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Edwin Shrake
November 07, 1966
Compound fractures and shattered ribs are small discomforts in the credo of Kansas City Linebacker Sherrill Headrick, a man of joyous recklessness and a high pain threshold
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November 07, 1966

A Stoic's Guide To Pro Football

Compound fractures and shattered ribs are small discomforts in the credo of Kansas City Linebacker Sherrill Headrick, a man of joyous recklessness and a high pain threshold

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"He talks himself into it," Rudy says. "There's only one game in the last seven years that he didn't do it. He came over to me and said, 'Rudy, I don't know what's wrong with me today. I can't throw up. Do you think I'm sick or something?' "

"What Rudy doesn't know," says Headrick, "is that I came through fine that day. Got sick as a drunken sailor. I've gotten sick before every game I've played in since college. It's my nervous stomach. That's why I never eat on the day of the game. I guess I could eat, but it only makes me a lot sicker. I even get sick for intrasquad games. So on game day, all I do is sit around and drink a lot of coffee."

Headrick becomes so emotional about football that he cannot sleep the night after a game. The pros' customary day off is Monday, and the Chiefs understand nobody will see Headrick until Tuesday. "It takes him Sunday night, all day Monday and Monday night to unwind," one player says. "I don't think I'd want to see him on Monday."

There was a time, in 1960, when the Texans had decided not to see Headrick on Monday or any other day. He came to them as a red-haired, freckle-faced, 210-pound guard who had flunked out of Texas Christian University and had failed a tryout as a cornerback in Canada. Headrick grew up in Fort Worth, where he was an All-District fullback at North Side High School, an institution that produced Yale Lary, Jim Shofner and Tommy Runnels among its professional football alumni, Olympic shot-putter Darrow Hooper and the famous football coaches Matty Bell and Bo McMillin. Headrick was serious about, and very adept at, three things—football, bridge and dancing. He was not at all intrigued with literature or history, which made for his exit from TCU. When he reported for his trial with the Texans, there were more than 100 players and pseudo-players in camp. Headrick got lost in the mob, and Coach Hank Strain called him in to cut him from the club.

Headrick put on an oratorical display that day that persuaded Stram to keep him around for another look. Headrick moved in as the middle linebacker and has been a regular ever since. Now, at 220 pounds, he is one of the AFL's better middle linebackers and calls defensive signals for a unit that on occasion is the strongest in the league. The quality of the Chiefs' defensive performance rises and falls, but Headrick is a smart and steady leader—contrary to some opinions that, at least in his first few years in the league, he played purely on instinct.

"Anybody who had that impression was mistaken," Stram says. "It's true that Sherrill has great instinct for a middle linebacker. But he also reads his keys very well and is highly intelligent at picking up tendencies and tips expressed by offensive teams. He calls the right defenses at the right times.

"From a physical standpoint, he's about like Joe Schmidt. He's that kind of linebacker. What I really appreciate as a coach is that he gives himself fully during a game, and he plays when he's hurt. He has the highest pain threshold of any athlete I ever saw."

The Chiefs' front four—Jerry Mays, Ed Lothamer, Buck Buchanan and Chuck Hurston—come up with some outstanding plays. Buchanan, 6 feet 7 and 287 pounds, knocked down 10 passes in the first seven games. With Buchanan and Lothamer (6 feet 5 and 270 pounds) at the tackles, Headrick can get away with his comparatively light weight in an era when middle linebackers are becoming as big as tackles used to be. The outside linebackers—E.J. Holub and Bobby Bell—are big and fast and both have been All-AFL. That leaves Headrick to roam the middle with a certain amount of security.

"Different middle linebackers do things differently," Headrick says. "In Boston they blitz a lot, and Nick Buoniconti is one of the finest blitzers in the game. Our team plays a reading defense, so experience is the most important thing for me. A middle linebacker has to have the size to meet a guard head to head. But he also has to have the speed to cover a back, like I had to do a lot on Abner Haynes the last time we played Denver. I played at 230 pounds for half the season last year and didn't like it. You can't be too big and slow, but you can't be too little and speedy, either."

Despite Headrick's lack of size—when matched up to the generally larger linebackers of the NFL, for example, the Bears' 245-pound Dick Butkus—he prefers to play against a power team. "It's easier." he says. "If you play a team like Buffalo, they may knock you down and run over you, but you know where they're going. Buffalo and San Diego are easier to read than a team that uses a lot of deception. But you have a better chance of beating a team that uses deception, because they're doing it to cover up a weakness and all you have to do is find out what that weakness is. Like against Denver. They used the double wing, the triple wing, the triple over, the Houston and a bunch of stuff like that. But the reason was they were trying to get us into one-on-one coverage on Abner Haynes and Al Denson. We knew that was the idea, so we always had help deep on both."

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