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He was a mystery man. While no one had ever been inside Raymond Berry's house, no one even knew where Rechichar lived. He carried his entire savings in his pocket, which caused players to refer to him as the First National Bank of Rechichar. In line at the $10 window at Pimlico, our general manager, the late Don Kellett, would find it irritating to see Bert at the $100 window.
A mean football player? He was meaner than hell at high noon. He had played quarterback, fullback, receiver, safety (where he made All-Pro) and linebacker. He was an Alex Hawkins with ability. In his first year at Baltimore, I was told, Bert fooled around in practice, kicking long field goals, although he wasn't the club's regular field-goal man. In a game against the Chicago Bears the Colts had the ball on the Bears' 49 with four seconds left in the first half. Bert had started walking to the dressing room when an assistant coach, Otis Douglas, said, "I wonder if Bert can kick a field goal from back there." Then he yelled, "Hey, Bert! Go in there and try a field goal!" Bert shrugged and said, "Why the——not?" He walked back into the game and, without bothering to hook up his chin strap, booted a line drive that sailed 56 yards through the uprights. Until last week, when Tom Dempsey of New Orleans kicked a 63-yarder, it was a professional record.
When Weeb Ewbank coached the Colts, Bert would walk up to him every now and then and stare down at him with his good eye and say, "Don't you ever trade me." When at last Ewbank released him, Bert asked me to give him a lift in my car—he had to pick up his belongings. I thought I would finally learn where he lived, but instead Bert had me stop at half a dozen places at least—back alleys and side streets where I had never been. He would disappear into a doorway and return a few minutes later with a pair of pants and a jacket. At the next stop he would come out with a couple of shirts and maybe a pair of shoes. I drove him around for an hour before he said, "O.K., that's it." Would you say that Bert Rechichar was a totally sane man?
I'm not saying every pro football player has to be abnormal to perform well at the sport, but if you are it helps. Yet with the coming of bonuses and high salaries and pensions and opportunities for investment, a great many players have achieved security and are bent on looking and acting not a whit different from the average guy who walks into the Harvard Club. It's comforting for the players but terrible for the sport. The surest way to destroy pro football is to give the players a sense of security, yet that is what we have come to. Where the number of available jobs in the game during my first year was 480, it's now 1,040. A frontline player says to himself, "So what if I've had a few bad games? If they don't want me here, somebody will pick me up." Instead of playing savage football, which really is the only kind, he looks at his opponent and says, "Well, I don't want to overdo it. Had a few drinks with the fellow at the last Players' Association convention, and he's really not a bad guy."
Just smelling that security has destroyed brilliant careers. Jim Taylor, the Green Bay fullback, was my idea of a perfect pro football player, which is to say half man, half animal. I knew him briefly at Green Bay, where I spent a few months as a rookie. It seemed to me that Taylor enjoyed talking to himself. This impression was confirmed years later when John Unitas returned from the Pro Bowl and said to me, "I was in the huddle, starting to call a play, when I heard that guy Taylor muttering. I said, "What's wrong, Jim?' He said, 'Don't pay no attention to me. I'm talking to myself.' " Like Bert Rechichar, Taylor never, to my knowledge, referred to himself by his Christian name. Sometimes he called himself Roy and at other times he called himself Doody. I have no idea why. He called other people Doody, too.
But when I say that Jim Taylor was right for pro football I'm thinking mostly of an incident related to me by an old Baltimore teammate, Wendell Harris. Wendell had played at Louisiana State, where Taylor had played a bit earlier, and one day in the off season Wendell was exercising a weak knee by running up and down an aisle in the LSU stadium. He thought the stadium was empty, but then he looked down to the field and saw Taylor working out. Taylor was beating his backside against the stadium wall. "Jim!" yelled Wendell. "What are you doing?"
Taylor turned halfway around and patted himself on the backside. "I got the toughest ass in the business!" he barked, and with that he walked proudly out of the stadium.
He was all football player, Jim Taylor was, but then, as the gold began to flow on all sides, he started thinking about security. He played out his option at Green Bay. Vince Lombardi said, "The hell with him." Taylor went to New Orleans on a fat contract, but you'll notice that he instantly turned into a shadow of the player he had been.
At any rate, since picking myself off the barroom floor at the Golden Arm, I found a way to stay on the fringe of the sport I love and weep for. I became the color man on the Atlanta Falcons' radio team, and this fall I started my own television show in the face of smart money that's betting I'll louse up television and radio as completely as I did post patterns. I hope they'll keep me around for a long time because being a part of football is a great way to put off growing up. But I do hope that somehow, some way, pro football will return to being the savage, exciting game it once was. As I look back, the worst halfback I ever saw in 10 years as an NFL player was me. Yet, during my second and third years I actually played first string, owing to the fact that the Colt backfield was practically wiped out by injuries. Those were mediocre seasons for Baltimore—a 6-6 record in 1960, 8-6 in '61. Interestingly enough, however, I averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Know what Tom Matte's average is? Tom Matte, supported by squads that consistently have been a contender or champion, averages 3.9 yards per carry and is celebrated as a star. He's been in the Pro Bowl twice.
What's more, they've already put a piece of his equipment in the Hall of Fame. You may recall that in 1965 all the Colt quarterbacks were injured, so Tom played quarterback in the final game of the season and again in a playoff against Green Bay for the Western Conference title. He read the plays from a wristband he was wearing—a wristband that is now on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, believe it or not. Last year I visited the Hall of Fame. I had heard that another visitor shortly before had suffered a heart attack there and had dropped dead. I cannot swear to it, because I was not there at the time, but the information I was given is that the poor man was stricken when he came upon Tom Matte's wristband.