MINNEAPOLIS - The ballroom fills quickly with flesh. These huge, thick men are the first to enter for Thursday's last round of pre-Super Bowl interviews. Shoulders as big as Chicago, arms redwood-thick, stomachs hanging fashionably over their sweatpants.
These ambling behemoths aren't pretty sights. You won't find these men inside "GQ." They are Hogs, and you better say that with affection. They are the Washington Redskins' offensive line. The most effective group of earthmovers in football.
In the most powerful city in the world, a city that thrives on celebrity, they are the muscle that is driving the nation's capital wild.
The Hogs: faster than a speeding Congressman's limo, more powerful than a member of the gun lobby, able to leap small cabinet members in a single bound.
Look, toiling in the trenches, behemoths splattered with blood. They are The Hogs. Starters Jeff Bostic, Joe Jacoby, Jim Lachey, Raleigh McKenzie, Mark Schlereth, Don Warren and reserves Russ Grimm, Ed Simmons, Mark Adickes and Ron Middleton.
"Once you're enshrined in the Hogs, it makes you elite," tight end Warren said.
Everything in the Washington Redskins' offense starts with The Hogs. They give quarterback Mark Rypien the time to throw those remarkable deep routes to his fleet receivers. The Hogs open the cracks that Ricky Ervins darts through and they push forward for Earnest Byner's punishing short bursts.
The Hogs allowed the fewest sacks (nine) in the league and haven't allowed a sack in two playoff games. They also opened the holes that allowed the Redskins to run for an average of 128.1 yards per game.
"I don't think the guy who invented football ever thought a bunch of big, fat offensive linemen named the Hogs would get all the publicity and adulation this group gets," said guard-tackle Adickes, who came to Washington from Kansas City in 1990 as a Plan B free agent.
"I came to the Redskins specifically because I wanted to be a Hog," Adickes, a six-year veteran, said. "When you're an offensive lineman, you toil in anonymity most of your career.
"You become a lineman because they always stick the fattest kids on the line. When I was 9 years old, if you weighed over a certain limit, they stuck a black arm band on you and made you into a lineman. You get no respect. It's hard to have any self-esteem."
Ah, but if you are a Hog, the world is your pigpen. Your average salary is $ 475,000. You are the toast of D.C. You are invited to dine with Art Buchwald, dance with Sally Quinn. Your names are on the lips of ambassadors, Pentagon officials, senators and Supreme Court justices. You are in Hog Heaven.
"I could play line in any other city and nobody would recognize me in the supermarket," said tackle Lachey, a former Los Angeles Raider. "But in Washington, little old ladies come up in the checkout line and critique my last game.
"The Hogs have such a great tradition. Television commentators like Dan Dierdorf and John Madden are doing closeups on the offensive linemen now. People can thank the Hogs for that. Offensive linemen never got any attention before them."
For more than a decade, the Hogs have played to rave reviews. Like a successful rock 'n' roll band, there have been several defections and perfect replacements.
Tackle George Stark retired in 1985. Tackle Mark May left in 1990. But Lachey came from Los Angeles in 1988 and Schlereth was drafted out of Idaho in 1989.
Like a good band, these mountainous Hogs are interchangeable, experienced parts.
Tackle Ed Simmons was hurt against Dallas, and Adickes replaced him. Jacoby was hurt against Houston, and Grimm moved into right tackle. Lachey got hurt, Grimm moved to left tackle and Adickes went to right tackle. Warren missed six weeks with a fractured ankle, and the Redskins kept rolling with Middleton in his place.
Warren is a 13-year veteran. Bostic is playing in his 12th season. Jacoby and Grimm have been with the Skins for 11 years. They have survived surgeries and injuries and have continued to be the NFC's pile-driving force.
"We're getting older," Jacoby, 32, said. "But other than that, things are pretty much the same. We might have a little more depth than we used to. We've got guys who can play each position on the line."
Ultimately, tomorrow's Super Bowl should come down to a trench battle between the Hogs of Washington and the defensive deer of Buffalo.
"We outweigh them by about 25 pounds a man," Lachey said. "So it becomes a matter of whether the big guys can knock the little guys off the ball, or whether the little guys can run around the big guys. The only thing I can guarantee is that this game will be everything it's hyped up to be."
It will be Super Sunday and all of Washington's eyes, ears, love and best wishes will be with the Hogs.
Dan Quayle should be so lucky.
Steve Kelley's column usually is published Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the Sports section of The Times.