You’ve seen it happen many times. The football pops loose and players from both teams find themselves in a mad scramble for the ball. Players pile on top of each other and all hell breaks loose. When a player fumbles, it’s a mad dash to recover the ball, but what goes on at the bottom of the pile as both teams fight to recover the ball?
It’s a scary moment being in the NFL pile
When the ball is fumbled in an NFL game, it becomes the focus of everybody. It’s the biggest moment of the game and everyone has the same goal – pounce on that ball. When that happens, it becomes a frightening moment, especially if you’re claustrophobic.
Barry Sims, a former offensive lineman with the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, learned patience the hard way as he was once at the bottom of an NFL pile. “What went through my mind was: ‘Oh my god, I’m stuck!'” Sims told The Mercury News back in 2012. “It got me thinking of what it would be like to be trapped in rubble, like after an earthquake. I had to calm myself down and remind myself that everyone would be unpiling in a moment. But, boy, it made me realize that being buried alive would be a scary experience.”
It’s a dark place in that pile. Literally. Players can’t see what’s going on, but there’s a lot of fighting, yelling, and screaming going on. “In the pile you hear some screams of pain, but you don’t know where it is coming from — unless it’s you,” said former NFL linebacker Ben Leber.
There are no rules in a pile
When players are piled on top of each other after a mad scramble for a loose ball, it’s a free-for-all. There are no rules. Anything goes. That’s because there’s nobody in the pile to monitor what’s going on.
“You got guys punching you in the chest, gouging your eyes,” said former Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl nose tackle Fred Smerlas, according to SB Nation. “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. In the pile, we used a different language. Part Greek, part Italian, and part filth.”
Smerlas said there was extra motivation for a defensive player to grab that ball – to get off the field. “As a defenseman, recovering a fumble was the difference between getting off the field or having to stay there for another 10 plays and getting your head caved in,” Smerlas said. “They were huge. You trained for them since when you were a little kid. And then, boom! A fumble happens and everything goes dark. Only the ball lights up. No matter what’s around you, you go for that thing. When those lights go out, it’s ‘Here we come!’”
NFL players admit some wrongdoings in the pile
Bill Romanowski is considered one of the dirtiest players to ever suit up in the NFL. He’s a player you wouldn’t want to meet at the bottom of the fumble pile. “I used to go to a pretty dark place, and there wasn’t much that was off limits,” Romanowski told The Mercury News. “I’m not proud of some of the things I did. But I just wanted to win so badly that I would do anything to get a piece of that ball and get it back.”
Corey Williams, a former defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, said there are no rules in the pile so he did whatever he had to do. “When you’re trying to get the ball, you can’t get flagged for what happens in the pile,” Williams said to NFL.com. “I’ve had it all done to me, and I’ve done it to people.”
Williams also said some players would go into the pile to gain some revenge. “That’s where guys get their get-back,” Williams said. “If a guy gets cheap-shotted, that guy is going to get his get-back when the refs can’t see.”