September 23, 2001 — “What’s the diet of a lineman like?” a friend of mine asked when he learned the nature of this column. “He must have a pretty hearty appetite.”
So I put the question to the person who would know best, the person who watches Atlanta Falcons starting center Todd McClure eat nearly every day: his wife.
“Not as much as you think,” was Heidi McClure’s answer. “Most people would probably think he eats a lot more.”
Bear in mind that Heidi has had some time to grow accustomed to Todd’s eating habits — she’s known him since middle school, back in Baton Rouge, La. — so her notion of not as much may differ slightly from those of us who aren’t used to thinking on such a super-sized scale.
Todd is large: 6-foot-1, 284 pounds. He likely eats more than you or I. It only makes sense. SUVs require more fuel than compact cars.
“You can’t judge them by normal standards,” said first-year Falcons offensive line coach Pete Mangurian. “They are big guys and their metabolisms are different.”
But, Mangurian added, it is possible for linemen to be too big.
“They were way above weight when I got here. Absolutely,” said Mangurian, who set lofty fitness goals for his players during the offseason — most were expected to drop at least 20 pounds before the start of spring practice. “The key is to be what you are. If you can be 325, and that’s what you’re supposed to be, then that’s what you are. To me, that’s the goal: not to get as big as you can, but to be whatever is optimum for you.”
Todd’s “optimum” weight was determined to be no more than 286 pounds. Odd news for Todd. Last year, the team asked him to bulk up to 305. Todd tried to gain the weight every way he knew how, but couldn’t get past 297 during the season.
Early in the offseason, however, he managed to pack on the pounds just fine.
“Right after the season was over with, I just ate anything that I wanted and I wasn’t working out as much,” Todd said. “You’ve really got to watch yourself.”
Todd topped out at 308. Three months later, he checked in at 280 — the lightest he had been since his freshman year at LSU.
“I can feel it just walking around,” McClure said. “I feel a ton better. I’m in a lot better shape than I was in last year. I’m moving a lot better. It was definitely for the best for the whole line, losing weight.”
But it wasn’t easy. His diet was strict and structured: lots of fruits, vegetables and chicken breasts. Mangurian tracked the line’s weight and body fat from week to week.
“It was hard to watch,” Heidi said. “The week of Easter Sunday, I think they had to lose five pounds. He normally would have gone back and had two or three plates. But he couldn’t.”
This offseason, Todd promised, he’s going to watch what he eats.
“It was just too tough, and I was miserable,” Todd said. “I was weighing too much and it’s tough to try and lose all that. You’ve really got to cut back.”
Now, Todd has little trouble maintaining his weight, which is good. Because if he did, the team would still see to it that he was lighter — lighter in the wallet, that is.
Falcons players must weigh in each week. They are fined $100 for every pound they are overweight. Overweight on consecutive weeks? The fines double.
“That’s how to discipline guys who make so much money,” said backup offensive tackle Ephraim Salaam, who shed 30 pounds before this season. “You take it back from them.”
“In the past, there have been guys who have lost thousands and thousands of dollars,” said Todd, who declined to name any of the regular offenders. “I don’t want to put anyone’s name out there on the street.”
During the season, Todd doesn’t bother counting calories. He sweats off whatever he eats.
“I pretty much eat whatever I want,” Todd said. What Todd wants is usually a Pop Tart in the morning on the way to work and a plate of fruit once he arrives in Flowery Branch. The team provides lunch, and Todd usually has a small helping before afternoon practice.
Todd eats the most during dinner, and this Louisiana boy loves his Cajun cuisine: roast with gravy and rice, crawfish étouffé, crawfish fettuccine, jambalaya, gumbo. The spicier the better.
“I use a lot of Tony Chachere’s seasoning,” Todd said. “I put that on just about anything. Every time we have family up, they bring us crawfish tails. I mean, you can get them here, but they seem to be better from back home.”
Heidi handles the cooking during the season, but Todd often dons the chef’s cap during off months. He is said to make a mean pot of gumbo (he uses his father-in-law’s special recipe).
And after dinner?
“Chocolate,” Todd said immediately. “I love chocolate. That’s my sweet tooth.”
“Do you try to keep it out of the house?” I asked.
“No, I try to keep it in the house,” Todd replied with a chuckle. “I’ve gotta have it.”
“I always keep Hershey kisses or something out,” Heidi said. “He’ll grab him a handful after he eats.”
Todd’s got some big hands, too.
Recipe: Heidi McClure’s Crawfish Fettuccine
1 chopped large bell pepper
1 chopped large onion
1 roll garlic cheese
1 stick butter
1 pound crawfish tails
1/2 pint half & half
1 pound fettuccine
Saute vegetables in butter. Add crawfish and cream; cook for 15 minutes. Add cheese and simmer until melted. Add cooked futtuccine to sauce and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. If desired, add a dash of Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning to spice it up “down-south” style.
If the Atlanta Falcons had an eating contest, Todd McClure would put his money on 6-foot-5, 295-pound defensive tackle Travis Hall. “Travis eats a ton,” McClure said. “You probably couldn’t tell because of the way he is built, but he eats more than anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s just constantly eating. Everybody will be done eating, and he’s still eating. I don’t see how he has room for it, but he’s a big guy.”