MIAMI — When we last left Bubba Paris, he was bouncing a British reporter on his knee. Or was he giving shoes to the homeless in California? No. Wait. Poetry. He was reciting poetry. Or running his marketing firm. A diet? That’s it. A new diet. He was going to Pritikin. He had seen the enemy; it was the potato chip.
“Did you know you could eat eight baked potatoes and it wouldn’t be as bad for you as one bag of chips?” said the eclectic 49ers lineman, who still tips the scales at over 300 pounds. “Really. Think about it. I bet you couldn’t eat eight baked potatoes if they held a gun to your head.”
Well. I don’t know. Maybe if . . .
Forget it. Bubba is back. Oh, not the way many of you remember him. In his last Super Bowl appearance, in 1985, he captured media attention the world over. He sang. He rhymed. He made Ali look monosyllabic. Bubba the Great was Bubba the Quotable. Not only was he a star player, a massive force, but when that British reporter asked if football players took a tea break together, as they do, say, in cricket, Bubba answered: “Sure. Before the Giants game, me and Butch Woolfolk went out for chicken.”
He said it in a British accent.
In sports, as in life, you looked forward to a trip to Paris. And so, despite his now second-string status, a small crowd still formed in front of his table Wednesday morning during the cattle call interviews for Super Bowl XXIII. All around him, the San Francisco players spoke of big plays and avoiding mistakes. Coaches spoke of respecting Sunday’s opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals. And Bubba Paris, with the teddy bear face and the grizzly bear body, spoke of . . . poetry.
Poetry? Greetings from the rhymin’ lineman “Would you read some of your poems?”
“Say your poems. You don’t read your poems. If people read their poems it means they only wrote them to be heard by other people. I write my poetry in my mind.”
“Well, can you say some of you poems?”
“I can say all of them. Here’s one I call ‘Ball of Confusion.’ “
Wait a minute. Didn’t the Temptations do —
“Life is cold, life is warm,
Life hurts, life helps . . .
life is right, life is wrong,
life is finding a happy home
With who? With you. With you? With me?
Do you know what we made life out to be? . . .
But in this world of me, me, me,
Can we change to we, we, we?
For if we change from me to we
It’s a change we surely would love to see.”
“Thank you,” he said.
Hallmark, look out. Bubba battles the bulge Now. I don’t know about you. But I like this. A big ol’ offensive tackle speaking in rhyme (sort of) about peace, love and understanding. Of course, he might prefer peace, love and a jelly donut. Alas, Paris, 28, is afflicted with a weight problem — one he’s had since his days as a Michigan Wolverine under Bo Schembechler. He looks at food, you consider it digested. A pizza goes right to his midsection. There are crueler twists of fate, but giving a guy named Bubba the metabolism of a turtle? Geez.
“I probably exercise 20 times more than the average person and I bet I eat less than you,” he said, pinching the stomach of a short, thin reporter.
As a result, Bubba had to leave training camp this season for a 13-day stay at the Pritikin Weight Loss Center in Santa Monica, Calif. It was not easy. Breakfast featured half a banana. No coffee, no tea, no sugar, so salt. Wheat germ. They had wheat germ. “And twice a week you got this little three- ounce piece of turkey.”
Bubba dropped 22 pounds. But even after returning to the 49ers, he found himself overlooked in favor of younger (and lighter) Steve Wallace. Now Bubba doubts if he’ll ever get a shot at starting again. After years of fines and promises, he has become, in the 49ers’ eyes, a perpetual weight problem.
And yet nothing seems to dampen his spirits. In addition to football, he’s working on a book of poems, and something called “Professional Sports, Myth or Reality? One Man’s Struggle To The Top,” which may take a prize for most cliches in a single title.
“It’s hard,” he said, of returning to the Super Bowl in a back-up role,
“like going from the mountain to the valley.” But this is a man who worked as a mortgage banker, started his own company (Paris Enterprises), fathered six children, and once told Chicago’s Richard Dent, as they were locked in the heat of football battle: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet to lose his soul?”
You can’t keep a guy like this down.
“Someone wanted me to write a book about my career with the 49ers,” he said, rolling his massive frame back in his chair.
“Really? What did they want to call it?”
” ‘Born to Eat.’ “
Oh, Bubba. You’re nuts.
Er, cottage cheese. CUTLINE