Pro-football strongmen muscle up to the summer's newest water toys
From the look on Chris Samuels' widescreen face and from the strange sounds coming from the subwoofer in his chest, he isn't quite sure what he's getting into - or, in the case of the Connelly Interceptor, he doesn't know what he's getting onto. He has carefully lowered his dense 6-foot-5-inch, 317-pound body atop the big rubber toy, and already there are signs he's overmatched. He has not eaten well this morning - a bagel and a couple of sips of Gatorade. He did not sleep well last night - a train passed his room at 3 a.m., followed by a wake-up call two hours later. Now he looks confused. His normally rhythmic laughter is hitched. For the five-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle of the Washington Redskins, this was supposed to be an off-day. It is only when Samuels reaches for the Interceptor's handles and nearly swipes his girlfriend, Monique (Hazel) Cox, off the tube in the process, that Samuels realizes he better be on today.
As one of the most-dominating offensive linemen in all of football, the 30-year-old Samuels gets paid good money to push other huge men around. During his playing days at the University of Alabama, he went two years without allowing a defender to lay a finger on his quarterback - unheard of. So you can only imagine how he must feel to be strewn across the water, facedown no less, on a glorified air mattress. His self-preservation instinct is taking over. Next to him, or behind him, or underneath him, somewhere, his petite girlfriend is trying to find just a sliver of space on the Interceptor's back so she can attempt to save herself.
"That's unsportsmanlike conduct, dude," someone says quietly from inside the Centurion. Were Samuels to grab an opposing lineman the way he's clutching the Interceptor he'd also be penalized for holding. Maybe worse.
And this is just the beginning.
I'm not sure that tube there's big enough for a 330-pound man," he says, taking a blow on the swim platform after what will prove to be a warm-up ride.
"Wait," says a boat passenger. "Your bio says you weigh 317."
"That's my playing weight. I need to work some to get it back down."
Unbeknownst to him, he's come to the right place. The Sevylor Triple X stands across from him. The tube looks more like an extra-small next to Samuels, who is wearing an XXXXL life vest around his torso. "Let's do it," he says, letting out a confident baritone chuckle.
Then he pins the Triple X to the water with arms the size of the Dakotas and rides.
Never underestimate the impact of speed. Last season, Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman DeMarcus Ware, 70 pounds lighter than Samuels, used his quickness and leverage on one play to actually knock the House of Samuels onto his French doors. "He's so fast," the big man says humbly of Ware. "It was embarrassing to have to pick myself up in front of everyone."
That's because it doesn't happen often. But a similar thought must be coming to mind after he muscles the Triple X through whips and fancy moves across the wakes. The long series of fast-forward plays ends with him laid out flat on the tube, his right ear resting on the canvas and his Rushmore shoulders overlapping the edges. Exhausted, he has to … pick himself up in front of everyone.
"This is more than I thought it would be," says Samuels, coughing. "I swallowed some water, too."
"I wanna ride later, so don't drink the whole lake," says a visitor in the boat.
Samuels leads the chorus of laughter. But his upper body is admittedly sore, a sum of flesh that happens to cover a lot of real estate.
He could quit on us. Who would stop him? Six of us could wrap our arms around his ankles and still not stop his size-15 feet from walking up the dock to the bench. But this is what has made Samuels stand out in a sport of gargantuan men with outlandish strength and Olympic speed: Power above the neck.
Notice that he's riding with a dislocated ring finger on his right hand, compliments of (here's that name again) DeMarcus Ware. He has tape around his right index finger, which got caught and wrenched on a Redskins lineman during practice. The fingers, remember, are the first line of defense when riding a tube.
"On the field, you're evenly matched with guys across the line," says Samuels, who will play his ninth NFL season this fall. "As the game goes on, you get banged up and tired, but you can't get sloppy. It all comes down to mental toughness. I can push through when I'm hurt or exhausted because I've been through the worst."
He points to a particular moment during his freshman year at Alabama as a turning point in his career. (It seems to be on his mind right now.) The team's strength and conditioning coach ran Samuels until he lost his biscuits and gravy on the floor of the indoor practice facility. Then the coach made Samuels get a dustpan and broom to clean up his own mess. One hands-and-knees experience like that tends to change a man.
This is why, with fingers burning and shoulders aching, he willingly crawls on top of the Radar Hovercraft. This will be another hands-and-knees encounter. Square as it is, the Hovercraft becomes surprisingly aggressive outside the wake, nearly flipping. A "normal" 330-pound person would have given up on the play immediately, but Samuels is toughing it out, hanging off the edge and looking very much like a cowboy trying to wrestle a steer. The man's agility in this situation is (no exaggeration) astonishing. The Hovercraft is righted under the arm-twisting influence from its rider. The same scenario plays out across the opposite wake, the 'craft trying to shake the anchor of the Redskins' offensive line, but he's holding firm. This wherewithal from an opponent is nothing new for Samuels.
"Guys get pumped up to play against me, to make a name for themselves," he says at the boat. "Nobody gives up."
On the rare occasion when a defender does get past Mount Samuels, he sometimes has blocking help in the way of fullback Mike Sellers, a Pro Bowl-caliber player himself. This is why Sellers, a chiseled 280 pounds, has arrived on site to aide his teammate. He is here to absorb some of the punishment - physically and, when this article comes out, verbally from his Redskins' teammates.
Sellers is the ideal fullback in football. That also makes him the ideal tube tester. On the field, his body is treated like the bumper on a crash-test car. During kickoffs he's known as a wedge-buster, the guy who leads the charge downfield and uses his head and shoulders to sledge through a wall of blockers.
"I got knocked out against the [Minnesota] Vikings last season," says Sellers, 32. "I literally woke up on the field."
He's now wide awake on the Connelly Trifecta, though it's hard to be sure while watching from the boat, because Sellers is facing backward on the clover-shaped ride, with only the back of his shaved head visible. This seems appropriate for an unsung player who gets noticed only when he's staggering to the sidelines. We can't tell if he's swearing, laughing or falling asleep - only that he appears as a bobblehead with each ripple under the Trifecta. And then a succession of wakes strikes … and Sellers gets blown out the back. Head, shoulders, glutes - the entire wrecking ball crashes into the water. And what does he get? Honks. Chuckles. Razzing. Samuels: "Just like the Minnesota game!" This is how it goes for a fullback.
"Time to relax, guys," says a member of the photo crew.
That means it's time for the HO Triple Shot. The Triple Shot looks as if it's been stolen from the first-class cabin of an airplane - a row of large, cushy lounge seats for three passengers, or for Samuels and his two arms. But instead he sits in the aisle seat, with Sellers at the window and an 11-year-old rider in the middle. You can practically hear the 'Skins players saying "Ahhh" as they kick back, much as they would on a flight home after a tough game.
Not for long, though. The ride turns bumpy. Then it gets downright hairy. The Triple Shot goes airborne … and shakes the 700 pounds of cargo upon landing. "Nothing comes easy," Samuels said earlier about his Sunday gridiron battles. On his face is grit, determination … ah, heck, it's fear. His eyes are the size of manhole covers. The tough guy is screaming. The tube and its passengers touch down one more time, skidding to a stop.
"You're a cream puff," the boy in the middle says to Samuels. No, he's not. To prove it, Samuels, still sitting, lifts the kid from the middle seat with those oven-mitt hands and throws him out the back as if tossing aside an empty Gatorade cup. He appears to be on his game. Or at least he's very much into the tube.
"You might need a giant shoehorn to get my butt out of here," he says. His piano-key smile and booming laughter say that while he might be on his game today, maybe the game is really on him.
The Meaning of "Big"
This wasn't the first time Washington Redskins' left tackle Chris Samuels had his hands full with big circular objects. During his personal offseason training, he hefts and flips a 500-pound tractor tire end over end. He also sprints down a field while pushing a wheelbarrow filled with cement bags. Samuels prefers these unconventional workouts, which is why he didn't mind pulling the reins on runaway tubes.
"Old-school stuff works better for me," says the man described by teammate Mike Sellers as the locker-room cutup. "It's more realistic than a weight room to what happens on the field."
Truth is, he'd rather do his heaviest lifting through the Chris Samuels Foundation that came to fruition in 2007. "He meets kids all the time who are looking up to the wrong people," says his girlfriend, model Monique (Hazel) Cox. "When he retires, he wants to run the foundation and coach high-school football. If he can lead one young person to aspire to something bigger, then he'll feel like he's done his job."
When his larger-than-life silhouette moved away from the stack of 16 water toys at the end of our tests, he appeared to be on his way to accomplishing more huge feats.