DECEMBER 6, 1971
Years before Rocky Balboa threw his first punch on the silver screen, the original Italian Stallion was plodding along in the obscurity of the CFL. As a sophomore halfback at Alabama, Johnny Musso had received that tag from a school publicist. After being named an All-America in 1970 and '71, Musso joined the BC Lions and met Carl Weathers, an undersized BC linebacker. When Rocky appeared in theaters in 1976—with Weathers starring alongside Sylvester Stallone—the handle was no longer Musso's exclusively. "Carl liked to tease me about my nickname, and I kidded him, too," Musso says. "He was a great actor back then, especially when he played linebacker."
Even today the 51-year-old Musso occasionally gets hailed as the Italian Stallion. Hearing the nickname takes him back to his days in Tuscaloosa, where in three seasons he rushed for 2,741 yards and scored 38 touchdowns, earning a place in the College Football Hall of Fame. Musso dressed for success: He wore acid-dipped jerseys, which would tear away as soon as they were stretched. In a 33-28 loss to Auburn in 1970—during which he gained 221 yards on 42 carries—Musso went through 11 jerseys.
After his three-year stint with the Lions, Musso signed with the Chicago Bears and spent four seasons as Walter Payton's backup. Following his retirement from football in 1979, Musso became a commodity futures trader at the Chicago Board of Trade before starting EME Enterprises, a private equity investment company, 15 years ago. "I'm not active on a day-to-day basis anymore," says Musso, who lives in suburban Hinsdale, Ill., with Tanner, his wife of 29 years. "I still dabble in it, but I now prefer spending time with my children, playing golf or playing cards."
Three of the Mussos' five children followed their father's footsteps into football: Brian, 26, was a wide receiver and punt returner at Northwestern; Scott, 25, was a defensive back for the Wildcats; and Brad, 19, is a redshirt freshman wideout at Division III Wheaton (Ill.) College. Like their father, all the Musso children (including Zach, 28, and Tyler, 17) are highly competitive, which makes for some intense afternoons of gin rummy when the clan gathers at Johnny and Tanner's 100-acre farm near South Haven, Mich. Every so often the kids will coax Johnny outside for a game of catch. "I can't move the way I used to, so tossing the ball around is about all I can do," he says. "Even so, some sort of competition will break out. I guess that's just our family's nature."