AUGUST 31, 1970
Make no mistake about it, former running back Les Shy enjoyed his four years with the Dallas Cowboys during the North Dallas Forty era of the late '60s. "You walked on water if you played with the Cowboys," says Shy, who saw mostly spot duty after being taken in the 12th round of the 1966 draft out of Long Beach State. "You could do no wrong. You could eat out every night of the week without paying a dime." But the good times didn't end for Shy when his football career did. He now runs a booming construction company in Illinois, and when he went to Texas Stadium in 1999 for the team's 40th-anniversary celebration, he was able to look around and feel pretty good about himself. "A lot of the guys have just let themselves go physically," he says. "A lot have struggled. I feel good both physically and professionally because compared to some others, things have gone well for me."
Not that things went well for Shy right away: His career ended unexpectedly in 1972 when he tore his right Achilles tendon while playing in an exhibition game for the Cincinnati Bengals. ( Dallas had cut him before the 1970 season.) Shy was momentarily shocked by "real life," he says, in which "you have to pay to see a doctor, and you don't always get 50 percent off everything." He tried several sales jobs in real estate, insurance and stocks before settling into a long but not personally gratifying run in health-care sales. Then in 1994 he left that job and, with a partner, started Integrated Construction Technology (ICT). "I felt that I needed to control my destiny rather than have someone in a corporate office decide whether I'm qualified or not," says Shy, president and CEO. His company had three employees at the outset; now it has 50. Most of Shy's clients are government entities—ICT has built veterans' hospitals and Marine Reserve vehicle maintenance facilities, among other projects—and his company has profited from regulations that mandate opportunities for minority-owned businesses. ICT now has two offices in the Chicago area and another in Torrance, Calif., and this year expects to triple the $8 million in gross sales it had in 2002.
Shy, 59, lives in Schaumburg, Ill., near Chicago, with his wife, Sandra, and is trying to pass on the lessons of his life to his son, Evan, a promising high school junior running back who not only plays his dad's position but also wears Les's old number, 25. As much as Shy enjoys seeing his son play football ("I was sticking my chest out 10 feet" Les says of seeing Evan take his number), he encourages Evan to keep his NFL dreams in perspective. "The trip to the pros can be long, arduous and very disappointing," Shy says. "I don't want to send a message that I made it but you can't, but I don't want him to pin all his hopes on making it to the NFL."