Gordon King has towered since his middle school days in the Midwest.
He dwarfed foes while playing at Bella Vista High School in 1974, cast shadows at Stanford and loomed as a larger-than-life savior of a tackle for the New York Giants as a first-round pick in 1978.
King bounded into his first training camp with a shock of hair and a Fu Manchu mustache. His 6-foot-6, 275-pound frame enormous for that era prompted Giants fullback Larry Csonka to crack in '78: "It's good to have a lineman you can look straight in the belly button."
King can still change a light bulb without the benefit of a ladder, but he's 25 pounds lighter than his playing days. Less weight is easier on the joints, he explained, and he looks better in the shirt and tie he wears as a site manager for Jones Lang LaSalle, a globally known commercial real estate firm with a Sacramento office.
"The one thing I really wanted to do when I retired was to make sure I didn't blow up in weight," said King, who escaped his 10-year NFL career largely unscathed, injury-wise. "I was big for that time. If linemen were 300 pounds then, that was unusual, and if they're not 300 now, that's unusual."
King will be glued to the TV in his Roseville home for Sunday's 49ers-Giants NFC Championship Game, 30 years after starting at right tackle for the Giants in the first playoff encounter between these clubs. The 49ers prevailed 38-24 at Candlestick Park in the game that preceded "The Catch."
King was drafted well before ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. dissected every ounce of every prospect and before the NFL combine examined minds and bodies. He was selected by Giants coach John McVay, who later became a 49ers executive.
"Gordie was quite a specimen, really impressive," McVay said from his Granite Bay home. "His coach at Stanford was Bill Walsh, who would give clinics to our offensive coaches. What we needed more than clinics was players, and that's why we drafted Gordie."
The '78 season included a 5-3 start that dissolved into a 6-10 disaster, the melting point coming on one of the most storied plays in NFL history. With the Giants up 17-12 against Philadelphia with seconds to play, offensive coordinator Bob Gibson insisted on a handoff to Csonka (McVay's headset wasn't working and he didn't hear the play call) instead of taking a knee.
Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik fumbled the handoff, and Philadelphia's Herman Edwards raced in for a touchdown for a stunning 19-12 win in what is called "The Fumble" and "The Miracle at the Meadowlands."
Sidelined with torn ankle ligaments, King was so close to the play he could smell disaster.
"I was right about where Edwards was, watching the play unfold, and talk about a surreal moment," King said. "The noise, the boos that came raining down unbelievable. It was quite a scene in the locker room. Our players just wanted to fall on the ball, but "
The gaffe ushered in a new Giants era. Gibson was fired the next day with two games to go. He never coached football again. McVay's contract was not renewed. He ended up in the 49ers' front office and presided over five Super Bowl championship clubs. George Young was hired as general manager, and his drafts led to two Super Bowl title teams. King played his final two seasons with the Jets, 1986 and '87.
King and his wife, Susan, have been married for 32 years and had two sons graduate from Granite Bay. King said he still cherishes his high school days, especially Don Driscoll, Gordon Pistochini, Charlie Lee and Larry Fletcher.
"They were great coaches and mentors," King said. "They helped me with (college) recruiting, which is so different now. I could leave the house if I got tired of the recruiters calling. I was really fortunate that football afforded me a chance to go to Stanford. Looking back, I have a lot of good memories of football, great memories."
He doesn't slip on his old No. 72 jersey, but he does pull for the Giants and the Jets. "I don't pull for the Cowboys, ever," King said laughing.