Jared Lorenzen’s Lasting Impact

How many passes does a quarterback need to impact a kid’s life?

For Jared Lorenzen, it was less than ten.

Lorenzen passed away last week at age 38. He was a career backup for the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts who hardly saw NFL action outside of preseason games. But Lorenzen wasn’t just any regular backup quarterback—he was the biggest quarterback ever, weighing in at just under 300 pounds during his playing days. Fans endearingly nicknamed him the “Hefty Lefty,” “Pillsbury Throwboy” and other weight-related nicknames that Lorenzen wore with pride. He was a real life meme you had to see to believe and was completely comfortable in his own skin. And I wanted to be just like him.

You can only do so much as a fat kid playing football. Coaches usually relegate you to offensive or defensive line. Weight limits at the peewee level ensure you can’t carry the ball. Playing quarterback, the most important position on the field, is out of the question. Your job is either to clear space or take up space and hit the other team as hard as you can. That’s understandable, and some of it is even fun, but after awhile it gets repetitive. You start wondering why you can’t throw or run with the ball, wishing you weren’t held back by some number on a scale.

Lorenzen eschewed every expectation for a fat dude on the football field. He could throw. He could avoid pressure. He could occasionally rumble for first downs. He wasn’t particularly great at any of those things, but he was good enough for the Giants to sign him as an undrafted free agent in 2004. As a fan of the team, I was immediately hooked. I watched his every preseason snap. I remember jacking up his ratings in Madden 2006 to make him the best quarterback in the league. (Apparently I’m not the only person who’s done this.) I even tried (and brutally failed) learning how to throw a football with my left arm. I could pretend to be other great quarterbacks when I played video games or pickup with friends. But because of my weight, I didn’t truly identify with one until Lorenzen came along.

Of course, Lorenzen’s weight ultimately killed him. The weight issues he battled during his playing days got worse after his retirement from football. He grew to more than 500 pounds and struggled to lose weight as his health failed. Lorenzen chronicled his struggle on social media, and in the process made himself even more relatable. More than 160 million Americans are overweight or obese. Lorenzen was just like any one of us, fighting a seemingly losing battle to shed weight to better themselves.

Health is in the back of every overweight person’s mind. Even those of us who embrace body positivity understand the physical implications of obesity. We feel it with every breath and every step, but we often don’t talk about it. And that’s part of why working toward change can be so difficult. Jared Lorenzen dealt with those issues and had the courage to share his fight with us. And even though he’s gone, he’ll continue to inspire—both as a larger-than-life NFL quarterback and as a regular guy from Kentucky, struggling with what so many of us struggle with daily.