Legendary Insights — An Evening with Doug English

An excited crowd of football fans congregated at BookPeople bookstore in Austin, Texas on November 13, 2014, celebrating the release of The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL, and relishing a chance to meet NFL All-Pro and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Doug English. English shared tremendous stories about his days at the University of Texas and his outstanding 10-year career with the Detroit Lions. Fans were given an opportunity to ask Doug questions, and a chance to purchase a copy of The Game before the Money autographed by English and author Jackson Michael (that’s me).

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About 75 people turned out for the signing at BookPeople in Austin, TX

COLLEGE CAREER

English arrived at Texas in 1971, immediately after the Longhorns were voted national champions in back-to-back seasons. When asked what he learned from legendary Texas head coach Darrell Royal, English recalled a time that Royal pulled him aside to discuss Doug’s on-field personality.

“Doug, you’re a nice guy,” Royal said. “You know what happens to nice guys? Not a damn thing.”

 DougPaintingPainting by Robert Hurst

English played meaner and earned All-American honors. His senior year, the Longhorns welcomed a freshman from Tyler, Texas, named Earl Campbell. “Coach Royal was looking for a way to get Earl on the field, and put him on the punt block team. He basically told Earl to line up over the ball and follow it.”

Campbell was so quick, “he nearly beat the ball to the punter” in a game against Arkansas. The ball squirted loose, and English scooped it up. “I then took it all the way – about three steps,” Doug amusingly stated about his only career touchdown. I pointed out that very few people could claim Earl Campbell helped get them into the end zone.

Texas Longhorn tradition dictated that English provide his teammates with a keg of beer on the day of the 1975 NFL Draft, for a “draft” party on Draft Day. English remembered waiting and waiting, disappointed that he’d been passed up for the first several rounds. A few friends prank called him, claiming to be Tom Landry or Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys. After several hours, Doug’s attorney finally got a hold of him to relay the news that the Detroit Lions selected Doug in the second round.

PRO CAREER WITH THE DETROIT LIONS “SILVER RUSH”

The audience asked several questions about Doug’s NFL experience. When asked who the toughest running back to tackle was, Doug noted how Walter Payton kept pushing his legs until after you pinned him all the way to the ground. Conversely, John Riggins fought hard for the first five yards, but often eased up afterward.

Doug also addressed the touchy subject of steroids when asked. He stated that certain teams promoted a steroid culture. He recalled a friend being traded from the Lions, and later telling Doug about a knock on his door during training camp. The rest of the offensive line brought in vials of liquid, instructing their new teammate to take four on Monday, three on Tuesday, etc. Doug said steroid users could be easily identified by “big muscles and pimples.” He also doubted their necessity in today’s era of advanced training knowledge and athletes starting to train at a young age.

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Al Baker (aka Bubba Baker) and Doug being honored in Detroit

Doug then told the story of his final NFL game – a contest against the Bears at Soldier Field. He suffered a spinal injury that doctors said probably would have paralyzed him had he stayed in the game like he wished. Doug lauded the Ford family, owners of the Lions, for providing him with a breakthrough surgery for the time which allows him to live pain-free from the incident. The fact the surgery wasn’t available to most patients until many years later encouraged English to head the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation.

Doug concluded by expressing his feeling that America perhaps places too high of an importance on football and its athletes. He sees the only important part of football as making a difference off the field. He remembered being exhausted after a game, and after signing dozens of autographs, he finally made his way toward the locker room. A child asked him for one more autograph. While signing, Doug asked the child if he made good grades.  Doug later received a letter from the child’s mother stating the boy’s school performance greatly improved after meeting Doug. “It took me 15 seconds to make a difference,” English said.

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Doug English, Tommy Richard and me

 

SUMMARY

The family members of two other players who interviewed for The Game before the Money were on hand, making the night extra special. The daughter of Tony Lorick and the granddaughter of Nolan Luhn both took part in the evening. Tony and Nolan have sadly both passed away and are noted in our “In Memoriam” section. Tony played fullback for the Baltimore Colts, sharing the huddle with Hall of Famers John Mackey, Johnny Unitas, Jim Parker, and Raymond Berry. Nolan played end opposite Don Hutson in Hutson’s final season. Packers founder Curly Lambeau coached Nolan in Green Bay.

Two other The Game before the Money events are scheduled – one with Baylor star quarterback and 1961 AFL All-Star Game MVP Cotton Davidson in Waco, Texas, and another with Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea and Houston Oiler and Grambling legend Garland Boyette in Houston. More information can be found on our “Events” page. We hope to see you.

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From left to right: Me, my wife Lisa Jackson, Doug and his wife, Claire

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Good friends, Robyn and Karl, in line for the signing!

 

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Joann Knox was first in line.

Earlier that day, I interviewed on Good Day Austin on KTBC Fox 7.

 

MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

We’d like to thank Saint Arnold Brewing Company for providing amazing craft beer, and Z Tejas for providing delicious appetizers.

 

THIS MIGHT SURPRISE YOU: WHAT WAS THE WORLD LIKE LAST TIME YOUR TEAM WON A TITLE?

This is the first in a four-part series.

Knowing how much I love history, my wife bought me a birthday card listing facts about the year I was born. I started wondering what was happening the last time teams won a championship. Let’s find out, and I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had researching.

We’ll start with the NFC East and NFC North Divisions. Some of the most decorated trophy rooms in football reside here, their championships might seem longer ago than one might think. As Bruce Springsteen says, “Glory Days – They’ll pass you by.”

 

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Company dominated, winning 3 out of 4 Super Bowls. For their last title, the Cowboys topped Carnell Lake (remember him?) and the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 30.  That January of 1996. Bill Clinton’s first term in office. Hootie and the Blowfish had the number one song in the country. A stamp cost 32 cents. Keyshawn Johnson would be the first pick in the upcoming draft, with future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden going fourth overall. Yep, it’s been so long since the Cowboys won the Super Bowl, that a Hall of Famer’s been drafted since then. Maybe we shouldn’t mention that HOF Walter Jones was drafted the next year. Or that the Colts drafted Peyton Manning merely two years later. Then again, maybe that puts it all into perspective.

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Above: Jerry Jones and Barry Switzer wrestling for the Lombardi Trophy.

NEW YORK GIANTS – Fairly recent for the Giants, of course, after winning in February 2012. What was going on? Tim Tebow’s overtime playoff touchdown pass against the Steelers was part of those same playoffs. The U.S. encountered several tragedies later in 2012, including the shootings at Sandy Hook and the movie theatre in Colorado. Superstorm Sandy ravaged the East Coast. While the Giants championship doesn’t seem so long ago, a lot’s happened since then.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES Norm Van Brocklin, old enough to play against Sammy Baugh, quarterbacked the Eagles to their last championship in 1960. He mentored a spritely, young Sonny Jurgensen that season. John Fitzgerald Kennedy won the country’s presidential race in 1960, and was simply “President-Elect” the day the Eagles beat Green Bay 17-13. Kennedy and then still-living presidential icon Herbert Hoover could have cut the rug to 1960 chart toppers by Elvis Presley (“Stuck On You” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”), Chubby Checker (“The Twist.”), and the Drifters (“Save the Last Dance for Me”). Quite the Inaugural Ball. And this was before handy dandy things like space travel, the Beatles, and handheld calculators. Mankind had merely just invented the Etch-A-Sketch when Ted Dean scored the winning touchdown and Chuck Bednarik made the game-saving tackle against the Packers. How on earth did they figure out Dean’s yard-per-carry without calculators?

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Above: Kennedy and Hoover

WASHINGTON REDSKINS – The Redskins topped the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl 26 on January 26, 1992. President George Bush Sr. telephoned Coach Joe Gibbs as players Mark Rypien, Charles Mann, Gerald Riggs, Jeff Bostic, Chip Lohmiller, and Ricky Sanders poured champagne over themselves. The Dow Jones topped out at just over 3,400 that year. Before we crowned the next Super Bowl winner, we’d all rushed out to see the following flicks: Wayne’s World, White Men Can’t Jump, Basic Instinct, A League of Their Own, and A Few Good Men. Good year for Hollywood as D.C. basked in the glow of winning, and we basked in the glow of VHS and the Popcorn Pumper – complete with that little compartment to melt butter in.

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NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS – They weren’t here to start no trouble, the 1985 Bears were just doing the Super Bowl Shuffle. Did the Washington roster bring back memories? Well, how about President Reagan’s congratulatory phone call getting passed around from Richard Dent to Dan Hampton to Walter Payton to Willie Gault? And of course,  “The Refrigerator” William Perry and shade-sporting, headband-touting Jim McMahon. You might remember McMahon getting fined for writing on those headbands. You might also remember that when the Bears won in January 1986, ancient Bear pioneers Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange were still alive to Shuffle to the champs’ theme song. They also could have shuffled to Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Janet Jackson’s “Nasty,” and “Danger Zone” from the Top Gun soundtrack. Little did Bears fans know they were headed toward their own danger zone, still waiting for that next ring nearly 30 years later.

DETROIT LIONS – Think that’s long? The Lions had waited nearly 30 years for their next championship by the time Da Bears trounced the Patriots in Super Bowl 20, and are still waiting. Detroit last won in 1957, although they had a good run of success in the 50s – winning 3 titles. All that changed when they traded Bobby Layne to Pittsburgh. Layne defiantly cursed the franchise, stating the Lions would never win again. So far our money’s on Bobby. The Lions haven’t come close to a league title since they traded him in a simpler time when there were only 48 states. (The U.S. granted Alaska and Hawaii statehood in 1959.) One Michigan native just told me, “That’s why so many people follow college football there.”

GREEN BAY PACKERS – Doesn’t seem like too long ago that Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and A.J. Hawk ran off the field winners of Super Bowl 45. Still, they are 3 of only a handful of Packers remaining from the roster that hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February of 2011. Up-to-minute tech geeks posted on their iPhone 4, but couldn’t get the 4s with built-in Siri until the World Series rolled around. The Japan earthquake struck that year, and the Navy Seals struck down Osama Bin Laden. How sneaky is inflation? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation calculator, $100 in 2011 had the same buying power as $105 does today. Equivalent to one fewer latte or five fewer scratch-offs.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS – Famously lost four Super Bowls in the 1970s. Often overlooked is whom they lost to – the Steelers, Dolphins, Raiders, and Chiefs – the most powerful teams in those franchises’ histories, and some would argue some of the greatest teams ever assembled. The resilient Vikings never won an NFL title, with their last shot being Super Bowl 11, played on January 9, 1977. That team featured soon-to-be Hall of Famer Mick Tingelhoff, and current Hall of Famers Carl Eller, Paul Krause, and Fran Tarkenton. Tarkenton would later retire the game’s all-time leading passer. $100 in your pocket back in ’77 scored you $392.50 worth of today’s goods. That’s a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd records, or a lot of tickets to a hip new movie named Star Wars. You might have also put that $100 toward a brand new Apple II computer or Atari 2600 – both were released in ’77. Postage stamps cost 13 cents, and a gallon of gas only 65 cents.

SUMMARY

Having a little fun here with football, the cost of living, and history. It’s fun looking back and seeing what else was going on in the world when a particular team won. We’ll cover the rest of the NFC next week.

Legendary Insights — Eric Hipple: Depression affects many after NFL career ends

My father-in-law and I recently heard former Detroit Lions quarterback Eric Hipple speak. Hipple, who quarterbacked the Lions to the 1983 NFC Central Division title, reviewed his career and shared about his current work at the University of Michigan Depression Center. He noted that 50% of NFL players battle depression after retirement.

ALMOST DIDN’T SURVIVE ACCIDENT BEFORE COLLEGE

Hipple accepted a scholarship to play at Utah State. A serious dune buggy accident nearly ended everything for him about six weeks before leaving for Logan. His vehicle flipped, and Eric suffered a fractured skull and separated shoulder. His doctor told him he’d never play football again. Eric’s father promptly fired that doctor, and Hipple began recovering under another doctor’s supervision.

Hipple recovered well enough that he led the Aggies to conference championships his junior and senior years. He placed sixth in the NCAA for passing his senior year. The Detroit Lions drafted him as the first pick of the fourth round in the 1980 NFL Draft.

“THE NIGHT OF THE HIPPLE”

Hipple made the Lions as the 3rd-string QB and holder for kicker Eddie Murray. His first NFL start came after injuries to Gary Danielson and Jeff Komlo his second year. This was no ordinary start either – it was Monday Night Football against the division rival Chicago Bears.

With the entire nation watching, Hipple threw four touchdowns and ran for two others. Dubbed “The Night of the Hipple,” it’s been called the greatest debut ever on MNF, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame owns his jersey from that night.

One touchdown pass was a 94-yard strike to Leonard Thompson, the longest in MNF history at the time. Lions coach Monte Clark sent Thompson in with the play, but Thompson forgot it on his way to the huddle. Hipple asked Thompson think hard. Thompson said, “Ah, I think it was a pass play to me.”

“I-34 Post?” Hipple asked.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Thompson said.

Hipple saw Thompson open downfield and threw to him as a Bears lineman knocked Hipple down in the end zone. Hipple got up just in time to see Thompson cross the goal line. “I got off the field and Coach Clark said, ‘You just made a career for yourself.’”

A FAIR CAREER

Hipple threw for over 10,000 yards and tossed 55 TD passes in his 10-year career. He led the NFL with a 63% Completion Rate in 1986, and scored 7 rushing touchdowns in 1981. Many fans remember a gruesome injury he sustained in 1988 when Charles Haley blindsided him, turning Hipple’s ankle backwards.

Hipple returned to play in 1989, but was given the option of retiring or being cut after throwing two pick-sixes against the Minnesota Vikings. Hipple wanted to say farewell to his friends in Detroit rather than hold onto the possibility of another team picking him up. He chose to retire.

POST GAME DIFFICULTY

Like many players, Hipple found adjusting to life after the NFL difficult. Although he’d built a business that after six years earned more than his NFL salary, he lost his sense of self and slid into a deep depression. He leapt out of a car going 75 mph in hopes to end it all. He miraculously survived.

His struggles also survived. Hipple, however, resisted any kind of assistance for his problems. He now says avoiding his own depression issues left him incapable of recognizing those in his teenage son, Jeff. While Eric was away on business, 15-year old Jeff took Eric’s shotgun and killed himself.

Eric’s downward spiral accelerated afterward. He “ate Vicodin and Xanax like candy” to cope with his severe emotional pain. He also tried drowning his sorrows in alcohol. One Monday night, he drove home drunk after a Lions home game. He was pulled over for DUI.

Hipple figured his fame would save him, but the officer took him to jail. The judge, however, gave him several chances to avoid jail time. Hipple refused to follow the judge’s orders, and eventually served 58 days in jail. In jail, he noted a fellow inmate refused to accept responsibility for his mistakes, and Hipple started thinking hard about his own life.

COMEBACK VICTORY

A University of Michigan doctor invited Hipple to a luncheon educating attendees about depression. He jokes that he was more interested in the free lunch at first, but Hipple strongly related to the presentation. He wanted to learn more, and went to school to train in suicide prevention.

Hipple’s acceptance of help led to him overcoming his problems, and he now assists others to do the same. He urges people suffering from depression to seek treatment, just like they would if they suffered from severe arthritis. He encourages all to stay mentally fit, and points out that mental fitness is just as important as physical wellness.

SUMMARY

Hipple now works as an outreach specialist of the University of Michigan, and speaks nationally on suicide prevention. He works with servicemen returning from the war as well as ex-NFLers. Hipple’s battle with depression and his suicide attempt aren’t uncommon with former NFL players. Fans know about Junior Seau and Dave Duerson’s suicides, but I found the 50% depression statistic stunning. Hipple alluded to the difficulty of transitioning from the game to regular life.

Rocky Bleier explains in The Game before the Money: “With the majority of athletes things are always done for you….everybody tells you what to do, where to go, what time to be there, what bus to be on…. (When you leave the game) you have to face a decision on your own, and it’s made for you either by injury or by getting cut because you’re not good enough to make the team. It’s a real­ity of the game that everybody goes through. How you deal with that specifically becomes very impor­tant, and it’s not easy.”

For many players, competing in the NFL is a lifelong dream. What does one do when they’re still young and have already accomplished their most desired goal? Mental preparation for life after an NFL career ends might be even more important than financial planning for professional athletes.

NOTE: Eric Hipple’s book, Real Men Do Cry, chronicles his journey and is available here.

A Brief History of Hash Marks

In the NFL’s early years, there were no formalized scheduling rules. Some teams played more games than others, and the team considered to have the best overall record was declared champion, sans playoff. Adding confusion was a crazy agreement to disregard ties when determining the NFL champion. The 1932 season brought this mishmash to a pinnacle.

What the heck does all that have to do with hash marks? Well, the 1932 season ended with the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans tied with 6 wins and 1 loss.  Forget that the Bears played to 6 ties and the Spartans 4, including two against each other. Unable to determine a champion on paper, the NFL blazed a trail college football would follow a scant 80 years later, and held a playoff.

REALLY NOW, WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH HASH MARKS?

The championship game was scheduled to be played at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, but brutal weather forced the game indoors, to the NHL’s Blackhawks home, Chicago Stadium. Situated for hockey rather than football, the playing area was only 80 yards long and much narrower than usual, with hockey boards acting as sidelines. At least sod was already installed for the playing surface, the benefit of a recent circus needing it for elephant routines.

Football rules of the day were similar to golf in that plays began at the exact location the previous play ended, rather than placing the ball toward the middle of the field. If you were tackled 5 yards from the sideline, that’s where the ball was snapped. Hockey boards cramped the logistics of ball placement for this game, so the offense was given the choice of starting plays on the hash marks. Choosing the option would cost the offense a down. The Bears beat the Spartans (now the Detroit Lions) 9-0, fueled by a Bronko Nagurski to Red Grange touchdown pass that might have been overturned by today’s instant replay (given conclusive evidence, of course).

The game influenced several rule changes the NFL made in the offseason, including the decision to regularly initiate plays on the hash marks. The 1933 and ’34 seasons would use hash marks 10 yards from the sidelines, stretching to 15 yards in 1935 and 20 yards in 1945.

HOW THE HASH MARK CHANGED THE NFL FOREVER

The Miami Dolphins weren’t the only ones who making history in 1972. Alarmed that 75 fewer touchdowns were scored in 1971 than in 1969, the NFL moved the hash marks closer together, to over 23 yards from the sidelines, less than 20 feet apart. The change ignited a power shift from defense to offense that remains in effect to this day.

The league continued to limit defense with rule changes since, but squeezing the hashes opened up the field, forcing defenders to cover more ground on each play. Before the hash marks closed in, the defense could count on one side of the field being several yards narrower than the other, leading to the classic saying, “Old Man Sideline never misses a tackle.”

It took a few years for the passing game to detonate, but the NFL’s running game exploded. Thirteen teams rushed for over 2,000 yards in 1972, and two others plowed for 1,995+. Comparatively, only 12 teams reached the 2,000 yard plateau over the course of four seasons, 1967-70. Individually, ten rushers gained over 1,000 yards in 1972, compared with only 2 in 1970 and 1 each in ’67-69. O.J. Simpson totaled 1,927 in his three-year career before tighter hash marks, then burst for 1,251 and 2,003 in wake of the new field design.

The change even helped special teams. “In the old days those hash marks were a lot wider. They moved them in to help offenses and inadvertently helped the kickers,” former NFL kicker Chris Bahr told The Game Before the Money. He then pointed out how hash marks now line up directly with the goal posts. Ray Wersching, the San Francisco 49ers kicker throughout their glory years with Joe Montana, would keep his head down and aim between the hashes rather than peer up at the goal posts.

SUMMARY

The humble hash mark played a key role in pro football’s development, subtly yet profoundly shaping the modern game. Imagine the Houston Oilers Run-and-Shoot offense or the Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” with the ball placed 10 yards closer to the sideline at the start of a play. Would immortal plays such as the “Hail Mary” and “The Catch” seen different outcomes had players lined up on the short side? Would great open field runners such as O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders have racked up quite as many yards on unbalanced fields?

Note the hash mark differences in these two videos: The first video contains highlights from the 1943 NFL Championship. It’s amazing how close to the sidelines some of the plays start. The second video is of the incredible Eric Dickerson. Picture a few of Dickerson’s plays starting from the same spot as the ’43 Championship.