I love to eat french fries, fried chicken, and cheeseburgers. Doctors warn me that excessive fast food consumption leads to obesity, so I’ve scaled back my diet in an effort to live longer. Obese men can rarely claim to be phenomenal athletes, but big Ted Washington defied the stereotype. A 6’5”, 370 pound nose tackle, Washington dominated NFL trench lines for seventeen years. By the age of 39, he retired as a Super Bowl champion, and stands today as the modern prototype for his position.
Ted is the son of Theodore Washington, who played linebacker in the NFL for eleven seasons. Born on April 13, 1968, the younger Washington displayed his physical gifts at an early age, dominating four sports at his Tampa, Florida high school. He focused his attention to football while attending the University of Louisville, and his effort paid dividends with historic numbers at his position. Washington registered 76 tackles, seven sacks, and three field goal blocks in his senior year, which caught the eye of NFL scouts who never saw him in person. The San Francisco 49ers drafted Washington 26th overall in the 1991 NFL draft, clearly enamored with his potential.
Part bowling ball, part sumo wrestler, Washington redefined the nose tackle position with his physical dominance. The most intimidating force since Refrigerator Perry, Washington’s NFL statistics and journeyman status fail to tell the story of his run stuffing supremacy. By stuffing his face with food, NFL personnel worried about Washington’s commitment to football, when in reality the giant always appreciated his playing opportunities. Following a trade from San Francisco to Denver, Washington found a temporary home in Buffalo, before playing in Chicago, New England, Oakland, and Cleveland at a consistently high level. Never a sack master, his best statistical season came in 1997 as a Buffalo Bill, recording 80 tackles and 4 sacks, working in a vicious tandem with Bruce Smith. Washington’s size and strength allowed him to bully offensive linemen, which made interior rushing all but impossible when he took snaps on the field. By clogging the rushing lanes, he allowed undersized pass rushers like Rosevelt Colvin and Derrick Burgess to achieve career years. Washington’s durability was another plus, competing in 236 out of 272 regular season matches.
Washington should be remembered for his role in promoting the 3-4 defense, a common scheme in today’s NFL. In Buffalo, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips established a solid reputation by molding his system around the unique skills of Washington and Bruce Smith. While a 3-4 alignment holds the advantage of carrying an extra linebacker for rushing or coverage, the loss of strength on the defensive line requires to be compensated. Enter Washington, a man so enormous that he appeared like two lineman from a 100 yard distance. As the anchor of the 3-4 defense, Phillips could wreak havoc with blitzing schemes while maintaining a formidable run stopping presence. The 3-4 was also primarily utilized during Washington’s stints in New England, Oakland, and Cleveland. In today’s NFL landscape, nose tackles are at a premium, and college scouts search for the next Ted Washington.
I became a loyal fan of Washington during his stint with Chicago. As a porky child, I was intrigued by the beef-tandem of Big Ted and Keith Traylor. Along with a hungry Brian Urlacher and R.W. McQuarters, the Bears completed a miraculous 13-3 regular season performance behind the strength of their swarming defense. Following Washington’s signing with the Raiders, I was overjoyed and optimistic that his presence would limit the AFC West rushers. Looking back, the defense’s mediocrity can be blamed on the underachieving linebacking unit. Oakland fans will never speak fondly of the Patriots, but I was happy to see Washington play a role in their (noncontroversial) Super Bowl run.
A four-time Pro Bowler, and three-time All-Pro, big Ted Washington deserves Hall of Fame consideration for his role as an NFL pioneer. Take a look in Wade Phillips’ wallet, and you will find a picture of Washington. Such defensive line dominance will commonly go unnoticed without the flash of double digit sack totals. Washington currently resides in North Carolina with his wife and five children, who are fortunate to be raised by a humble man. I hope Washington is in good health for the long run, but if he wants to maintain his attractive girth, I’m sure he knows it’s a free country.