Desmond Howard's mother swears her son has a hollow leg. "I don't know where all that food he eats goes. But I do know that if he didn't play football he'd look like a balloon," she says.
Hattie Howard, like anyone who has raised a professional football player, understands one fundamental truth: Pro-ball players have Godzilla appetites. Even those scrawny looking kickers can eat their weight at a Shoney's all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.
This Super Bowl Sunday why not challenge yourself to eat like one of them - Emmitt Smith, Reggie White, or if your stomach is really growling, William "The Refrigerator" Perry. Drop that New Year's resolution you made to diet, kick back in your LA-Z-BOY recliner, and chow down like a pro while you watch the big game.
If you want the lowdown on what National Football League players eat, check out the NFL Family Cookbook (Smithmark, Jim Natal, $24.95). It's full of down-home favorites, traditional dishes, snack foods, and long-held secret quarterback-sneak recipes that have conquered some of the biggest appetites on the planet.
One recipe in the book belongs to Mrs. Howard. Three or four times a year she gets a call from her son: "Hello ... mom ... I've got that cravin' again."
"That cravin' " is for the caramel cake Mrs. Howard has been baking for more than 10 years.
When Desmond was in high school, he and a close friend squabbled over whose mother could out bake the other's. "Desmond came home one day and told me to bake my caramel cake - the rest is history," she boasts. "No one even remembers what the other mom baked. My caramel cake won hands down. End of story."
Desmond is a former Green Bay Packer who was named the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXI last year. He now catches passes and returns kicks for the Oakland Raiders. When he gets "that cravin'," his mom sends the cake overnight delivery to his home in California.
If you're bold enough to tackle baking Mrs. Howard's caramel cake, she offers advice: "Wear old shoes, you're going to get messy. And take your time, my cake took years to perfect."
Like Mrs. Howard, Jan Wannstedt (wife of Chicago Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt) also knows about the massive amounts of food that NFL players can pack away.
"Players don't go to a buffet," she says, "they eat the buffet!"
Although she has a family recipe featured in the NFL cookbook, it's credited to her husband. "Dave cook? He's better on the consumption end," she says.
Mrs. Wannstedt is known for her beef flautas. She started experimenting with Mexican-style cooking during her husband's short stint in Dallas as defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl XXVII-champion Cowboys.
This year, her family plans on watching the Super Bowl "begrudgingly."
"It's just not the same if your team isn't playing in it," she says, "But we'll probably have a big lunch and hope the Bears will get there next year."
A dream come true for most NFL players would be a personal chef. Erik Grosswiller is in high demand. He cooks for San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and is the head chef at Seau's Restaurant in San Diego.
"Although Junior eats a lot, he doesn't overdo it. He eats really healthy foods - fish, chicken, and lots of fruit," says Chef Grosswiller.
Since the Super Bowl is in San Diego, he will be preparing meals for an all-day party hosted by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Rodney Peete. "I know they're going to come hungry," he says, "But I'll be prepared."
Desmond's Mom's Caramel Cake
2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature (plus a bit more for greasing three cake pans)
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting cake pans)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped (optional)
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 pound light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans.
Sift flour, baking powder, and cocoa together and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed until mixture is light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time. Change the mixer speed to low.
Add dry ingredients alternately with the milk, a little at a time. Mix just until the ingredients are blended. (Over mixing will toughen cake.)
Divide batter among the prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of cakes comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool pans on wire rack.
To make the icing, stir together all the ingredients - butter, sugar, and evaporated milk - in a medium-heavy saucepan over low to medium heat.
Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the icing has thickened. (This process may take a while.)
To test if the icing is ready, drop one-half teaspoon of it into a glass of cold water; it's ready when it forms a soft ball.
With a fork, poke a series of holes in cakes while they are still in the pans and spread with about one-fourth of the icing. If using pecans, sprinkle on top of the icing. When cakes are saturated, remove cakes from pans, stack them in three layers and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing and sprinkle on remaining pecans.
Let cake sit for about 1 hour before serving.
Serves eight (or Desmond Howard and a friend).
Junior Seau's Grilled Mahi-MahiWith Spicy Pineapple Relish
6 8-ounce pieces of mahi-mahi
1 cup of fresh pineapple, cut into small cubes
2 tomatoes, finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2-3 jalapeo peppers, seeded and minced
2 to 4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large mixing bowl, combine all relish ingredients and toss to mix well.
Grill the mahi-mahi portions.
Serve the fish on individual plates. Place equal portions of relish on each fish.
Serves six cheerleaders, or one hungry linebacker.
Dave Wannstedt's Beef Flautas
Vegetable oil for frying
12 flour tortillas
1-1/2 pounds lean stew beef
1 tablespoons salt
2 cups water
1 pint sour cream
1 cup green onions, (scallions) chopped
1 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup canned green chilies, diced
Heat about one-quarter inch oil in a frying pan. Fry the tortillas, one at a time, for 15 to 20 seconds on each side. Remove and cool until they can be handled easily, then roll each tortilla into a tube. Place seam side down, allow oil to drain, and cool completely.
Place the water in a large pot, add salt. Drop in beef and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the beef for 1/2 hour. Drain, cool, and shred beef. (A food processor works well.)
Mix together two-thirds of the sour cream, and all the green onions, Monterey jack cheese, salt, and pepper. Add the shredded beef and mix well.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Stuff the beef mixture into the tortilla tubes and place in a single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle with green chilies.
Bake for 20 minutes. Serve with guacamole and remaining sour cream.
Serves six (or John Madden).