds (Kevin), allegedly had used Star Caps – a weight-loss supplement that contains the NFL banned substance bumetanide – to svelte down to head coach Brad Childress’ and his staff’s liking for the start of training camp and every week since.
This, of course, is the best possible interpretation of why the Williamses were swallowing Star Caps. Other potential reasons, such as bumetanide’s prowess as a masking agent of steroids or their search for an energy boost, aren’t nearly as kind to the two Vikings. The NFL, in announcing the four-game suspensions for both players Tuesday, cited diuretics’ misdirection of drug testing and their threat to player health and safety.
The smog of stupidity?
So we’ll limit our discussion here to the closest thing to a legitimate reason to seek out and swallow Star Caps: The need to make weight, a standard operating procedure in the NFL. It is in this context that the cloud of chicanery lifts, replaced by the smog of stupidity.
Both players are big guys. Really big guys. They are successful in large part – XXXL part, actually – because of their size. The NFL sends seismic shock waves through 15 of America’s cities on a weekly basis these days – whoppers like William Perry were a novelty 23 years ago but are commonplace now – and the Vikings are no different, with 12 players on the active roster who exceed 300 pounds, two more on the practice squad and two more on injured reserve. Pat Williams and Kevin Williams rank sixth and 10th respectively in sheer poundage, according to the official figures, but they are front and center as the, er, guts of Minnesota’s run-squashing defense.
So their size is their calling card, their size is their greatest attribute and their size is what makes them so special. And now their size is what has them and the Vikings in such a pickle (with, no doubt, two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese and some onion on a sesame-seed bun).
The Vikings drafted, signed, pay, coach and deploy the Williamses the way they did and do because they are big. Fat even – no need to be delicate about it, it’s a manly league. But then they enforce a system that requires those players not to be too fat and that, pending some unanticipated legal success in the wake of the Hennepin County District Court injunction granted Wednesday, will thwart the impact of those guys when the team needs them most.
Childress squirmed verbally when I asked him Wednesday if he could characterize the Williamses’ explanation to him for why they used Star Caps and if he was satisfied with it. “I think it’s a matter of record, and I’m not going to get into the different conversations,” he said.
His response to my follow-up question – as the Vikings coach, could he explain to fans why “making weight” is an important enough goal to prompt two star players to ingest a risky and banned substance? – was a bit of a sidestep, too. “All I know about water pills is, or weight loss is, Miss America uses them, and neither one of those guys would fall into that category of using for looks, I don’t think,” Childress said. “But I know that they’re used and obviously available throughout – you can buy them off the shelves. You’d have to ask them.”
The two players, by league rules, were barred from the Winter Park facility Wednesday, so that wasn’t an option. As for Childress’ Miss America reference, isn’t employing these super-heavyweight linemen, and then requiring them to slim down to a certain weight still north of three bills, a little like expecting Miss America to cook?
Weight penalties: Fines and public humiliation
The full range of penalties (fines, depth-chart demotions) imposed on players who fail to hit their target weights each week isn’t known. But in 2006, Pat Williams reported to camp at 337, packing about a dozen pounds more than prescribed. Childress put him on the team’s Physically Unable to Perform list until he lost weight. It was a public humiliation, the PUP list as doghouse. When Williams signed a three-year, $22 million contract extension in September 2007, it reportedly contained a weight clause.
Let’s review: In the interest of getting peak performance and reliable contributions from players whose chief attribute is their bulk, a team specifies, checks and even ties their paychecks to staying below a certain level of bulk. The players become so desperate to save both face and money, they turn to illicit substances to (relatively) slim down. The outcome? Williams could lose as much as $941,000 – his pro-rated 2008 salary for four games – and the Vikings might lose his services for the final quarter of their schedule. Same with Kevin Williams, who would forfeit $235,000, an amount that could cover a lot of team fines and buy a lot of face.
Isn’t “making weight” just asking for trouble, at least with these super-hefty hunka-hunkas?
“It’s harder for guys who have a weight problem to make weight,” Childress said. “But these guys deal with it on a week-to-week basis. My understanding of policy is, what they were taking, Star Caps, were listed as [not having] a substance in it. Had they taken that and it didn’t have that substance in it, then they would be fine with what they did. Whether they run or sit in the sauna or the steam, or what have you, they make weight.”
Ryan Cook, the Vikings’ third-year offensive tackle from New Mexico, is listed at 328 pounds, tying him as the team’s third heaviest player. “It’s up to each individual to make their weight. I can’t really speak for those two guys,” said Cook, adding that he never has blown a weigh-in. “Whatever the coach says they want you at, they want you at. They expect you to be at it. I don’t have any reasons why. That’s not up to me.”
The real taskmaster of the team, then, stands near the middle of the Vikings locker room. It has a steel base about 2 feet square and a head unit on an upright column, with a bright red LED display, a tough polycarbonate touch panel, a printout function and a maximum capacity of 500 pounds. Even its name befits the NFL’s Chunky Soup image: The Doran 7000XL.
Its workload could be lightened by 628 pounds, give or take a plate of nachos, for the next four weeks. That’s some serious weight loss for the Vikings, courtesy of Star Caps.