The Big Crunch — Some NFL Players Who Went Granola

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In baseball, you have the sound of the crack of a bat. In bowling, there’s the satisfying explosion of pins flying against each other. Golf is known as a sport with a thwack. It is said that some professional players can recognize each others’ swing without looking, because everyone on the golf course has their own thwack.

But in football, the glide of a runner breaking lose, the spiral of a ball punted in the air, the moment of expectation before a forward pass is caught or the general chaos of a running play is generally followed by the sound of a random collision of players: A muscle-fueled big crunch. Sometimes a big pile up of crunch.

Every Sunday (and sometimes Monday) during the regular season, there they are on the screen in the living room, crunching away. Here a crunch, there a crunch. “Like a traffic accident, things begin to randomly collide,” says Sandra Bullock in the introduction to the football movie, “The Blind Side.” (For more information on the season, check listings available through satellite providers or other broadcast networks.)

There was certainly some crunching going on when former National Football League Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Mitchell took to the field. Known for devastating tackles, he was a sight to see – a gladiator among gladiators. His greatest assets were his speed and his beautiful anticipation, which you could almost sense as he positioned himself on the field of battle.

The job description for former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner and Dolphins running back Ricky Williams specifically noted that he should try like heck to avoid the crunch.

Williams ran for a record setting 6,279 yards in college and went on to become a notorious character who ran for 11 seasons in the NFL but also became known as for his involvement with marijuana, which lead to a positive test for the drug in December 2003 and a four-game suspension from the league, which turned into an early retirement in August 2004, as drug tests continued to show continued involvement with marijuana.

So where are they now?

Both Mitchell and Williams are now known for their crunchy-granola lifestyles, not for the crunch of bone and pads on a football field.

Former crunch king Mitchell, reports The New York Times, was a guest speaker at the first annual Summit in New York, where he launched his plan to allow military veterans and former professional footballers to create health plans that make use of both holistic medicine and traditional Western medicine, a plan that would be established at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

What happened? Mitchell, simply put, got embarrassed and scared. After a “routine tackle,” at age 31, the Times explained, he was left temporary paralyzed from the neck down. His reaction: Fear, certainly, and embarrassment that he was lying on his back in front of a huge audience unable to stand up.

His mobility has returned and Mitchell attributes this to a combination of time, meditation and yoga. In fact, to start his speech in New York, he put his two palms together quietly, smiled at the audience and said “Namaste,” which is a standard greeting in many Southeaster Asian countries.

William’s spiritual journey also began with some embarrassment. He was embarrassed that he was tagged in the media with the label of being a druggie, as his use of marijuana, he says, was relatively limited.

His path to enlightenment was through books. He read hundreds, including books on Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae performer, and on Greek mythology. He also began yoga, meditation, chanting and religious studies. It gave him a better high than drugs, he has said.

“At the core, we’re all spiritual beings,” he told the Times. Williams called it, “the search for meaning,” which he also called, “the whispering of the soul.”

Another stand out is Arian Foster, who was noted for becoming a vegan in July 2012. He has been called “the most interesting man in the National Football League,” partly because he seldom eats meat, which is an unusual diet for a big, burly, rumbling running back who was a three-year starter at he University of Tennessee before joining the Houston Texans.

With a nod to his spiritual journey, Foster also uses the Namaste bow, his hands gently pressed together, after he scores a touchdown.

San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has also drawn attention for his personal lifestyle as well as the excitement he displays on the football field during a national television broadcast.

Gates attended the Michigan State University, Kent State and Eastern Michigan University before becoming the Charger’s career leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

His diet, reportedly, is gluten-free, which gave way to a fabulous opening sentence in a San Diego Union Tribune article about him that began, “Antonio Gates is gluten-free and ticked off.”

The article described how Gates had lost weight and built up his muscles, because he was angry at what people were saying about him. “It was one of the paradoxes of this future Hall of Famer,” the article said, “That his stunning talent could come in marshmallow packaging.”

Well, that might set any future Hall of Famer off to the gym and to adjust his diet accordingly.

The crunch you hear: That’s the granola talking.