What Happens at the Bottom of an NFL Fumble Pile?

A 2,000-pound pile-up of players is almost sure to follow an NFL fumble 

What Happens at the Bottom of an NFL Fumble Pile?
Officials jump into the pile to determine possession. (Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty)
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the ball is fumbled during a game in the National Football League, a 2,000-pound pile-up of players is almost sure to follow.

What typically goes down in those piles is the subject of a new piece from SB Nation.

To get some first-person insight as to what happens when lineman, skills players and occasionally even a quarterback converge in a massive mound of muscle and mayhem, SB Nation turned to retired nose tackle Fred Smerlas, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who spent 14 years in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots.

At the start of a pile-up, shutting your eyes was a must, according to Smerlas. But there were other areas it was impossible to protect from opposing players looking to inflict pain if they couldn’t get their hands on the pigskin.

“You got guys grabbing your balls, punching you in the chest, gouging your eyes. In the fumble pile, everything gets whacked. You’ve got 330-pound men jumping on you. Let me tell ya, get hit by guys that size with pads and helmets, and it gets ugly fast,” Smerlas said. “In the pile, we used a different language. Part Greek. Part Italian. Part filth. ‘You f*cking c*cksucker, I’m gonna kill you.’ Guys would purposely go without brushing their teeth and eat garlic for five days straight. You’d be down there and pick up some rank smell and tell yourself, ‘I don’t want to know what that is.’”

Fumble piles were so bad that even Conrad Dobler, who was identified as the dirtiest player in football in a cover story in the July 25, 1977, issue of Sports Illustrated, didn’t want to go near them.

“All that stuff they said I did at the bottom of the pile was bullshit; I avoided piles,” he said. “They were dangerous places. You could get hurt. Being there on the ground with your legs spread out and guys piling on, you could break something. One of the most dangerous places was standing around a pile. You’d get hit by some guy using his helmet as a battering ram. It was a good way to get your ass knocked off. All I wanted to do was get out of that pile and check my bones to see if anything was broken.”

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