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Heavy Hitter
Leigh Montville
July 13, 1998
Fast and formidable, 275-pound linebacker Levon Kirkland was one free agent the Steelers couldn't afford to let go
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July 13, 1998

Heavy Hitter

Fast and formidable, 275-pound linebacker Levon Kirkland was one free agent the Steelers couldn't afford to let go

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Levon Kirkland writes letters to God. Every Sunday during the football season he writes a letter before he goes to Three Rivers Stadium or wherever the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing that afternoon. The letter writing has become a ritual.

"I guess it's cheaper than going to a psychiatrist," the 29-year-old inside linebacker says. "I write maybe a full page. It gives me a chance to focus my thoughts. I read it over, think about it, then rip up the letter and throw it away and go to the game."

"Then he crushes some heads," says Mason Ashe, Kirkland's agent.

"Then I crush some heads," the linebacker agrees.

In six years of writing letters—and crushing heads—Kirkland has followed a remarkably ascendent career path. Since joining Pittsburgh in 1992 as a second-round draft choice from Clemson, he has developed into a two-time Pro Bowl selection and the Steelers' most important defensive presence, a 6'1", 275-pound bruiser with the tiptoe finesse of a ballerina. He can stop the run with his size and cover the pass with his speed and grace. He is a football aberration, too big to do the many things he somehow does.

In April, Pittsburgh rewarded him for his success with a four-year contract extension. The team that's been reluctant to overpay its veterans since the start of unrestricted free agency in 1993—the Steelers have lost 35 free agents since then—will pay Kirkland $25.3 million in the next five years. He is the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL.

"Have you written any letters to God since April?" he is asked.

"Hah," the big man replies. "I've been writing Him so often.... There's a lot to be thankful for."

Maybe it's time God knew a little bit more about this faithful correspondent. Hey, maybe it's time everyone knew more.

A report to God (and everyone else) on Levon Kirkland: He is home for the off-season with his new millions, back in tiny Lamar, S.C., surrounded by tobacco fields and cotton fields, back in the frame house where he grew up as the seventh of eight kids and the youngest of four sons. He is not visiting; he is home. He sleeps in the same boyhood bedroom; he has never really left. "I wanted to get in touch with him last week," Ashe says. "His mother left a note on his pillow, so he could see it when he came in. It was kind of, you know, sweet."

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