First, can you tell us a bit about what you did post-NFL?
It’s a long story. I spent about ten years playing football including four years in high school. I became partners with a friend of mine in Houston after the NFL and we built a hotel across from the medical center. It wasn’t a fancy high-rise, more like the kind you stay at when your own your way on a trip and need a place to stay for the night.
The hotel has a nightclub in it and we used to hire entertainment. We’d get complaints and the deputy would come out about the commotion but we were friends with those guys then.
Was it hard adjusting to post-NFL life?
No. I didn’t have a problem because I prepared myself for that. I was running wild in high school setting records. When I went to college I spent three years at Rice and set the Cotton Bowl record as junior. I ran for 265 yards on just twelve carries. Then I was in the greatest shape I had ever been in. I was always lifting weights. Not bulked up like a lot of these guys today. But I’d lift every day and had 16 1/2 inch arms. I was happy with that.
I was a one-man show in my days at Rice, not that I’m trying to brag. But I also won the 220 and 440 at the Southwest Conference track meet too.
I was actually brought on TV – on the Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson shows. It was because I was running for a touchdown on national TV and a player jumped out from the sidelines and tackled me. They told me they had never heard of this or seen it before! I told them you’re looking at the guy it happened too! You could get your back broken on that kind of play, when someone hits you like that when you don’t expect it. But I saw him at the last second and could have slowed down, but tried to run right through him. I knocked him silly but ran out of bounds too. They gave me the touchdown anyway though after they saw what happened.
You were drafted by San Francisco in the first round. Do you remember how you found out and how you ended up at safety?
Back then I programmed myself to kind of be able to play anywhere and anyhow. I told the guys in the NFL then that I would play anywhere except New York or Boston. I was a warm weather guy and I didn’t want anything to do with the winters there. The 49’ers drafted me in the first round. I remember I had to get there from Houston and I wasn’t going to fly and take all my stuff with me on the plane. So I bought a used Chevrolet from a friend and drove there. But I didn’t know how far it was. I got to El Paso and the sheriff told me I wasn’t even halfway to San Francisco!
How was playing in San Francisco?
The 49’ers back then had Y.A. Title, Hugh McElhenny. – a great offense. But they didn’t believe in defense.
They hired a new coach then. Red Hickey. He was from the Southwest Conference like I was. But you got to know where you come from. He learned coaching abruptly and didn’t care if he grabbed you by the neck and threw you over a bench. He was a brutal son of a gun, but he liked me.
But he was abrupt and rude. He was so brutal that I went to the owners to complain. They were good friends of mine. They thought I was the greatest guy.
They had a great running bak then, Hugh McElhenny. He never saw the use in slowing down or going out of bounds. I told him he should run out of bounds sometimes like I did when I ran the ball but he would lower his shoulder and stay in bounds. He’d rather knock the other guy out!
What happened that you found yourself in Pittsburgh?
In San Francisco I could punt, run, handle punt returns….But I wasn’t getting more money despite doing everything, They were worried I was going to play out my contract and play for New York and Frank Gifford.
Back then we didn’t have agents or lawyers or any of that crap. I kept coming and going talking to them about playing for them. I didn’t have the time to keep doing that. They knew I was a sincere guy, And Hickey was so self-centered, looking out for himself. So I got a lawyer and tried to make a deal, but later signed with Pittsburgh.
At the time I had finally told Hickey off. I got in his face and told him it was going to be a fight if he didn’t stop. I boxed when I was a kid and wished it would have – I would have knocked him out.
But after my contract ended I signed with the Steelers. They were a downtrodden team and signed anyone they could. They just weren’t good business people. But I could play both ways and they gave me more money. I needed the money. I wasn’t from a rich family…
How was it like, playing for Pittsburgh?
They had no indoor facilities then, We’d practice in high school gyms when it was bad weather if we could.
John Henry Johnson was one of the best football players I ever played with. He was a funny SOB too. I never drank. If I went to a cocktail party I may have one glass of wine and hand it back half-full. No one in my family really were drinkers. But John Henry … he was a big drinker…
He was another guy that would rather run over people than run by people. He was looking to run over them and ran upfield like he was robbing a bank. I would tell him he needed to bob and weave and he had no idea what that meant!
I remember a nationally televised game versus Cleveland where it was only nine degrees above zero. We were playing in that freezing cold while people were in their living rooms in front of their fireplaces. It was on national TV and was the coldest game I ever played in. We asked how we could play on the field. It was frozen solid. They told us they would take care of it. That we should just use the center of the field and stay away from the sidelines. How was that going to work? But the cameras kept freezing they told us….
Layne and Stautner were kind of inseparable then so it was hard to get to know them. But they had more laughs than the Johnny Carson show! Layne was a character. He always had his head held high and would always get in the huddle and tell us we needed to kick the shit our of the other team…. That’s the way he talked….
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