Bottom of the barrel

Kicking, punching, hair-pulling, screaming – no it's not a catfight on the school playground, those are just some of the common sounds heard at the bottom of a NFL pile.

Football banter goes far beyond hitting, blocking and tackling in the upright position. The rough gestures and verbal intimidation continue even after the whistle is blown. It travels down into the depths of many pileups.


Wouldn't it be great if a camera could be placed under the turf, where we could all have front row seats to watch some of the most entertaining facets of the football game – where the bodies are stacked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, ready to topple?

So what really does happen when players, both small and large, start flying around and all end up in one, big, tangled mess? Sometimes a loose ball is involved and other times, well, guys just like to pancake each other.

It's a matter of evening the score many times. 'You kick me; I kick you back.' 'You fall on me; I poke at your eye.'

Over five NFL seasons, Texans defensive end Robaire Smith has been right in the middle of many piles. Whether he's defending himself, his teammates or trying to claim ownership of a fumbled ball, Smith knows that what happens in the pile, stays in the pile; especially when referees make their way over to the scene.

"I think we were playing New England and there was a big 'ole pile and Jevon (Kearse) had a guy in the pile and he was trying to fight Jevon," Smith explained about playing with Kearse in Tennessee. "We had to rough him up in the pile before the ref got over there and then when we got up, the ref thought he was fighting us."

All of the players agree that none of the tomfoolery that goes on in the stack is anything too serious, just a lot of poking, prodding and grunting.

"I've been poked in the eye a couple of times," left guard Chester Pitts laughed. "Sometimes they'll try to turn your facemask in the pile. It's football. It doesn't surprise you when it happens."

But when a ball comes loose, forget about it. Players will stop at nothing to get their team a turnover, or in some cases, recover from their own lost ball misfortunes.

"If we're in a pileup, especially when there's a fumble or something, that's when it gets a little nitty-gritty," Pitts explained. "Everybody's doing something to you so if you let the ball go then they can grab it.

"Sometimes you land on somebody wrong and they're yelling, 'Ah, get off of me!' You'll hear them just screaming. That happens a lot. That's funny."

Pinching, trash-talking and ankle twisting paired with a range of foul smells probably make the bottom of the barrel a pretty brutal place to end up.

Even Texans long snapper Bryan Pittman has fallen victim to the depths of the sweaty body mound. Taking one for the team against Indianapolis last year, Pittman laid himself out in an attempt to recover a loose ball that Colts return man Brad Pyatt bobbled off the foot of Texans punter Chad Stanley.

Pittman saw the ball up for grabs and reacted. But he had no idea what would be in store for him as the stack began to vertically grow above his head.

"When I recovered that fumble last year against Indy, there was a huge pileup and actually, my own teammates were trying to pull the ball away from me," Pittman chuckled. "Everyone wants that ball."

Sometimes players don't even need a fumbled ball as an excuse to take a plunge onto the sea of bodies. Many enjoy just taking a break from being on their feet while others like to use their 300-plus pound bodies to put on the full press.

"People a lot of times fall on other people just because they're worn out and tired," defensive end Gary Walker said.


But Pitts admits there's a purpose to his pancake tactics. He may not be tired, but he does like to wear out his opponents.

"I've done that on several occasions, where I purposely try to fall on somebody, just try and knock the wind out of them," a 330-pound Pitts said. "It just doesn't feel good to have somebody as big as me just fall on you."

Pitts can certainly dish it, but can he take it when he's on the opposite end of the stick?

"I've been on the bottom a couple of times," he laughed. "All you can hear is your back crack."

Bottoms up.

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