Beyond The Forgotten Door, The Lost Boys of Football

BabyTateSenior Writer IJune 25, 2008

With the uproar concerning former Big East players Pacman Jones and Michael Vick, the news of a drug dealer on Alabama's football team, a woman beater on Clemson's team, and even problem players for Joe Paterno, it seems we should set the record straight.

We'll identify characters of the past who seemed marked for destruction but ended up being positive members of society with support from family, friends, fans, and coaches.


5) Dick Butkus, Illinois

Later known as the Monster of the Midway in the NFL, this destroyer created so much mayhem in 1963 that he led the Illini to a Rose Bowl victory.  During the week of the Michigan game, Butkus and his wife had agreed to an interview with a reporter following the contest.

That Saturday Michigan handed Illinois its only loss of the season, 14-8. By the time the reporter arrived, Dick Butkus was in no mood to talk.  According to the article, Butkus grasped a 30-gallon trashcan outside the door and turned it upside down.  He chased several people down the street who fled for their lives.

Coming inside he tore up their apartment, ripped apart the reporter's notes, and slammed the door on his way out.  His wife explained that he "gets like that when we lose."

In a subsequent article the Illinois linebacker was described as "uncontrollable, probably a madman, and most likely a danger to society."

But in the years following his retirement Butkus became the teddy bear of TV and film, often playing the heavy with the good heart.  Butkus has led an exemplary life and been an inspiration to young people everywhere with his fine community work.

Threat to society? Not in this giving and gentle giant's case.


4) John Riggins, Kansas

A bull of a man who played fullback for the Jayhawks when they went to the Orange Bowl, he was later a Super Bowl hero.

Best known for shaving his head into a Mohawk in the middle of the long-hair era, and for sitting next to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor at a dinner where he asked, "How's it goin', Sandy baby?"

The jury is still out on Riggins.


3) Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma

Oh, he wanted to be a villain.  When his Sooners beat Penn State in the Orange Bowl for the national championship of 1985, he stood on the sideline, wearing a t-shirt that had a handwritten message describing the NCAA as "Communists."  No doubt this is because he had been declared ineligible to play in the game.

It was one episode after the other for the wild-haired, jewelry-adorned linebacker.  But after being run over by Bo Jackson in an NFL game, he seemed to calm down and lose his edge.  We've seen "The Boz" help his community, and he certainly has come a long way.

Do us one favor though—please do not do any more football analysis on television.  It is painful.


2) Paul Hornung, Notre Dame

Uh oh, here comes trouble.  The original golden boy from Kentucky, with a beautiful woman on each arm, the finest suits, the best of food and drink, and a Heisman Trophy under his arm.

This former QB at South Bend and halfback for Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers is the biggest star and finest player on the list.  He also got into the worst trouble.

His antics as the big man on campus for the Irish and afterwards leader of the late night party club of the Packers are all well documented and known.  Boys will be boys.

But following the Packers' second-straight NFL championship in '62, Paul and former Iowa star Alex Karras were found gambling—gambling on games.  Stories come and go, the truth is in between.  But Hornung and Karras were both suspended by Pete Rozelle for the 1963 season.  They returned in 1964.

Paul led the Packers to another NFL title in 1965, beating Cleveland who had Jim Brown playing in his final game.  Later an analyst, host of a sports show, and a fixture around Atlanta, Hornung is possibly the first hero-villain of the media sports age.


1) Joe Don Looney, Oklahoma

"The Greatest Player That Never Was" is a common description of this firebrand from Fort Worth, Texas.  "He could do everything with a football, including autograph it," his Uncle Bill was fond of saying.

Joe Don went to play for Darryl Royal at Texas, but after one semester he had four Fs.  He then dropped out and enrolled to play at TCU.  He was kicked out of school there and went to Cameron Junior College, where he led the team to the 1961 JC National Championship.

By '62 Joe Don was leading Bud Wilkinson's Oklahoma Sooners to the Conference title and a berth in the Orange Bowl versus Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide featuring Joe Namath.  The following season Wilkinson kicked Looney off the team for hitting an assistant coach.

In 1964 he was a first round draft pick of the New York Giants.  "Following disagreements with the coaching staff" during his 28 days as a Giant, he was sent to play with Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts.  The Colts won the Conference title that season.

Following several disagreements with Colts coach Don Shula, Joe Don was shipped out to Detroit for the '65 season.  While there he was once told to go send in a play for the QB. He looked at Head Coach Harry Gilmer and said, "If you want a messenger boy, call Western Union."

Joe Don was then traded to the Washington Redskins.  While there he was known as "an unlimited talent who never tied both of his shoes."

In '68 Joe Don was called up for Vietnam.  He did his duty and returned to the NFL in '69 to play with the Saints, where he retired.

Joe Don converted to Hinduism and joined the Yoga movement.  He lived a rather uneventful retirement until his untimely death on a motorcycle near the Mexican border in 1988.  There were no skid marks and the State Patrol said he had not used his brakes.  Speculation continues to this day.


There you have it, a look at mostly mid-century misfits who were judged harshly at the time but made something of their lives.  Just think—one day Michael Vick might operate an animal shelter, and Hornung could lay odds on which dog was the fastest.