Saturday, 6 July 2019


I was saddened to hear of the death of Jared Lorenzon, 'The Hefty Lefty', former Kentucky and New York Giants quarterback, aged only 38. His nickname suited him well: he was oversized for a QB, never in great shape, and threw with his left-hand. He was a pretty good player, though, and in a way it's sad his legacy will be built around his weight.

You know players by their nicknames; legendary players often attract more than one. Ted Williams was 'The Kid', “The Splendid Splinter” and “Teddy Ballgame”. George Ruth was 'Babe', “The Bambino” and “The Sultan Of Swat”. Now these are not always real 'nicknames', in the sense that they were coined by sportswriters and hung round the necks of the players: I doubt any of Ted's teammates ever called him “Splinter”. In fact, 'Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, 'The Yankee Clipper', was called 'Dago' by his friends. But the most fitting of those names usually stick. And they are usually, but not always, affectionate.

The Babe was never called 'Beer Belly Babe', not even in an era of derogatory nicknames in baseball, which boasted guys like Fatty Fitzsimmons, Leo the Lip, Tomato Face Cullop, Schnozz Lombardi, Losing Pitcher Mulcahy, Ducky Wucky Medwick, KiKi Cuyler (he was a stutterer) and Grandma Murphy.

Lorenzon, who was listed at 6-4 280 pounds with the Giants, didn't mind The Hefty Lefty. It had a certain ring to it, and wasn't insulting. The sportswriters came up with The Pillsbury Throwboy, which is clever, but trying to hard (for my non-American readers, Pillsbury were America's biggest millers—you can see their huge facility on the Mississippi when you're in the Twin Cities—and their mascot was a pugdy character made of dough, a sort of American version of the Michelin Man, called the Pillsbury Doughboy). The media also tried The Abominable Throwman, The Round Mound Of Touchdown, Mobile Agile Hostile & Hungry, and the other one I thought worked, though it's an inside joke “He Ate Me”.

It was a bit much, especially since Lorenzon was a pretty good player. I saw him when Gnat Coombs and I went to Giants pre-season camp for Channel 5 in 2007, before they appeared at Wembley and won Lorenzon a Super Bowl ring. I had experienced a similar feeling before: when I stayed around UCF in Orlando after a Claymores/Rhine Fire scrimmage, to watch their team practice. 'Who's that D lineman throwing the ball?' I asked. “That's our QB, Daunte Culpepper”. Lorenzon was even bigger, though not in as good shape. He was a bit like Byron Leftwich as well. But where Culpepper had a pretty tight delivery, and Leftwich a very long one, Lorenzon's was anything but consistent. Partly this was because as he put on weight, he threw less with his lower body and partly because he was remarkably athletic (he'd been an excellent high school basketball player, a good baseball player, and Mr Football in Kentucky his senior year) and wound up throwing on the run a lot (the fact Kentucky was usually overmatched against D lines in the SEC didn't help). He spent four years with the Giants, and Eli Manning credited his help, as a pass rusher in practice, in developing his escapability, which served him well on the famous helmet catch by David Tyree.

I liked the fact that Lorenzon wore number 22 in college and high school; more quarterbacks should follow in the footsteps of Bobby Layne, John Hadl and Doug Flutie. He played his first year at Kentucky for Hal Mumme, who developed the 'air raid' offense, but I don't think he was a perfect fit for that. Though if you remember Shane Boyd from NFL Europe, Lorenzon played ahead of him.

After the Super Bowl year the Giants cut him. He was cut by the Colts in 2008 and saw his team, the Kentucky Horsemen, in Arena League 2 fold in 2009. He retired and started coaching at his old high school. But in 2011 he came out of retirement as the General Manager of the Northern Kentucky River Monsters of the Ultimate Indoor League. He soon went back to playing, and was named the league's MVP. He became the first player I know of to go from MVP of a league to being its commissioner, but again he left the desk, and in 2013 played for the Owensboro Rage of the Continental Indoor League until the team ran out of money and folded before the end of the season. Look at these leagues and teams this way: If Justified had a football league....

In 2014 he went back to the River Monsters, who were now also playing in the Continental League. You have to imagine him, probably pushing 350, in the kind of tacky gaudy unis those teams wore, scrambling like the Lorenzon of old as they won they first game, against the Bluegrass Warhorses. His play became a brief sensation (is there any other kind?) on the internet. The next week, he was scrambling again, versus the Erie Explosion, and when he was tackled he broke his leg.

In retrospect, that was the worst thing that could have happened. Not only was his football career, such as it was, ended forever, so to was his mobility and exercise, and his weight ballooned quickly. He did some local radio, he sold 'Throwboy' Tee-shirts, he made you-tube videos about his efforts to lose weight, which went over 500 pounds at its peak. ESPN made a short film about his efforts to lose weight, and he was down to around 400 at one point.

He died from kidney and heart problems, exacerbated by an infection, which may have been down to kidney failure. Obviously his size put great strain on his body. It's so easy to suggest other scenarios by which he might have been more successful early, been put under the care of dieticians, even had a fuller NFL career. Go back and look at his college tape and think about how he might have played in an environment where he wasnt under constant pressure, or if Mumme had stayed four years with him (he had three head coaches in four seasons). Watch some of the later videos: he's a personable, sincere kid, even into his late 30s, never acting like someone whose body is being pushed to its core.

But Lorenzon will always be the Hefty Lefty, and for a short time, that was a hell of a thing to be.

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