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Linemen Rarely Get Fair Share of Spoils

It’s dark and it’s dirty down there but somebody’s got to do it.

--Coal Miner’s Lament.

In the winners’ dressing room after the game, there was a crush of reporters around the locker of the halfback who had run 61 yards for the game’s key touchdown. An overflow surrounded the kicker whose field goal had won the game in overtime. Another knot of reporters sealed off the cubicle of the split end who had caught the crucial pass setting up the game winner.

It is an axiom of postgame shower etiquette that winners tarry, losers hurry.

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So, No. 65 of the victorious team at the Coliseum Sunday was in no rush to undress and wash up as he sat there, exhaustion draining out of him as he peeled off padding and dropped it into his locker and sipped on a soft drink. Mickey Marvin was available for interviews.

Except that no one seemed to know he was there. No one had to brave a line to get to talk to him. There was no line.

Mickey Marvin looked like something that had just washed ashore from a torpedoing at sea. Large welts covered his biceps. The bridge of his nose was torn and bleeding. Two huge canvas and metal braces covered his knees.

As he watched the media circus bemusedly, a TV type, lugging a huge Rube Goldbergian tape machine, snatched up a chair from in front of him and climbed up on it. “Do you mind?” he asked Marvin as, without waiting for an answer, he began squinting into the eyepiece, the better to focus on the star halfback.

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Mickey Marvin didn’t mind. He was used to it.

It is fitting that Mickey Marvin should make his living swathed in bandages, casts and face mask because he is a Claude Rains, one of the invisible men of football, a member of the interior offensive line of an NFL team.

The offensive line is the Casbah of football. The place where elephants go to die, not a position. It’s a hideout. It’s for people who want to disappear. You either go to Argentina or right guard. It’s the Foreign Legion in cleats.

These are the below-decks guys of football. The engine-room crew. It has been said that the only two people who recognize an interior lineman are his mother and his quarterback.

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Even defensive players get colorful nicknames--Mean Joe, the Mad Stork, Hacksaw, the Secretary of Defense. There’s even the Refrigerator.

Offensive linemen, typically, get recognition only as a group. Washington’s front line, for instance, was known simply as the Hogs. At Dallas, offensive guard Blaine Nye took note of the utter anonymity of his profession by dubbing himself and his colleagues the Zero Club.

It was once reported by one writer that an informal poll of the guests at a watering hole near the practice field as to who or what they thought a Mickey Marvin was, was that he was 1) a center fielder for the New York Yankees; 2) a palimony lawyer; 3) an old-time prize fighter.

Actually, Mickey (Himself) Marvin is one of the best and most durable of the Los Angeles Raiders. He’s in security for them, a kind of complicated bodyguard for their more celebrated staff members, like the quarterback.

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He doesn’t mind being a member of this secret service. You get used to TV crewmen taking over your locker to get a better shot of the game’s stars after nine years. Being overlooked is a way of life.

For most people, this would pose a morale problem. Interior linemen are not made that way. Said Marvin: “I’ve been privileged to play for Al Davis and the Raiders. It’s an honor for me to line up alongside such great players as Henry Lawrence, Dave Dalby, and some of the great Raiders like Art Shell and Gene Upshaw, and coaches like Sam Boghosian (who works with the offensive line).”

Offensive linemen actually talk like that. They are the Good Soldier Schweiks of the game.

Said Marvin: “It’s a disciplined position. It’s a position for a guy who has to be dependable, reliable, glad of the work. It’s a blue-collar job.”

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It’s hard-hat work, all the way. Interior linemen last a long time in the NFL because they are artisans. Theirs is a tight union. Not too many people want to go down in those mines. Not too many people want to work without the football. It takes dedicated people to become the monks of the game.

So, Mickey Marvin doesn’t mind washing the elephant so long as he stays in show business. He doesn’t mind that he’ll never get to see the headline “Mickey Marvin Block Wins Super Bowl,” even if it does.

His locker will never be overrun with journalists, print and electronic, struggling for vantage points the better to photograph him. When he goes to parties, he’s used to being asked, “Do you know Marcus Allen?” And he has to resist saying, “Know him? I made him!”

Offensive linemen aren’t that way. They’re the unknown soldiers of football. They should get buried at Arlington.

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