A Talk with the Office Linebacker

Could this ex-linebacker help the Vikings pass rush? Based on this analysis of his fifteen best hits, as well as an interview with the actor who plays him, Tate could at least bring some discipline to the franchise. (Article is reprinted from the Spring 2006 issue of the OBR Magazine).

Message board user "Zoso197" found a link to the commercials on Google Video! Click here!

If the Vikings are trying to find some more help at outside linebacker, maybe they ought to a consider a 6-5, 300-pound specimen who's run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash, earned collegiate All-American honors at defensive end, and produced some of the greatest hits on television.

After all, if Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, can chase down workplace scofflaws and sell millions of Reebok shoes doing it, he just might bring a spark to the Vikings defense.

The man behind Terry Tate is Lester 'Rasta' Speight, a former Morgan State football star who seemed tailor-made for a long career in the NFL. Instead, the former defensive end says his prospects floundered under the weight of frequent position switches and ill-timed injuries. After graduating in 1985, Speight was invited to camps in Green Bay, Dallas and New York. He was signed by the Baltimore Stars of the USFL, but the league folded before he could play a game. Speight's pro football career never caught on.

That is, until a young writer and director named Rawson Thurber cast Speight in the role of a hyper-kinetic office enforcer by the name of "Terrible" Terry Tate.

"It was toward the end of the summer of 2000. I just got into L.A. in '99," Speight recalls of landing the part. "Rawson had a hard time casting for it. He actually put an ad out in one of the trade magazines called BackStage West, and my agent saw it."

As it turned out, it was the role of a lifetime for Speight: "If I can't play any motherf----r, I can play him. If I can't do nothing else, I can play this character."

The 12-minute short film was an instant hit with the Arnell Group, an ad agency representing Reebok at the time. The company worked with Thurber to adapt the short film into a series of commercials, which first appeared during the Super Bowl in January 2003. The ads went on to set all sorts of records.

"The fans all around the country... just mobbed the web site," Speight says."It just blew up the east coast servers. Reebok stock quadrupled."

Speight's fortunes skyrocketed as well. He ended up filming several Terry Tate commercials and parlayed his newfound notoriety into the regular role of Calvin on the Damon Wayans' produced show "My Wife and Kids" on ABC. Today, Speight is getting ready to film a movie based on the Terry Tate character. And that doesn't mean he's hanging around acting workshops.

"I'm right now at 320 pounds and I'm still growing," says Speight, who says he weighed about 300 to 305 pounds when filming the commercials. "We're going to make Terry Tate new and improved. I'm training real hard."

Tate says he's aiming to tip the scales at about 340 pounds by the time filming starts, perhaps as early as this summer.


No doubt about it, Terry Tate is a physical role. But it's nothing next to the punishment that Speight's co-stars must endure.

"We've had some injuries. When people signed on they were a little nervous. They got double and triple scale when they signed into it," says Speight. "I tell them the footage will last forever. I just said. 'Just do it and deal with the pain. The bones will snap back.'"

Each hit is carefully choreographed. The director and actors work out the angles, so they know exactly where the hit is coming from and where people will land. Actors strap on rib pads and other protection, while the crew lays down padding to soften the inevitable landing. Still, it takes a courageous actor to step in front of the oncoming freight train.

"They know it's coming. That's true acting. All the actors that took a tackle, know that you have this bull coming at you. That's a whole different level of composure," he laughs.

In a career full of big hits, Speight's favorite was the merciless shot he laid on an unsuspecting bellboy in Terry Tate: Vacation. "I blasted him through the bellhop cart," Speight laughs.

The big hits mean that the director only gets a few shots at nailing down a scene.  "We only get maybe two or three takes, and then we have to move on. After that, people start telegraphing," Speight explains. "People in the background can't react."

Of course, it's the memorable taunts that helped make Terry Tate famous. Speight especially enjoyed the verbal beat down he uncorked on a malingerer playing Solitaire during office hours. "You wanna play games, Gene? I got a game for you. It's called how much pain can Gene stand? When it's game time, it's pain time, baby. Whoo!"

He also laughs at the tomahawk strip and tackle that ends the original commercial. "That was supposed to be like an LT strip--a tomahawk strip," says Speight of his tackle of a pen-thieving geek. "He was just so uncoordinated and unorthodox. But when they slowed it down it was just hilarious."

Hometown Hero

Speight isn't a huge football fan. Living in L.A., he says he gets swept up in all the attention heaped on USC in the area. But it's really his cousin who forces him to stay current.

"I got a cousin who can tell you Hershel Walker's shoe size and all that kind of stuff. I try to stay up with him," Speight says.

As a native of Baltimore, Speight grew up watching the Colts and continues to root for the team. But his favorite NFL club is the Ravens. "Always go with the home town there," he says.

Speight has enjoyed a nice run as a cult phenom, but there's little doubt that he'd trade it all for a chance to prove himself at the professional level.

"If they would have just groomed me and just worked with me. I played free safety, I played strong safety, I played outside linebacker and inside linebacker. And then I started playing receiver, where I did pretty good," Speight says. "But my main true position is right defensive end. That was what I was going to play, coming off that right end. Tackles can't even set up quick enough because I would get right by them. In practice I was killing guys."

But Speight says a scout told him that the kitchen-sink versatility can work against a player trying to latch onto an NFL career. "You gotta have one specialty that they love, that they can draft you for and fill that team's void."

Still, Speight knows he's lucky. He's still dishing out servings of pain cake years after his fellow players of the era have hung up their cleats. If it hadn't been for a chance meeting with an agent

"I was at the right place at the right time because everything in my life led me to that. One little detour and you're gone--one little step to the left, one inch."

The Fine Fifteen: Breaking Down Terry Tate's Greatest Hits

Terry has laid out dozens of unsuspecting office miscreants over the years. I reviewed the tapes from all his work, which includes the Original movie, Draft Day, Vacation, OSPN, and Sensitivity Training. After careful study, I assembled this list of the 15 greatest-ever Terry Tate tackles.

1. Coffee Hog: Original
The tackle that opens the original commercial is a complete surprise. Tate hits 'Richard' high and hard, with a drive into the neck and head that knocks the victim clear out of the frame and sends his coffee flying. The taunt is both long and inspired. "You can't bring this weak-ass stuff up into this humpty bumpty. You kill the joe, you make some mo'! Else you in for a long day. A loooong day!" Bonus points for the way Richard crawls off after Tate steps over him.

2. Bellboy surprise: Vacation
Speight singles out this assault as the biggest hit in the entire series. Terry Tate explodes into a bellboy in this vicious chest-high collision. The victim fully leaves his feet as both actors fly into a loaded hotel baggage cart, which tips over from the force of the blow.

3. Richard the pen stealing geek: Original
Perfect production, complete with slow motion pursuit and the building sound of a freight train whistle. Tate lays down a Lawrence Taylor-inspired tomahawk strip that sends the pens flying forward into the air. A fantastic finish to the opening ad in the series.

4. Solitaire player: Vacation
Perhaps the best overall hit-and-taunt package in the series. Gene gets up with a little celebration from winning his Solitaire game when Tate nails him with a picture-perfect chest high shot that snaps the victim's neck and drives him into the ground. The taunt is overlong, but the finish works "And when it's game time, it's pain time, baby! Whoo!!" Bonus points for the gratuitous kick as he turns to walk away.

5. Pool party: Vacation
The poolside setting allows Tate to hit the waiter high and then drive him in a downward arc into the pool--a different trajectory from his other hits. The result is a shot that's over fast, as the two are driven straight into the water. But it's a nice effect, especially as the umbrella drinks fill the air around the actors with color.

6. Mail cart launch: Draft Day
The actor flinches a bit, but Tate does a great job getting under him without slowing down the play. He extends his arms and launches the victim clear over the cart, which spills into the foreground almost hitting the camera. Tate ends up flexed, facing the camera. "You got mail, baby! Whoo!" Great close.

7. Cake-eater surprise: Draft Day
Reminiscent of the Coffee Hog shot, "Philip" does a great job of not telegraphing the hit. The tackle lacks viciousness--Tate never leaves his feet and lets Philip into his torso, which pads the blow. The taunt, however, is classic: "You eat someone else's cake again, and I'm gonna give you a slice of Terry's special Pain Cake! And you won't want seconds of that!!"

8. Tall, blonde and tackled: Original
In a mid-episode montage, Tate drives face first into a slim blond walking down the hall. The hit is positively brutal, as Tate drives from low to high through the target. A textbook tackle that I've played at full speed, in slow-mo, and even stepped through frame by frame. For the life of me, I can't figure out how she survived that hit.

9. Tate-n-Cate high/low: Draft Day
Excellent movement and teamwork between Tate and his office linebacker rival Kerry Cate. Cate takes out the knees while Tate clotheslines the victim, sending him into a complete flip face-first into the ground.

10. Room service: Vacation
This flying, blindside shot into the spine bends hotel-worker Justin backward and sends a platter of fries flying into the air. The closing taunt is slow to develop, but has a nice finish. "I ordered those eggs 40 minutes ago. Don't make me scramble you again, son!"

11. Mime smack down: OSPN
A flying bicep shiver puts a cell phone yapping tool down quick. But the coup de grace is the taunt, which features Tate in mime face paint. "Your ass is trapped in my box now, baby. Terry's pantomime box of pain, and there ain't no escape from that! Whoo!"

12. File cabinet slider: Vacation
This one lacks punishment, but it plays out dramatically as Tate plows the victim through stacks of documents across the top of a file cabinet. Just good, clean fun, that.

13. Snack Attack: Sensitivity Training
Easy to miss this one, given that the, um, assets of the evil HR queen are in the foreground, but Tate gets in a nice, arms-extended file cabinet slam on Philip, the overeating refrigerator raider. The whole file cabinet almost comes down in the hit. And this taunt is epic: "I am going to lay a snack attack on your candy ass that you won't ever snap back from again! Bitch!!"

14. Feet up phone talker: Sensitivity Training
An innovative shot. The victim is leaning back in a chair with his feet on the desk. Tate flies in from on high and smashes straight down on the victim, collapsing the chair. He finishes the taunt by throwing the phone handset--hard--into Roger's chest. Bonus points for that action.

15. Elevator gas: OSPN
The set up is there--a guy who lays gas in a crowded elevator and walks out. The angles are there, with a chest-high flying hit that sends the victim to the elevator lobby floor. But the delivery is slow developing and Tate traps the victim's arms, reducing the visual drama. Still, the taunt is epic: "You can't cut the cheese wherever you please. That's just nasty."


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