April 26, 1982
Although some observers would say it was dropped passes that sank Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah's attempt to become a top NFL wide receiver, Nehemiah maintains that the beginning of the end of his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers was a vicious hit by Atlanta Falcons defensive back Kenny Johnson in 1983 that knocked him unconscious. "It changed the course of my career," says Nehemiah, who in 1982 had taken a detour from his record-smashing track career to try pro football. "I felt that coach [Bill] Walsh was very protective of me after that. It stymied my ability to run wild out there and do what I do best as an athlete."
What Nehemiah did better than anyone else in the late 1970s and early '80s was run the 110-meter high hurdles. Though he missed the '80 Moscow Olympics because of the U.S. boycott, he thrice set the world record in his event, the last time in the summer of '81, when he ran a 12.93 in Zurich to become the first hurdler to break the 13-second barrier. The leap to the NFL, however, proved to be too great: In three seasons with the Niners, Nehemiah caught just 43 passes. San Francisco released him in '85.
After a bitter 4�-year court battle with track and field's U.S. and international governing bodies to regain his amateur status, Nehemiah returned to the hurdles in 1986. However, the seven pounds he had gained and the hits he had taken in pro football had slowed him. His bitter rival, Greg Foster, whom Nehemiah had beaten 28 times in their 34 meetings before Nehemiah joined the NFL, now defeated him regularly.
After retiring from track in 1994, Nehemiah was host of The Kid Club, a children's exercise show on a regional sports cable network, and he worked as an assistant track and field coach at George Mason University until last fall. These days Nehemiah, 39, is a partner and financial analyst at Lara, Nehemiah and Associates Ltd., a financial planning and investment firm in Vienna, Va.
Last December, Nehemiah, who lives in Potomac, Md., with his second wife, Gloria, and their two daughters, Ariel, 8, and Samara, 5, was named to the Track and Field Hall of Fame. Still, he laments that track and field has faded in popularity in the U.S. "I did all I could to bring it into the consciousness," says Nehemiah. "You couldn't turn on Wide World of Sports without seeing me running right through the TV screen [in the opening montage]. It pains me now that it's not that big of a deal."