For the Offensive Line, A Casual Nickname Sows a Hog Happening
By: Paul Attner
Category: Washington Redskins News
Super Bowl XVII
Center Jeff Bostic had only to walk through a suburban Virginia shopping mall to realize how Hog wild Washington fans have gone over the Redskins' offensive line.
"Everywhere I looked," he said, "there were Hogs. Hog shirts, Hog banners, Hog pennants, Hog everything. Somebody is making a lot of money off the Hogs. I wish it was me."
What began as a spirit builder for the linemen has become a frenzy. Hog souvenirs are the best-selling Redskin novelty items. During the days preceding the NFC championship game with Dallas, a local radio station even played sounds of Hogs grunting. About the only place porkers are more popular is in Arkansas, the home of the Razorbacks.
"I never dreamed this would happen, but isn't it great?" said Joe Bugel, the Redskin offensive line coach who first nicknamed his charges the Hogs. "This may be the first time offensive linemen have Hogged the spotlight."
Bugel laughed, but he had the right. Hog jokes are in. Anonymity for offensive linemen is out. Bugel's nickname has made stars of his mudders, money for souvenir vendors and meaty subject matter for headline writers.
And since when in the NFL, which has seen the Doomsday Defense, the Purple People Eaters and the Fearsome Foursome, has an offensive line been celebrated with a nickname of its own?
But the Hogs themselves don't claim celebrity status. The Redskin offensive line is young and good, but not even Bugel is ready to call it the league's best. The line may be the biggest around (average weight: 270 pounds) but with four second-year starters, there is room for more sophistication and consistency.
Still, the line is good enough to make John Riggins, 33, feel like a youngster. "I've never run behind a better line," said Riggins, who is finishing one of the finest seasons of his 11-year career. "They are great now, but with more experience they are going to be something."
There are 10 Hogs. Seven are offensive linemen (Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Bostic, George Starke, Fred Dean, Mark May, Ron Saul). Two are tight ends (Don Warren, Rick Walker). One is a fullback (Riggins).
"I wanted in, but they spurned me for two weeks," Riggins said, tongue in cheek. "When they finally said they'd let me join, I was going to tell them, 'No thanks.' But I relented. You don't want to make your line mad."
Ten Hogs in one restaurant can run up a bill of $750 in two hours. They did earlier this season. Bugel did not pick up the check.
The Hogs got their nickname because Bugel looked at Bostic and Grimm one day last season and decided they were built like Hogs.
"They are short guys with big bellies," Bugel said. "I started to say to the whole line at practice, 'Okay you Hogs, let's go down in the bullpen and hit those sleds.' Some guys might have resented it but these guys loved it."
Bugel is Boss Hog. When wide receivers or quarterbacks throw effective blocks, they are Piglets. Hogs are selected through a membership vote. Rookie tackle Don Laster wanted to buy an official membership T-shirt, designed by Bugel. He was turned down.
"We want to keep this exclusive," Grimm said.
Bugel's strategy has served a purpose. It gave an inexperienced line a unifying element. It made the members special. And it put them on the spot. When you're a Hog, it's embarrassing to fall face first into the mud unless you are doing a good job.
As a result, they probably are playing better than should be expected. They have developed an unselfish attitude that has allowed Bugel to move Dean and May in and out of the starting right guard spot without a complaint.
"Joe has said right from the beginning that a starting berth is earned by the guy who is playing well," May said. "We all accept that. When Freddy got a chance and played impressively, he deserved a chance to start. That's why I went to Joe and said not to worry about me, that if he wanted to go with Freddy, he should make the change."
Bugel's attitude is essential to the Hogs. He's an enthusiastic, fiery, uninhibited type who keeps the group loose. But he's also a solid coach who believes in a power-blocking, forceful approach to offensive line play. It's no accident that the Hogs are big. Bugel believes the reworked rules governing pass protection lend themselves best to large, strong players.
"By the end of every week, he has taken us step by step through what we have to know for the game," Bostic said. "We are completely prepared because he is so thorough. Then all we have to do is execute."
Interestingly, the Hogs' most talented linemen are two of their smallest members, Grimm and Bostic.
The Redskins thought so highly of Grimm that they traded away a No. 1 pick mainly to be able to select him in the third round of the 1981 draft. He was projected as a starting center, but when Bostic performed well in the 1981 training camp, Grimm was moved to left guard, in part because Bugel thought he matched up well with Dallas' Randy White.
Grimm, a tenacious player, has been the team's most consistent performer this season. Bostic, called "the Little Doughboy" by his teammates because he looks like the figure in the Pillsbury commercials, is just a shade behind. Considering he was a free agent signed only because of his kick snapping, he has been a major surprise.
Starke, 34, is the lone veteran, a cerebral performer nearing the end of his career. He shouldn't be strong enough or big enough to hold up under Bugel's sytem, but the last two seasons have been among his finest. May is the heir apparent to Starke's job. He was a No. 1 choice as a tackle, but had difficulties on the left side in 1981; now, Bugel is confident May can be a fine right tackle.
Jacoby's 1981 performance, when he eventually replaced May at left tackle, helped get the line through that season with dignity. Jacoby, Grimm's roommate, is a massive force on run blocking who is becoming better at pass blocking. Once almost painfully shy, he has become much more open this season, although he still can't match the outgoing Grimm. May is the polished future banker; Starke already has a couple of film businesses; Bostic is the country boy with the dry wit.
"They really are close to each other," Bugel said. "It's something you have to love, getting in the trenches every day. And who would have thought this line would be good enough to play in the Super Bowl?"
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