In the National Football League, some men win glory as long passers, nimble receivers or huge linemen. Still others are famed for their bad breath. As you might imagine, it's easy to smell another player's halitosis when he's right up in your face. Here are a few anecdotes about oral odor taken straight from the mouths (so to speak) of former NFL players.
- Mel Blount was tough. As one of the most feared cornerbacks of his era, his specialty was bringing wide receivers down hard, often in a way that would get a player flagged today. In Neil Reynolds' book Pain Gang, former receiver Mike Shumann recalled having to face Blount on his very first play as an NFLer. "I was a nervous wreck," he recounted, "and he had this bad breath. He said to me in his deep bass voice, 'Where you going, son?'" Ultimately, Shumann avoided getting flattened by Blount (or his halitosis). However, Blount's career took a hit when the NFL instituted a rule against harassing the receiver - which they kindly named the Mel Blount Rule.
- In Eric Noe's book The Greatest Football Stories Ever Told, former Cowboys wide receiver Peter Gent recalled lining up in the tunnel just prior to a game: "A fat bald man with bad breath and a walkie-talkie lined up the defensive starters," he recalled. "He belched loudly, then said something into the walkie-talkie. Moments later an electronic voice introduced our team to a chorus of boos." Such strange moments (along with much salty language) later appeared in Gent's novel, North Dallas Forty.
- In his autobiography, former referee Jerry Markbreit recalled some words of wisdom from friend and colleague Tom Kellehan: "Your breath smells. Go rinse with mouthwash before you go out. You don't want to have bad breath when you talk to the coaches." Markbreit's sole comment on the matter is that "only a close friend would venture that kind of advice."
Why is bad breath so common in football? There are two main causes. The first is all the aerobic exercise, which gets athletes panting and dries out their mouths. Without saliva to stop them, bacteria can crank out odor. The other cause is something that no NFL player can do without: a mouthguard. This plastic tooth protector unfortunately acts like a Petri dish, harboring billions of microbes.
Kellehan was right. Before halitosis is a problem on the field, it's best to have a good rinse with an alcohol-free specialty breath freshening mouthwash.