So…in 1980 I was an undrafted free agent TE trying to make the Philadelphia Eagles.
Never did I even attempt to play high school football. Yes, I played a little Pop Warner when I was 10 or 11, but that’s about it. I didn’t want to risk my basketball career. It was a wise decision at the time because I eventually got a full basketball scholarship to Memphis State University.
When it became obvious I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of playing in the NBA, I accepted the offer from the football team at MSU to try to play TE. I was fast (and a little scared), but I could catch the ball and didn’t mind the contact.
Fast forward a couple of years and I had three offers to play in the NFL, from the Saints, Rams, and Eagles. And I actually chose the Eagles, primarily using the logic that if I was released by the Eagles, the Saints might pick me up. If I chose the Saints and they released me, my career would be over before it got started.
But there was another reason why I chose the Eagles—Dick Vermeil was the head coach.
Yes, I had heard about his torturous training camps, but I was never afraid of hard work. Especially on the athletic field.
The final deciding factor was when I came up there for a visit with about 20 other free agents they had signed to “try” to make the team. It is such a long shot to make an NFL roster as a free agent, but I was willing to give it a go.
Vermeil would meet with each prospect for 5-10 minutes privately so he could tell them (and me) what was expected of us. When I went in for my meeting, I was assuming he would spend the same amount of time.
He went into a long speech about why they offered me the contract ($4,000 signing bonus, $35,000 base salary, and $6,000 to make the final roster—pretty good money back then). He also gave me a detailed description of my entire college career. How I excelled at basketball and had the athletic ability to have a chance.
Realistically, not much of a chance because they had intended to keep only two tight ends on the active roster, and veterans Keith Krepfle and John Spagnola had those spots pretty much wrapped up. But he was very encouraging, as he talked to me for about 30 minutes, which I believe was far longer than he spent with any other free agent.
I left the room thinking I had a real chance of making the team somehow, and as it turned out, I did. I started a pre-season game due to injuries and spent the beginning of the season on injured reserve before being activated halfway through the magical season of 1980 and the run to the Super Bowl.
Dick Vermeil has been one of the great influences in my life, teaching me the lessons of hard work and perseverance, qualities that would pay off for me after my football career was over.
He was also a rock star back then. I can remember when we would fly into another city women would line the fences at the airport and wait outside the hotel hoping he would cast an eye in their direction.
I was watching—and he never did return the gaze.
We stayed in touch over the years, and even though I was a player bringing up the rear of the roster, he has always treated me like one of his guys.
Coach was recently voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. And, in my opinion, it is long overdue.
Of course, he has lived in Philadelphia since his retirement. And when asked by the HOF what team he wanted to represent there, he chose the Eagles, even though he coached the Rams to a Super Bowl victory and spent several seasons with the Chiefs as well.
He is prone to emotion, and so am I. The tears welled up when I heard the news about him entering the hall as an Eagle. We may not have brought the World Championship back to Philadelphia in 1980, but we did bring back its favorite son. Dick Vermeil will forever be immortalized as a Philadelphia Eagle. And for one magical season, this power forward from Memphis State was one too.