June 04, 2008
"I'll take the number two with a Coke. Oh, and a large fry."
A quarter-pounder with cheese from McDonald's has been my favorite sandwich since I was a kid. Growing up, a trip to McDonald's, Taco Bell or even Wendy's was a popular event. Pizza night was another common dinner in the Cooley household. Of course, my mom cooked a lot of meals, but I was a busy kid and fast food was always so easy.
In a world full of performance-enhancing drugs, I have spent a lifetime being great at sports and eating garbage. Friday night football games in high school were preceded with a 39-cent hamburger eating contest at Arctic Circle. I could usually eat nine or 10. Two hours before my high school state championship wrestling match, I took down three cheeseburgers with a Mountain Dew. I went on to win in a 14-3 decision; the closest match in a season that I finished 40-0.
I entered college as a 205-pound defensive end and still looked like a skinny kid. After two months of Big Mac Mondays and 2-for-2 Quarter-Pounder Tuesdays I topped the scales at 240. A growing college athlete has to eat, and not only was fast food the best, it was the cheapest. Team snack the night before a Utah State football game consisted of a bag full of hour-old cheeseburgers. I always ate them all! I knew no better about how poorly I was eating, but how could I? It had worked throughout my life. I finished my freshman season starting the last five games and raking in 4 sacks.
As I made the passage from a small D-1 football program to the NFL I began to figure some eating changes would be in order. If I wanted to compete on the highest level, I would be on some form of team diet. Walking through the front doors at Redskin Park one of the first players I met was Clinton Portis. He carefully set down his Roy Rogers bag of breakfast and shook my hand. Right then I knew I would be just fine.
Two years into my NFL career the Redskins made a trip to St. Louis. It was a game that would ignite a five-game winning streak that put an unexpected Joe Gibbs team into the playoffs. It was also a game that offensive coordinator Don Breaux described as the most complete I had played in my career. I finished with 5 catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, but had been consistent all over the field. When someone has a great game they obviously do everything they can to duplicate it the next week.
So when I recapped the preparation for the game I found one unusual change in the morning. The Ritz Carlton in St. Louis has the most unbelievable bacon I've ever tasted. Not only did I love the bacon, everyone on the team was blown away by the taste. Three or four of us decided to forget all other foods and have a bacon-eating contest. I won with 39 pieces and was was sick on the floor for the next hour in the visitor locker room. We tried to keep up with the contest, but no other bacon was up to par with St. Louis.
I'm not saying that someone can go on the McDonald's "Super Size Me" diet and be a great athlete, but so much more goes into the sport than what goes into a player's body. Someone might assume that a healthy eater would be a much better football player, especially at any skill position, and I would almost have to agree with him or her. But, as I finish up my sixth Mountain Dew for the day, I have proved to myself that my diet has continually worked for me. I eat what makes me happy, but I put in a tremendous amount of hard work as well. I've thought about trying to change, but there is something to be said about four consistent and healthy seasons in the NFL (I have never missed a practice), as well as going to the Pro Bowl.
Football is a game of heart and desire. The will to outwork and outlast another athlete becomes more important than the guy who looks more "ripped" with his shirt off. There is something deep down inside of a great athlete that just wont let them quit or give up. That something is so much more important than what they eat or what they can take. It's what so many athletes and myself have made a living off of.
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