Short and stocky is the image Don Mosebar had of a center when he began his football career.
Never in his wildest dreams did he see himself playing the position.
With his thick, 6-foot-6 frame, Mosebar did not fit the mold of the squatty offensive lineman crouched over the ball with a hotel-size towel draped over his backside.
Mosebar seemed tailor-made to be an offensive tackle. With size, speed and strength, he appeared destined for a long playing career at the most glamorous position in the offensive line.
At every level, Mosebar was a success at tackle. He was Parade magazine’s national lineman of the year coming out of Mt. Whitney High in Visalia and a rare four-year starter at USC, earning consensus All-American honors his senior year.
The Raiders thought so much of his blocking that they made him their first-round selection in the 1983 draft. Mosebar figured that he would be groomed as the Raiders’ next Art Shell, who was selected to the Hall of Fame as a tackle, not the next Jim Otto, their Hall of Fame center.
That was before he got an NFL wake-up call.
In his first two seasons, Mosebar played every interior line position. As a rookie reserve tackle, he played on the Raiders’ Super Bowl championship team in 1983. He was moved to guard the next season, finally taking over at center at the end of the year.
“I had never played center in my life,” Mosebar said. “I had never snapped or done anything at the position before.”
But the Raiders had plans for Mosebar. Since their first season in 1960, only two centers, Otto and Dave Dalby, started regularly for the Raiders. He was No. 3.
“I sort of feel honored playing this position because of its history on the team,” Mosebar said. “Just look at it. Pretty much, only three guys have ever played the position.”
Beginning his 10th season, Mosebar has made the move look good. He is a three-time Pro-Bowl selection and the mainstay of the Raiders’ offensive line.
He has played in 125 regular-season games and is coming off a Pro Bowl season in 1991. Not bad for a lineman who thought that he was too big to play center.
“I always thought of centers being 6-foot, or 6-1,” he said. “But, that was because I hadn’t seen any big guys playing the position.”
If opponents thought he was large for a center before, wait until they see him this season. Mosebar, 30, has gained 20 pounds and become, perhaps, the NFL’s first 305-pound center.
“I don’t see myself as a revolutionary, but I guess I was one of the first guys my size to play the position in the league,” Mosebar said. “I remember when I first moved to the position, we were playing Kansas City and their center came up to me and said, ‘You beat me! Now I’m not the tallest center in the league anymore.’ And, he was only about 6-3 or 6-4.”
Even though he is hard to ignore because of his size, Mosebar likes to go unnoticed, an advantage gained by playing center. When he joined the Raiders, getting him to speak was difficult.
“For the first two or three years, he maybe said two words,” Raider teammate Howie Long said. “But, he’s changed a little now. He’s like a 305-pound Dennis the Menace. He’s annoying in that he loves to mess around.”
On the field, though, Mosebar has a different reputation.
“Once we line up, (Mosebar) is completely business,” Long said. “When it is time to play, he plays. He is one of the hardest workers on the team (and) has great pride as a football player.”
Mosebar goes into every game trying to avoid attention. The way he sees it, the more he is overlooked, the better job he is doing.
“I try to be in the game 100% all of the time,” Mosebar said. “I try to work on every single play and not have any penalties.”
Mosebar has become a vocal leader of the line, mainly because the center is responsible for making line calls on nearly every play.
With his trademark versatility, Mosebar’s experience at tackle has made him a strong pass and power-play blocker. His work at guard has helped him with his footwork.
“There are times when my knowledge of each position is a plus,” Mosebar said. “It helps when I may know what might be a harder or an easier assignment for someone else on the line.”
Mosebar credits Shell, his offensive line coach his rookie season, for his development. Shell eased Mosebar’s transition from college by counseling him on the finer points of being a lineman.
“He really worked on my technique and on how to approach the game mentally,” Mosebar said. Like many linemen, Mosebar likes to run-block, and he says that will be the key to the Raiders’ success this season.
Nick Bell, Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen are running backs competing for carries. Mosebar rates each one.
Bell: “He’s a big guy who’s quick and strong. I think he’s going to be a great back in this league. I feel for defensive backs who try to tackle him in the open field.”
Dickerson: “He has great vision where he may end up some place totally different, depending on the play. I’m glad we have him because he is not finished by any means.”
Allen: “We’ve been teammates since my freshman year at USC. He’s a great player who always comes to work. People say he doesn’t have 4.4. speed, but I’d take Marcus any day.”
Mosebar has seen the Raiders change, but believes the team has the same aura.
“Only the faces have changed,” Mosebar said. “There is something special about playing for the Raiders. Even though we made the playoffs last season, everyone feels like we had a disappointing year. We go into every year with a challenge. The Raiders never have a rebuilding year because they always feel that they are capable of going all the way.”