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The Game's the Thing

An ex-NFL star makes his Off-Broadway debut

IN THE autumn of1987 Bo Eason was a heat-seeking All-Pro safety for the Houston Oilers, one ofthe NFL's most feared—and loathed—players. The Oilers were scheduled to playthe Patriots in Week 5, presenting a problem for Bo: New England's quarterbackwas Tony Eason, his older brother by 17 months, meaning Bo would be expected tointercept, blitz and otherwise bring misfortune upon his blood kin. As theshowdown neared, Bo was so conflicted, he told SI, that he thought, "Maybe,if I remove my contacts, I won't be able to see Tony's face and no brotherhoodcan creep into the game."

NFL players wenton strike three weeks before that game, preventing an Eason-versus-Easonencounter. But Bo, now 46 and an actor and a playwright, kept wondering whatwould have happened if the game had gone on. He explores the possibilitiesgrippingly in the one-man play Runt of the Litter, which he wrote and stars in.Runt—now having a successful Off-Broadway run—is set an hour before a fictionalAFC Championship Game: Eason plays Jack, a cocksure Oilers safety about to takethe field against his older brother, Charlie, "the greatest quarterback ofall time." In a series of stirring locker-room soliloquies and animatedfamily anecdotes, Jack explains that he is the runt of six siblings, anundersized scrub who compensated by waking up at the crack of dawn to catch1,000 balls every morning for 20 years. It was all done to keep pace withCharlie, for whom everything came easy, and to fulfill their father's NFLdreams for his sons.

Eason's scriptstrays into tangential, Warren Sapp--style rants (such as five minutes on theillegitimacy of the Hall of Fame). But Eason's performance is powerful, andRunt is a touching study of a player's dueling allegiances to family and team.The choice isn't as clear-cut as you'd think. "I will color the field redwith [Charlie's] blood and drown him in it," Jack bellows, spewing decadesof frustration and sibling rivalry. Bo Eason seems to think that mentalitymight have gotten the best of him in 1987: At one point Jack hisses, "I amblinded." It's a startling moment, and it's easy to envision Tony Easoncringing—and giving thanks that he never peered into the opposing backfield andsaw Bo.

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PLAY ACTION Eason leaped from All-Pro to playwright.

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