The 1983 season was two hours old, the Los Angeles Raiders were squashing the Cincinnati Bengals 17-3, and with a first down on the L.A. 38 the Bengals figured it was time to go to work on Ted Hendricks, the 35-year-old left linebacker they'd been carefully avoiding for three quarters. Ken Anderson flipped a little screen pass to Stanley Wilson on the vacated right side, and the rookie fullback from Oklahoma took off. All he saw in front of him were stripes.
It was over before anyone knew what had happened. Hendricks swooped in from the blind side, popped the ball free with his right hand and scooped it in with his left. He tossed it to the referee, winked at a teammate and sat down on the bench to watch the Raiders drive for a field goal and put the game away.
Two weeks later against Miami: the Dolphins' ball, third and two on their 47. David Woodley called a bootleg right. When he arrived at the corner, Hendricks was standing there waiting for him. Woodley hit the ground, the only sensible thing to do. Net gain: zero.
"Yeah, I saw that on TV," says San Francisco Tight End Russ Francis. "It was kind of comical, wasn't it? But you're never gonna fool him. You never know what he's going to do, where he'll be. There isn't another player in the NFL like him, and maybe there never was."
In a world devoted to the God of Iron, the sweat and toil of the weight room, Hendricks has never seen the need to seriously lift a barbell. In a society governed by the play book and the game plan, Hendricks will occasionally throw out the script and go with his own ideas. In a game which seemed to have no place for a 6'7¾", 215-pound defensive end, as Hendricks was when he finished his college career at Miami (he's only about 235 now), he has survived 15 years and has seven Pro Bowl appearances under his belt, his last three the last three seasons.
He has never suffered a major injury or missed an NFL game—he has played in 205 straight—although he has no off-season workout program. He spends part of every summer on Oahu's North Shore, at Mokuleia, where he and ex-Redskin Guard John Wilbur run a boys' football camp. Hendricks says he has his roots there. He's just as likely to attribute his roots to Orinda, a Bay Area suburb, where he has a home. His career in the NFL started in Baltimore, and he spent a year in Green Bay before finally settling in with Oakland, which is now situated in L.A., where Hendricks has temporary quarters. A collection of wild hats is the tangible memento of his travels.
"We moved 23 times in one nine-year stretch," says Hendricks' wife, Jane. "Our oldest son, Mark, had gone to eight different schools by the end of the third grade."
Hendricks' roots do seem to be everywhere. Mention a place and his feet get itchy—and the vagabond in him takes over. Maybe it's Mokuleia. Maybe it's the Tahoe National Forest, where he has a gold-mining claim on the middle fork of the Yuba River. "A whole different way of life up there.... You've got to see it to understand it," he says.
Maybe he'll surface around Miami, in Dade County, where he grew up, or in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, Calif., driving in a 60-mile celebrity off-road race with ex-Raider Ben Davidson, whose No. 83 he inherited. Or he might show up in Guatemala, where he was born, the son of a Pan-Am mechanic and troubleshooter from McAllen, Texas, who married a Guatemalan native. "My roots are in the banyan trees," Hendricks will say. "My cousin owns a rum factory in Quezaltenango. Each city has its different costume...the beauty there.... I get excited just thinking about it...."
The feet are never still, the thoughts spill out one on top of another, thoughts as difficult to pin down as the man behind them. The only three-year All-America in the University of Miami's history, Hendricks' string-bean contours were so unusual for a football player that the pros made 11 defensive picks before Baltimore took him in the second round of the 1969 draft. During his college career, Miami coaches spoke wishfully of the pounds Hendricks was expected to add during the off-season by lifting weights, but the weightlifting program was a myth, and his weight stayed the same. The Hurricanes were a team of nicknames on the Mad motif. Guard Nelson Salemi was The Mad Dog. Oscar Gonzalez, the 165-pound punt returner, was The Mad Dwarf. Jimmy Dye, the litle defensive back, was The Mad Fly. Hendricks became the Mad Stork.