The first tattoo that California defensive tackle James Looney got was a sprawling piece that stretches across his barrel chest. On the upper right, is an armored archangel. Across his sternum, Heaven opens up. On the bottom left is Satan. Over on Looney's left shoulder is one of Satan's little helpers: The Joker.
Throughout history, the right side has been seen as the virtuous. In the ancient world, the left hand was used for personal hygiene, hence the severing of the right hand as punishment for thieves. That tradition extends to heraldic tradition, where the right side of a coat of arms was referred to as 'dexter,' the root of the word 'dextrous.' The left? Sinister. It's no accident that the word 'right,' in the English language, doubles as a synonym for 'correct.'
So, naturally, all of Looney's sinister ink resides on his sinister side.
Looney's first piece of body art doesn't just represent, as he says, the victory of the virtuous over the sinister, but that everyone has a little Devil in them. For Looney, that devilish influence has given birth to a mischievous streak.
"One of the things that you learn is that people enjoy their downtime, and people go to work," says defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. "That's James. When James is on his downtime, he's on relax mode. When it's business time, he flips the switch. The bottom line is, it's like walking in the office door. That's what he does. When he walks across this line, he's going into the office. When he comes off there, he's out of the office. That's what it boils down to. That's his office."
It's a matter of feet that separate the merry prankster from the man who's tallied 20 tackles and 3.0 tackles for loss over the last three games, including a game-saving stop against Utah's Zack Moss on the final play of the Bears' 28-23 win over the Utes last weekend.
"A lot of times, production may come in the form of stats for the team, and not for the individual," Kaufman says. "A lot of times, a sack occurred because somebody else made the play that let somebody get the sack, and that's what James has done. He is a focal point for offenses, and all he does is do his job, and his job right now is to draw all the attention, and taking care of his business."
That sentiment is the theme of the tattoo on Looney's right bicep, a bible verse: Isaiah 6:8.
"I'm a really religious guy," Looney says. "I'm a believer in the Lord. I really like this verse, because it really expresses, instead of putting everything on God, I want to do something for you, and I think that's what that bible verse says. It says, 'Then, I heard the voice of the Lord: 'Who shall I send? Who will go for us?' and then it says, 'Here I am. Send me.' I just thought that was a really cool verse, because I like what it represents. It represents that I'm going to go out and do things for God, rather than just want Him to do things for me."
For all that deep thinking and soul, as soon as the helmet comes off, out comes Cal's very own Clown Prince.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1713944-scouting-the-oppon... "Looney talks a lot, at first," says fellow starting defensive tackle Tony Mekari. "Not necessarily in a bad way -- or a good way -- he just talks a lot. You just have to realize that that's just Looney. He's not meaning anything by it. He can be very serious, but just talk a lot, too. He doesn't stop. It's not necessarily dissing somebody. He just doesn't stop. Once you're used to it, it's kind of pleasant to have around. A lot of people are always uptight about practice, and very serious, but what I've learned from him is that I play better when I'm more relaxed. Talking is how he relaxes. It's cool, because it gets everybody in a better mood for practice, for whatever, instead of coming out here all grumpy, hot and tired."
Whether in drills or on the sideline, and especially when a camera or a microphone is in his face -- and often, when a camera or microphone is simply in a 10-yard radius -- Looney is in constant conversation with anyone who will listen, and, failing that, himself.
"He gets along with everyone," says defensive tackle Russell Becker. "Sometimes, you get the leaders that maybe sometimes want to be by themselves, but Looney, he associates with everyone. He makes sure that if it looks like you're down a little bit, he'll cheer you up, crack some jokes, get you laughing, just get you in the right mood for the day."
When Becker -- a corn-fed rosy-cheeked stereotypical Midwesterner -- first met the wild card that is James Looney, he was on his official visit.
"He came up to me, shook my hand, and was real formal," Becker says. "I was like, 'Man, this guy is the leader of the group.' He knew what he wanted, and he talked to me, too, and he let me know that this is going to be tough, but, 'I think you got it.' He instilled confidence."
That facade quickly cracked as soon as Becker got on campus.
"I didn't get to see him too much after the game, just got to peek into the locker room, but right when I came in during the spring time, that's when I saw that this guy's got another side," Becker says. "Shoot, it was lifting time, and he's cracking off with these jokes. I don't remember what he said, but he had me rolling. The most Looney thing he's done, sometimes his music choices, he'll be playing the good old gospel music, getting the hair going, just 'Hallelujah!' jumping around."
Just like a preacher at a tent revival. All he's missing is the robe.
In a fall camp interview, Looney, seemingly totally focused on answering questions, bends his answers to tweak the various offensive linemen walking by. First comes Chris Borrayo, who peeks in to say, "Shout out to the O-line."
"That's not shout out to the O-line, specifically Chris Burrrrr-ayo, and Addy Ooms, what a terrible guy," Looney says, without missing a beat.
"Holder. Holds. Especially this guy, No. 62," Looney continues, as Dwayne Wallace saunters by. "Who not to call holding on but Dwayne?"
"You bet your ass," Wallace retorts.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1696446-bttv-tre-watson-in... While discussing another one of his tattoos, which boldly states, "Born to Live" on the inside of one bicep, and "Bred to Die" on the other, running back Tre Watson walks by.
"That was actually a tattoo I saw on the internet, and I thought it was cool. It looked pretty sweet. It's just a good saying," Looney explains, before wryly jibing at Watson, "Tre just jealous he doesn't have tattoos. He's scared of the ink, you know what I'm saying?"
He turns around to face Watson.
"You need to cut your hair up! You need a haircut!"
Coming from Looney -- the self-proclaimed best head of hair on the team -- it's a mandate. He got the chestnut color of his hair from his father, who, he says, used to have long, blond hair, until he cut it up. The tight curls, he says, he gets from his mother, Marilyn.
"I get the hair from a little bit of both of them," he says. "My dad has long, blond hair, so that's where I think I really got it. He's dialed it back, but before he cut it, he had pretty, pretty long hair, and I've got to continue the tradition of crazy white guy hair. [Mom] gives me the little curls, and I've got the blond tips from my dad. I got good genes. My dad always used to say I've got good DNA."
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1714280-bttv-kaufman-has-f...Looney's father -- James, Sr. -- speaks through his son.
During team photo day, Looney proudly says, he was the mastermind behind the midriff-bearing shot that showed the entire defensive line with their midriffs exposed out.
"That was for sure mine, you know what I'm saying? I mean, you've got to show off the six-pack every now and then. I work hard," Looney says. "I put a lot of money in this, you know what I'm saying."
Looney strokes not a six-pack, but a keg.
"I put a lot of money in this. There's a lot of money invested," he says proudly. "My dad always told me: 'What's better; a six pack or a keg?' You know what I'm saying?"
"He definitely said, 'Pull it up,'" says Mekari, whose paunch is decorated with an abundance of hair, as opposed to Looney's bare belly. "My stomach's always out at practice, so I didn't really have to do much. He saw it, and said, 'OK, we'll do that.' They always give me a hard time because my stomach's out. No shame. It's football season."
While James, Sr., was the football parent, Looney's proudest piece of body art is dedicated to his mother. His right shoulder is adorned with a mother tiger, holding a cub in her mouth, with a rose on Looney's front deltoid.
"My mom's been the most influential person in my life," he says. "I look up to her. She's my idol. My mom's strength, man, she raised four kids that turned out to do great things. My brother's in the NFL, my sisters are in business, one of my sisters is in banking. We're all doing great."
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1575128-jalil-looney-stuck... As Looney gets serious for but a moment, Davis Webb comes behind him and reaches around to give Looney some of his own medicine -- a mild titty twister.
"Wait 'til we get home. You've got to pay for that!" Looney barks back, before returning to his train of thought. "She is my idol. She raised us from nothing. We had nothing. Words can't even express how much I love my mom. She put food on the table. She did everything that she needed to do to make sure I was OK, and that I had everything I ever needed.
"She worked multiple jobs. She was a teacher, she would babysit on the weekends. She even got into care taking. That's another thing, my mom being a teacher, she always stressed grades to me. She wasn't on me too much about football -- my dad was always the crazy thing about football, get coo coo for Cocoa Puffs, and that's where I get most of my craziness from -- but my mom, she's a pretty strong lady. I think I get the mouth from her, though. She's a big jokester, too. She's the most influential person in my life, and honestly, that's why I play the game, to make her proud."
Even the Joker, holding a playing card over his right eye with a sinister rictus grinning from the opposite shoulder, is biographical.
"Since I've been growing up, I was the youngest, so I got picked on a lot, so I just learned to joke around a lot," Looney says. "I had to fight back. I had one older brother, two older sisters, so I always used to joke, and I was the big jokester in class, so the Joker fit. I just really like the Joker, because I feel like I have that craziness to me, that unknown, that mystical feeling to me. You just never know what I'm going to do, and I like that."
As Michael Caine's Alfred Pennyworth said in The Dark Knight, some people just want to watch the world burn. Looney just makes sure he's there with a bucket of popcorn. He has to feed that keg, after all.