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Army Salvation
September 13, 2004
Why would 67-year-old Bobby Ross leave a life of leisure to take over the worst team in college football?
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September 13, 2004

Army Salvation

Why would 67-year-old Bobby Ross leave a life of leisure to take over the worst team in college football?

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The John Deere riding mower and the 31/2 acres weren't enough. Driving cancer patients to the hospital wasn't enough, and delivering meals to the elderly wasn't either. He served on boards at both his old high school and his old college. Not enough. He lifted weights, used a treadmill and ran loops around a track. He went to church and went to the post office and went to the bank and went to the drugstore. He went wherever his wife, Alice, asked him to go, with the exception of the supermarket. He let her shop for groceries. Otherwise, honey-do's were his specialty: "Honey, do this. Honey, do that."

Bobby Ross might've been retired from coaching, but he was busy. He made sure to keep his days full and to end them at 5 p.m., the way they ended for most people with jobs. Oh, and he read books.

Once he even read a book during the daytime. The Rosses have been a couple since they were in high school, and for Bobby to sit in a chair and read a book during the daylight hours ... well, Alice stood there speechless, her mouth open in a perfect circle.

By then two years had passed since Ross had resigned as coach of the Detroit Lions and walked away from a career that included a share of the national championship, at Georgia Tech in 1990, and a Super Bowl appearance, with the San Diego Chargers in 1995. He left nine games into the 2000 season--when the Lions were a respectable 5-4--without holding a press conference to explain why. Speculation had him suffering from burnout, but in fact he wasn't well physically. Ross, then 63, made no mention of his health in the announcement he issued through the team's p.r. department, but for months he had been suffering from blood clots in his right leg, one above the knee, another below it. Clots had contributed to his father's death in 1996, and Ross worried that they might hasten his.

"Keep your toes to your nose," his doctor instructed him.

"Toes to my nose?" Ross asked. "How am I supposed to do that and coach a football team?"

Over time a regimen of blood-thinning medication dissolved the clots, and Ross began to wonder if he'd bowed out too soon. He still had energy, God knows, and the game hadn't changed that much since he'd left. "It's a shame you're not 10 or 20 years younger," Alice told him, "because you still have so much more to give."

Whenever somebody asked him if he missed football, Ross invariably answered, "I miss competing."

Competing with whom? Competing for what?

"Just competing," said Ross.

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