When Rex Ryan was deliberating whether to have gastric band surgery, one of the people he consulted was former NFL offensive lineman Jamie Dukes.
The two spoke in February at the NFL Scouting Combine, and Dukes told Ryan (pictured) from firsthand experience that the surgery helped. Dukes, who had ballooned to “a biscuit over 400 pounds,” said he has since lost more than 110 pounds.
“There’s an obesity issue in the NFL, not among current players, but among retired players,” said Dukes, 45, now an analyst for the NFL Network.
He has been personally touched by the problem, and not simply with his own weight gain.
"I’ve had five teammates die before the age of 47, and they were all overweight,” he said.
The five: former Eagles and Packers defensive end Reggie White, former Falcons defensive lineman Tory Epps, former Cardinals and Falcons defensive lineman Mel Agee and former Falcons defensive lineman Rick Bryan.
Dukes has become so passionate about the matter that he recently formed the Put Up Your Dukes Foundation to help retired players deal with health issues.
Dukes had surgery that utilized the REALIZE Adjustable Gastric Band, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson affiliate Ethicon Endo-Surgery. The company was founded by Jets owner Woody Johnson's grandfather.
“Rex knew Reggie White when he played for his dad,” said Dukes, referring to Ryan’s father, former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan. “You could tell it was weighing heavy on his mind, no pun intended. I just told him the experience I had, and that it was good for me.”
Ryan has lost 31 pounds so far after ballooning to 348 pounds during the 2009 season.
"Jamie Dukes is a champion of this surgery," Ryan said. "He told me, 'Rex, you've got nothing to worry about. It's a piece of cake.'"
Ryan has tried dieting multiple times, only to lose weight but gain it back over time. He had lost about 20 pounds last summer on a mostly liquid diet, but wound up gaining even more weight by the time the season ended.
When he ran into Dukes at a restaurant in Indianapolis at the Combine, Ryan was with his brother, Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Ryans were eating steak for dinner.
"Jamie was sitting across from us," Ryan said. "He was eating a salad and vegetables and all that stuff, and he said, 'You get this surgery, and you'll be sharing that steak next year.'"
Dukes said the surgery is not for everyone, and that he stresses prevention against weight gain before turning to the lap band procedure or the more invasive stomach stapling surgery.
"I believe in prevention, in exercise and diet," he said. "But if what people are doing isn’t working, it’s time to look for some other solutions. If you can't do it through diet and exercise, then this is a great alternative. This is about life and death."