View Full Version : Cut blocking Bronco finally speaks

08-27-2007, 03:46 AM

'Eeyore'? Tale not lost
Teammates can't say enough about media-shy, admitted complainer Nalen

Barry Gutierrez © The Rocky

Broncos center Tom Nalen, in his 14th pro season, "is second to none in the NFL," linemate Ben Hamilton says. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves."

By Lee Rasizer, Rocky Mountain News
August 25, 2007
ENGLEWOOD - He's Eeyore in cleats - and used ones at that.
Practice running long. Groan.

The temperature sizzling. Harrumph.

Tom Nalen is a serial complainer, and he admits it.

"It's how I get through the day, by complaining," the center beginning his 14th season with the Broncos said. "I can find something about anything."

Even himself.

Two Super Bowl rings, five Pro Bowl nods. In his mind, one happened a long time ago, the other is essentially a joke.

So much for the power of positive thinking.

It's his upbringing as a Boston Red Sox fan in Foxborough, Mass., seeping through, even though the thick New England accent mostly has disappeared.

"He's surly, at best," teammate Adam Meadows said.

And Nalen looks the part, too.

He hasn't had a haircut since May 2006, as a birthday present for his wife, Denise. Thing is, he doesn't even like his unkempt mop top. Nalen explained that the last time he got his locks chopped in midseason, he got hurt, so he can't visit the barber now.

"I hate it, but I don't know, I'm superstitious," he said with a laugh. "There's nothing I can do."

His patchy beard is as disheveled as the top of his head. He looks the part of the scraggly offensive lineman.

When fellow linemen Chris Kuper and Chris Myers were drafted by the Broncos, they went to the team's Web site to get acquainted with the offensive line's holdovers. One gaze at Nalen's mug shot, essentially Nick Nolte's booking photo without the blood-alcohol level, and they immediately thought they'd happened upon the ringleader of a season of never-ending pranks.

"We thought he was going to be a total jerk," Myers said. "But he's a really down-to-earth guy."

Down to earth. It perfectly describes Nalen's job and the way he plays.

At 286 pounds, he's a fun-house mirror reflection of the behemoths he has to block. But fundamentals, knowledge and attitude go a long way toward combating that disadvantage.

"I think his technique is second to none in the NFL," Broncos guard Ben Hamilton said. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves, but his hands are always so good on people, even though he's going against bigger guys."

Scabs cover the fingers on those hands, mainly because Nalen has only worn gloves once. He couldn't properly grab defensive linemen and ditched them. He wears a skintight jersey so he can't be clutched.

Now, back to those cleats.

Nalen does wear hand-me-downs. They're Matt Lepsis' game-worn shoes from the previous season. Nalen has been commandeering them the past couple of years.

He hates the shiny whiteness of new cleats. When he used to wear Reeboks, he'd rub dirt on them to get that worn- in look.

Lepsis wears the same size, so why not?

"He'll be like, 'They're broken in. I'm telling you, they're good,' " Broncos receiver Rod Smith said. "You look at those things and they've got glue all over them. But that's Tommy. Look at his hair and his face. Those shoes match."

Nalen also is the only player who wears old-school gray shorts to practice instead of "all these new bluish ones."

But used cleats? Nalen admitted that if the team wore black shoes, he'd don new high-tops. But they don't, and Lepsis' shoes are comfortable.

"Matt's a clean guy," he said with his New England accent peeking through. "He's very metrosexual, so I know I'm getting clean cleats."

'It's like he's 25'

Oddly, for Nalen, the item least broken in is his body.

"It's like he's 25 years old every year," Lepsis marveled.

Nalen turned 36 in May. And he has had to make concessions to Father Time to remain in that type of shape, despite at least eight surgeries, including a major procedure on his left knee in 2002.

He began getting massages eight years ago. And the past couple of years, he has done Pilates at the suggestion of his wife.

During the offseason, Nalen does Pilates twice a week as a conditioning exercise. During the season, he does it on the Tuesday off day to help repair his body.

"I think he wears a singlet when he does it," Meadows suggested.

"True," Nalen responded with a smile. "It's what the ladies request."

This offseason, Nalen began incorporating muscle-activation techniques into his routine. He works with Greg Roskoff, who developed the system which evaluates, tests and treats muscle imbalances. It's like acupuncture, with finger pressure replacing the pins in problem areas.

Nalen has started 16 games in 10 seasons, including each of the past four years after a torn anterior cruciate ligament wrecked his 2002 season and led to reconstructive knee surgery. Before that, he had started 115 straight games dating to Week 4 of 1995.

"There's always going to be injuries that occur," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "But he's a guy who works out like he is 25 years old. That's why he's able to perform at the level he does consistently."

Overcoming the odds

Not surprisingly, given his Eeyore mind-set, Nalen never envisioned he would arrive at this point. But in this case, his pessimism had merit.

He was the 218th overall pick of the 1994 draft, from Boston College, and the third of three seventh-round picks by the Broncos. Hardly a can't-miss choice, he was undersized for his position.

Those odds are a big part of what drives Nalen, who, because of the NFL's push for openness with the media, agreed to a rare interview to discuss his career.

Of course, even then there was a caveat. "Don't make me sound like a Chatty Cathy," he grumbled.

As a rookie, after taking one look at Harald Hasselbach, Nalen thought he was a goner.

Hasselbach was huge - 6-foot-6, 280 pounds. Nalen then weighed 260 pounds at 6-foot-3.

"I didn't think I'd make a career out of it," he said.

Nalen was released for four days after his first training camp, only to be re- signed as a developmental prospect.

"They told me they were going to sign me to the practice squad," he said. "I don't know if I believed them at the time."

He went on to anchor the Broncos offensive line in a period of unmatched rushing success, from Terrell Davis to Clinton Portis and all the others.

The parts around Nalen have changed, but he has been a constant, as the Broncos produced the most rushing yards (27,174), most individual 1,000-yard seasons (11) and 100-yard games (88) in the league since 1995.

Shanahan believes Nalen performed at a Pro Bowl level last season. But that honor has eluded him in five of the past six seasons.

"I could care less," Nalen said. "It's a joke, the whole deal."

But it's a free trip to Hawaii, at least . . .

"You've got to fly your family over there, and that's not free," he snapped back.

Broncos defensive tackle Sam Adams, who has been butting heads with Nalen since 1994, offers this analysis of his teammate.

"He's one of the top two or three centers in the league," said Adams, who joined the Broncos this season. "People get enamored with the guy that can pull outside, but you've got to understand he's pulling outside because he can't hold up in the middle. (Hall of Famer) Dwight Stephenson could run sideline to sideline, but he could also pound you. So would (former Steelers center) Dermontti Dawson.

"Tommy can hold up in the middle. There's really one other guy that can pull still hold up in the middle, and that's (Tennessee's) Kevin Mawae. We all came in together. Those two have been the top two centers in this league for a long period of time."

Nalen's response?

"Sam's just saying that because he's my teammate now."

Smith called Nalen one of the blue-collar types every team has to have. And he has a soft spot for him, too, since they are the last players remaining from the '94 batch of newcomers and approach the game similarly.

The two even drove similar vehicles to start their careers: Smith a Honda Passport, Nalen an Isuzu Rodeo.

"Same truck, different nameplate," Smith said with a chuckle.

And while those vehicles are long gone, the drive still remains - for both players.

"I don't feel so old when I talk to Rod," Nalen said.

Eyes on the prize

Make no mistake: Nalen has aged some simply by failing to capture another Super Bowl championship after titles in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

It's why he puts on his singlet, briefly considers brushing his hair and works so hard each offseason to get back to that level after 13 seasons in the trenches.

"Those two rings were from a while ago, and it would be nice to win another ring, because I was young back then and didn't really grasp what happened," he said. "I didn't realize the opportunity wouldn't come back until, maybe, never."

Nalen said he has struggled every winter since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy about how he could have played better to recapture that prize. Yet he gets rejuvenated once minicamps begin anew.

Surviving this offseason was tough, partly because of the inconsistency of the Broncos line in finishing 9-7 and out of the playoffs.

"It's hard," he said. "When you have success when you're young and you feel the years going by where you're not winning, you feel like maybe I was just along for the ride those couple of years, and those guys were the difference-makers and I was there, just a guy. And I want to make a difference to the team."

Role model

That drive to reach the top again shows in the way Nalen attacks practices.

Watching him execute in one- on-one pass-blocking drills in training camp often results in textbook demonstrations on how to get under a defensive lineman's pads. Even when Nalen is beaten, he often has the savvy to recover, arching his back and holding on for dear life - his hands inside the rusher's pads, of course.

A sure sign of his proficiency is Rick Dennison's silence. The team's offensive coordinator consistently will offer advice, chide and clap his hands in praise during offensive line drills.

When it's Nalen's turn, virtually nothing.

"He's been playing longer than I've been coaching, so it's pretty hard to comment on Tom," Dennison said. "But he'll make mistakes every now and then. He'll tell me before I tell him, generally."

Myers, Nalen's linemate, said the younger players try to model their practice habits and preparation methods after Nalen, in hopes of forging long careers. And Nalen is accommodating, since he owes so much to the veterans who brought him along.

Shanahan said Broncos players can't pick a better role model.

"I would take Tom Nalen over any center in the National Football League since I've been a head coach," Shanahan said. "So that gives you an idea of what I think about him."

Nalen practically blushed at the praise.

"He's just saying it because he's my coach," the center said.

Nalen paused, momentarily. "I'd take Dermontti Dawson. Seriously."

Years of service

How center Tom Nalen stacks up with other Broncos players in terms of service time:

• Most seasons with Broncos No. Player Years

16 John Elway 1983-98

14 Jason Elam 1993-2006

14 Tom Jackson 1973-86

13 Barney Chavous 1973-85

13 Paul Howard 1973-75, 1976-86

13 Ken Lanier 1981-92, 1994

13 Tom Nalen 1994-2006

13 Bill Thompson 1969-81 • Most games played with Broncos No. Player Years

234 John Elway 1983-98

220 Jason Elam 1993-2006

191 Tom Jackson 1973-86

189 Tom Nalen 1994-2006

187 Paul Howard 1973-75, 1976-86

184 Dennis Smith 1981-94

183 Rod Smith 1995-2006

• Most games started with Broncos No. Player Years

231 John Elway 1983-98

183 Tom Nalen 1994-2006

178 Bill Thompson 1969-81

177 Barney Chavous 1973-85

177 Tom Jackson 1973-86

170 Dennis Smith 1981-94

Word power

All the time Nalen spent avoiding the media, he actually was building his vocabulary.

Nalen's pre-practice routine, when he's not playing NFL Blitz with linemates, nearly always features him at his locker, newspaper folded neatly, working on crossword puzzles.

"A couple of guys do Scrabble. And (guard) Chris Kuper was asking Tom advice. He knows all the SAT vocab words," guard Chris Myers said.

Cleaning up his act

It wasn't as if Nalen suddenly became quirky when he joined the Broncos.

At Boston College, he refused to allow the equipment staff to wash his practice uniform.

"His shirt was straight crunchy," former BC teammate Pete Kendall said a few years back. "And that's just by the end of the first week of camp. You can imagine how rank it was by the end of the season. He didn't want anyone touching his practice stuff."

Nalen's defense was that he liked the pants loose and his outfit fit better if not washed. He hung his practice gear in his locker to dry overnight, then wore it again the next day.

He stopped that practice as a pro - after a directive from the top.

"My first day here, (former equipment manager) Doug West told me, 'Mr. Bowlen wants you to have clean pants,' so that stopped it," Nalen said. "But we never wear pants here anyway, other than the game ones."

Talking back

It could be called the Tom Nalen Rule, even though the Broncos center doesn't want that designation with his name attached.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's policy making all players fair game to speak with the media or risk fines stems, in small part, from the silence of the Broncos offensive line through the years.

While former line coach Alex Gibbs originated the "don't ask, we won't tell policy," Nalen has been the ringleader the past several years. Only a spokesperson for the line was allowed to talk to the media, and violators were fined in kangaroo court.

"It's terrible," Nalen said of having to let his thoughts be known publicly. "I thought it was a joke at first. But the commissioner's got enough reporters complaining about other teams taking a similar approach, and reporters always win. You can't fight the media."

Let it be known that's what Nalen has done his entire career - and won.

A Nexis search of the phrase "Tom Nalen said" in major newspapers and wire stories produced only 119 hits. A majority of those quotes dealt with other players.

The team's Web site has online clip files for the media to peruse. Champ Bailey has five volumes totaling 370 pages. He joined the Broncos in March 2004, 10 years after Nalen.

The sum total of Nalen's news clippings?

"Thousands?" he guessed.

Try 14.

"I've done 14 interviews? It's embarrassing. It's 14 too many."

No, 14 pages, not 14 interviews.

It's far less than anyone else, given his time in Denver.

So what does Nalen think of that accomplishment?

"It ranks just below the Super Bowls," he said.


08-27-2007, 05:02 AM
I wish I had that 5 minutes back, thanks

08-27-2007, 06:27 AM
I wish I had that 5 minutes back, thanks

if you had it back, what would you do with it?

08-27-2007, 06:33 AM
if you had it back, what would you do with it?

Anything would have been better than reading that article - the thread title "finally speaks" is misleading; I don't care about his shoes, and his career. I thought he was going to "finally speak" about his dirty play.

Chief Chief
08-27-2007, 07:01 AM
He's exactly like Eeyore: A DUMB ASS!!

Kylo Ren
08-27-2007, 07:02 AM
Anything would have been better than reading that article - the thread title "finally speaks" is misleading; I don't care about his shoes, and his career. I thought he was going to "finally speak" about his dirty play. His dirty play speaks volumes in itself.

08-27-2007, 07:12 AM
Anything would have been better than reading that article - the thread title "finally speaks" is misleading; I don't care about his shoes, and his career. I thought he was going to "finally speak" about his dirty play.

Glad I didn't take the time to read it.

08-27-2007, 07:21 AM


It is absolutely worthless

Skip Towne
08-27-2007, 07:24 AM
He's a cheatin' Donk. Nuff said.

Extra Point
08-27-2007, 07:25 AM
Oh, bother.

Dr. Johnny Fever
08-27-2007, 07:25 AM
I wish I had that 5 minutes back, thanks
I suggest stopping after the second line like I did next time. Or check the poster first.


08-27-2007, 07:40 AM
I wonder if he rolled into the back of the reporter's knee/ankle as he headed for the door....you know, to open a hole for the dounut delivery guy.

08-27-2007, 07:58 AM
Shit, I was waiting for the truth to come out and never got it........

Wasted effort......

08-27-2007, 07:59 AM
The real question is.......

Is MarlboroChief still going to Shank Parker....

08-27-2007, 08:08 AM
Donk fans calling for Hall of Fame....predictable lot, they are.

Radar Chief
08-27-2007, 08:11 AM
I wonder if he rolled into the back of the reporter's knee/ankle as he headed for the door....you know, to open a hole for the dounut delivery guy.

Where’s Olshansky when you need him?

el borracho
08-27-2007, 08:12 AM
Someone needs to post a clip of Olshansky punching Nalen in the back of the head.

08-27-2007, 08:34 AM
No way I am reading an article that long about that piece of shit. :grr:

Al Bundy
08-27-2007, 09:42 AM
Frazod.. no kidding.

08-27-2007, 10:01 AM
I actually enjoyed the article.

Mr. Laz
08-27-2007, 10:06 AM
No way I am reading an article that long about that piece of shit. :grr:

08-27-2007, 10:37 AM
Enough of this stuff......

What about the Dick's getting knocked in the dirt?

Someone unleash a Dragon!

08-27-2007, 11:36 AM
Anything would have been better than reading that article - the thread title "finally speaks" is misleading; I don't care about his shoes, and his career. I thought he was going to "finally speak" about his dirty play.

i kinda thought the same thing. when i got to reading about hand me down shoes i realized this is stupid. then it really sunk in. this is about a donk. i just had to quit reading.

08-27-2007, 01:05 PM
As much as I hate the donks, anyone that dry,wry, and smart-assed is OK in my book.