Fifty-six across, 15 letters: IT'S SUPERMAN. "I cannot not get
that," says Seahawk linebacker Duane Bickett of a clue from a
recent crossword puzzle in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that
still has him stumped. "I'll take the puzzle home and sit up in
bed thinking about it until the answer comes to me."
Bickett, in his 11th NFL season and second in Seattle--the first
nine were spent in Indianapolis--is a compulsive problem solver.
Off the field he is the undisputed king of the Seahawks'
crossword-puzzle craze. Ask John Friesz, Stan Gelbaugh, Tracy
Johnson, Eugene Robinson or Rick Tuten to show you their
crosswords, and they'll all pull out a folded section of that
day's Post-Intelligencer (which uses The New York Times
crossword), the boxes filled in to varying degrees. Then inspect
"Finito! He's the cham-peen!" exclaims Robinson. "I'll have a
few clues solved, and Duane will come by and say, 'How far did
you get?' When he says that, I know he's already done."
On the field Bickett, the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in
1985, has solved the Seahawks' linebacking depth quandary by
learning all three positions (he is No. 2 on the depth chart at
each), and he also plays defensive end in the nickel package.
Following an Oct. 15 loss to the Bills, in which middle
linebacker Tyronne Stowe broke his right arm, Bickett approached
linebackers coach Mike Murphy. "You know, I could play middle
linebacker," he said.
"Have you played it before?" asked Murphy.
"No, but I can."
Fact is, if 56 Across were three letters shorter, you might
recommend that Duane Bickett pencil in his own name. His square
jaw and 6'5", 250-pound frame suggest a man of steel. A Pro Bowl
selection in 1987, Bickett led the Colts in sacks or tackles
during his first four years. Stick a crossword in his face, and
Bickett, who graduated from Southern Cal with a 3.67 GPA in
business administration, is all Clark Kent.
On this day a visitor from the East Coast puts Bickett to the
test, handing him the latest Times puzzle. Bickett gives it a
cursory survey. "One across: Lady Macbeth wanted one out," he
reads. "Well, that's 'spot.' Remember? 'Out, damn'd spot! Out!'"
Yet for a guy who spends so much time poring over little white
boxes, Bickett is no square. He and his wife, Mara, took dance
lessons so they could tango at their nuptials last February.
Just last Friday they attended the opera Carmen, and this winter
they are off to Barcelona for a monthlong intensive Spanish
class. If that makes Bickett sound studious, consider that his
favorite film, from which he quotes liberally, is Raising
Arizona. And of late he has adopted fashion and musical tastes
similar to those of quarterback-grunge guru Rick Mirer.
"To me puzzles are like problem-solving," says Bickett. "And
math has always been my easiest subject. There's just one right
Bickett says he is sated by the more challenging crossword that
appears in the Sunday Times. But there are days when the
temptation to unearth a cryptic clue (IT'S SUPERMAN is
"Nietzscheanidea") overwhelms him. And the obsession is refueled.
"I've got to take a shower now," he says. But then he politely
offers, "Let's meet upstairs in 20 minutes."
When he reappears, Bickett looks refreshed. And the Times puzzle
he was given not half an hour earlier? Finito.
COLOR PHOTO: RICH FRISHMAN When it comes to tackling crossword puzzles, this Seahawk linebacker has all the answers. [Duane Bickett working on newspaper crossword puzzles]