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That's Rich

Big differences between former fullback, rock singer

Posted: Thursday January 26, 2006 2:54PM; Updated: Thursday January 26, 2006 3:52PM
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Jon Ritchie
Former fullback Jon Ritchie often looked like this after games.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
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During the coarse idiocies of the late '70s punk rock movement, a London lad named John Richie made a name for himself (Sid Vicious) with The Sex Pistols. "I was four when John Richie overdosed on heroin," says Jon Ritchie, a Mechanicsburg, Pa., lad who, until his recent retirement from pro football, played guitar, piano and fullback for the Philadelphia Eagles. "My parents never told me Sid had died. Even if they knew who he was, I doubt they would have wanted me to."

Nonetheless, the pleasant, beefy Ritchie has something in common with the sneering, weedy Richie. Like his namesake, Ritchie is 6-foot-2 and tended to bleed in performance. During his five seasons with the Oakland Raiders, blood regularly trickled down his face.

"Helmet-smashing hits ruptured my horns," he says. By horns, he means the matching calcium deposits on his forehead. After Ritchie joined the Eagles as a free agent in 2003, the team's equipment manager fashioned a special helmet for the head-banger's sloping temple, and the blood stopped flowing.

The differences: Richie was a stunningly incompetent bass player. Ritchie was a superb blocker who helped Eagles running backs gain 1,718 yards on the ground two seasons ago. And while the drug-addled Richie was almost always holding, Ritchie carried the ball just 15 times for 36 yards in his seven pro seasons. In fact, Ritchie only rushed once -- for a single yard -- this century.

Ritchie missed most of last season after tearing up his left knee while covering a punt in the Eagles' third game. "I tried to be Sid Vicious on the field," he says. "I aimed to control my emotions, but football is a vicious game."

An English major at Stanford, Ritchie has a cerebral side. He won a second grade spelling bee by correctly sounding out the word chocolate. "The kid I beat in the final spelled German with a 'J'," he recalls. As it turned out, the kid was a rock celebrity-by-association. "His dad was the dentist of Bret Michaels' dad." Michaels, of course, was the frontman for the glam-metal band Poison.

Ritchie's first combo, the Luv-Juicees, played its only gig at Melissa Good's ninth-grade birthday party. Though his original composition, I Feel Like Slaying a Woodchuck, was warmly received, the band broke up due to what Ritchie calls "creative differences." As a freshman at Michigan, he joined The Briefs. "We appeared once," he says, "so the name was fitting."

In Philly, he and two pals -- a drummer named Mr. Myxylplyk and a bassist known as Dr. Crack -- recorded a demo as Jon Ritchie's Fault, which became Slaptart and then G.O.A.T. They played (and brayed at) local bars, like Montana West in nearby Quakertown. "We wouldn't perform the Eagles fight song," Ritchie reports. "We were artistic purists." G.O.A.T., in case you were wondering, stood for Greatest Of All Time."

When the Eagles cut Ritchie at the end of training camp last September, G.O.A.T. kicked the can. His NFL career followed. He got invited to work out with the Cincinnati Bengals, but flunked the physical and never even made it onto the practice field. "The only good thing was that I stopped taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories," Ritchie says. "I'd been on them consistently for two years, rehabbing from shoulder surgery and knee reconstruction." As every Sex Pistol fan knows, John Richie never got off his Vicious pharmacological cycle. A year after he was dumped by the band, the bored bassist was found dead. He was a very old 21.

Richie had an apathetic lack of concern with everyone and everything. Ritchie is devoted to his wife, Marielle, and his year-old son, Joseph. "Last fall I moved back to central Pennsylvania and became a stay-at-home dad," he says. "Dealing with sudden, unwanted career change has been a bit of a struggle, but I tend to become inspired by depression."

During his grand funk, Ritchie has composed bunches of songs. He records them by singing into his home voice mail. "Half the time I forget about a tune and voice mail erases it after 30 days," he says. "I guess if I'm not excited about a piece of music, it's a good system. If I were super-crazy about a song, I'd go back and listen."

One he saved is a tribute to Lance Armstrong:

"Lance is in France
Wearing tight biking pants
And a smelly yellow shirt
That proves his worth
But fashion aside
That guy can surely ride...
If you get real good at riding bikes,
Sheryl Crow can be your wife."

The Eagles are the subject of a "madrigal" in which Terrell Owens comes off as a sort of gridiron Johnny Rotten:

"Lady luck.
Goddess of games
Why did you jinx Philly?
Don got injured
Along with the rest of the team
Then Terrell distracted the group
The result is plain to see
The season's almost done
And I'm pretty disappointed now
No Super Bowl this year, no playoffs, lost the NFC East
What a huge difference a year makes
We skidded from the best to the least."

Last month Ritchie launched a solo career on an East Coast cable TV show. But he doubts he'll wind up crooning covers of Frank Sinatra's My Way as his anarchic alter ego did. "I'm getting worse and worse about singing other people's songs," he says. "It's easier to play my own. People can't tell if I mess up."