Former NFL offensive lineman Antone Davis was tired of sitting on the bench.
Davis, whose career fell short of expectations after he was the No. 8 overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1991 NFL draft, found himself sidelined in a far more painful situation in recent years. By his early 40s, Davis' weight had ballooned to 476 pounds – more than 150 pounds beyond the playing weight during his pro career and more than enough to make him a bystander as he tried to take care of his four children.
"I was that parent who sits on the bench at Disney World," said Davis, a contestant on this year's "Biggest Loser" television show. Tuesday night's episode features several current and former NFL players as coaches for the contestants, including New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees(notes), Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez(notes) and Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman(notes). "We used to live in Disney's backyard [in Clermont, Fla.], buy the passes and I'd go sit and watch my kids, unable to do something."
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Worse, Davis was watching as one college alumnus after another died, seemingly prematurely. Davis, 44, can name six former Tennessee offensive or defensive linemen who have died in their 40s in recent years, from Reggie White in 2004 to Daryle Smith and Harry Galbreath in 2010. He played with or knew all of them.
"It doesn't take a lot to understand that we were all linemen, big guys, who pushed our bodies and now you start to realize what it means all these years later and it scares you," said Davis, who spent two years with the Atlanta Falcons after his five-year stint with Philadelphia. "I realized I have to do something about this and I have to do it now."
So Davis, who described himself as a "stress" eater, signed on for the show. To lose the weight, he had to push his body harder than ever before. He also had to walk away from his job as a manager at a Chili's restaurant.
Davis arrived at that point after he and his wife failed in another restaurant business. The combination of starting a restaurant during an economic downturn was a disaster for Davis.
"It's not just the stress, but you're working long hours, you're surrounded by food and then your habits just get worse and worse," said Davis, who now resides in Knoxville, Tenn. "When I was a player, making weight was never a problem. You're active, you're busy, you're preparing for the next game. When you're out in the real world, trying to operate a business, you're eating late, you're eating standing up, you're eating on the run and all of a sudden it's out of control."
Davis said he eventually recognized the bad habits and realized eating wasn't solving his stress. Now, he has an incredible sense of pride about what he has accomplished. Most important, he's no longer on the sideline and has no intention of going back.
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"I have these four kids and I don't want them to lose me by 50," Davis said. "I know they need me. All the things that happened up to now, you realize that's just a bump in the road. My plan took a little detour, but it can be solved."
OK, understand that the question is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Graham is about as good-natured a human being as you find. He's exceedingly polite, has overcome a terrible childhood and graduated with honors from the University of Miami (no jokes, that's serious). However, as he has piled up big numbers over the first four games of the season (his 24 catches for 367 yards and three TDs each rank among the top three for tight ends), he keeps showing off this angry side on the field.
Throughout games, Graham talks trash and gestures as he makes plays. He did that in a big way Sunday as he finished with 10 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown at Jacksonville, helping the Saints to a 23-10 victory.
"That's something [Jeremy] Shockey taught me last year," Graham said, referring to his fellow UM alum and former teammate. Shockey took Graham under his wing, teaching him both technique and, as it turns out, purpose. "This is an intense, emotional game. Whenever you play, you have to play with your heart on your sleeve. You have to be into the game both emotionally and mentally."
Still, the pointing and the gesturing can easily get misinterpreted, particularly by those who observe from a distance.
"I think it brings the best out of me," Graham said. It's never anything derogatory toward the other guy. I'm just letting them know I'm going to be here all game long. I'll never touch another player. I respect every player and I really dive into the scouting … but it's football. Tensions rise and people want to make an impact. [But] I'm not going to get a penalty. If I do, [coach] Sean [Payton] will get chippy with me."
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The most important factor is that quarterback Drew Brees has quickly developed a trust in Graham, as Sunday showed. Not bad for a member of Miami's basketball team who played only one year of college football.
"I'm still not as confident [in myself] as he is in me," Graham said. "He tells me, 'Jimmy, you're a viable option on every play … to have his trust and know that he's looking for me in critical situations like third down at the end of the game is truly special."
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland has done his best to maintain a relationship with coach Tony Sparano after a difficult offseason. Ireland was on the plane with owner Stephen Ross when the Dolphins tried to lure then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh to Miami in January. Ireland still has a picture of him and Sparano together in his office. The two came with Bill Parcells to Miami after working together in Dallas.
However, Ireland may have a rough choice to make very soon. As the Dolphins fell to 0-4, the pressure on Sparano continued to mount. Despite getting a two-year contract extension this offseason, Sparano is seemingly on his way out unless there is some miraculous change. NFL.com reporter Jeff Darlington, who was covering the Dolphins until two weeks ago, reported on growing tension between Sparano and his staff, and both the personnel department and the players.
The only problem is that if the Dolphins continue to disintegrate like this, the blame may not stop with Sparano. It could reach Ireland, who right now has formed a strong relationship with Ross. The belief among many is that Ireland will survive. But if this team is something like 0-8 or 1-11, that could change Ireland's position. In order to prevent that, Ireland will likely have to tell Ross sooner than later that Sparano has to go. That way, the rest of the season under an interim coach will likely not be held against Ireland. Or at least he'd have a built-in explanation.
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The good news for the Dolphins is that while they didn't get Harbaugh, they are in good shape to get Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who is a virtual lock to be the No. 1 overall pick in April.
1. Green Bay Packers (4-0): Packers-Broncos looked more like Oklahoma-Ball State. Dominating the NFL shouldn't look this simple.
2. Detroit Lions (4-0): Yeah, they got really lucky. But sometimes when you're that good, you create some luck, too.
3. New England Patriots (3-1): Precision win over the Raiders proves Buffalo loss was a fluke, but still have a tough run of games coming up.
4. New Orleans Saints (3-1): If you don't know about TE Jimmy Graham by now, you better catch up fast because he's the real deal.
5. Baltimore Ravens (3-1): Inconsistent offense is still hard to like, but they have had three impressive wins so far.
28. Denver Broncos (1-3): Seriously, how much longer is coach John Fox going to waste his time with Kyle Orton(notes) at quarterback?
29. St. Louis Rams (0-4): Why is their offensive line this bad?
30. Indianapolis Colts (0-4): Valiant work for the second straight week, but that energy is going to tap out soon.
31. Minnesota Vikings (0-4): That NFC championship game appearance in the 2009 season is starting to seem like a long time ago.
32. Miami Dolphins (0-4): WR Brandon Marshall(notes) drops another big pass and, in the process, coach Tony Sparano's heart.
This and that
• NBC had a cool graphic in the first half of the Jets-Ravens game showing the area known as "Revis Island," the part of the field where Revis generally roams. The only problem is that the next highlight showed Revis covering Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin(notes) lined up on the other side of the field. It's not uncommon for Revis to cover the best opposing receiver, even if that means flopping sides. Revis Island floats.
• The latest evidence that the aforementioned Luck will be the No. 1 overall pick came after Stanford's victory over UCLA: Luck called many of his own plays and one scout who watched the game on TV was duly impressed. "I didn't notice it as it happened, which is kind of impressive when you think about it," the scout said. "It's not like the kid got greedy and started winging the ball all over the field. He managed the game in a really smart way. It's a small thing, but you have to like it."
• Here's a bit of irony: As Indianapolis fell to 0-4 on Monday night, it should be noted that Colts quarterback Peyton Manning(notes) talked to Luck last January about staying in school rather than coming out for the draft in April.
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• Agent Tom Condon said Sunday that substantial progress isn't being made in a new contract between Brees and the Saints, echoing the tone of recent published reports. "Just a lot of talking, nothing really there," Condon said as he left Everbank Stadium in Jacksonville after watching Brees lead the Saints to victory.
• The NFL Players Association is clearly talking out of both sides of its mouth with regard to whether it'll support players who get suspended by the NFL for violations of the personal conduct policy. Last week, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said the union retained its right to appeal suspensions and union representatives were at Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson's(notes) appeal. However, according to a published report, when the union was asked to talk about the agreement it reached that allowed the NFL to suspend players who got in trouble during the lockout, the union declined to respond. Not good.
• The way Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib(notes) has been playing so far, the Bucs might have been better off with him serving a four-game suspension. OK, that's drastic, but Talib was again beaten for a touchdown on Monday night, this time by Indianapolis wide receiver Pierre Garcon(notes). While Talib hasn't been a disaster, he hasn't been particularly good.
• While on the subject of the Bucs, that was some brutal execution at the end of the first half that cost them a field goal. The Bucs ran a play on third-and-1 with 20 seconds remaining with no timeouts. When quarterback Josh Freeman(notes) got sacked, the Bucs couldn't get off the field without getting a penalty. You have to appreciate the aggressiveness, but you can't mess up situations like that.
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• Former NFL players Jeb Terry(notes) and Ryan Nece(notes) have come up with another social media concept. The app, which is available on Android phones, is called "Gridiron Grunts." Players can leave voice messages on any subject for fans who get the app. Interesting concept and there are already 35 players signed up, including Philip Rivers(notes), Vernon Davis(notes) and B.J. Raji(notes).
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- Antone Davis