- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Hill's rejuvenation in Cleveland came as a result of his being a fan. He had started the 1978 training camp with the Redskins, with whom he had signed in 1976 after the Hawaiians said aloha along with the rest of the WFL. George Allen was the coach of the Redskins, and Hill was confined to the role of backup for Running Back Mike Thomas. But in the last two games of the 1977 season, Hill had his chance to play and was awarded a game ball on each occasion.
After the season he talked with Allen about the possibility of starting the next year, and Allen agreed that when Hill came to training camp, he and Thomas would be judged as equals. A week later Allen was fired. " Jack Pardee was named coach," Hill recalls, "and the next year at training camp it was the same old story. I knew if I stayed in Washington I'd be a bitcher. So I retired."
A few weeks later Hill was in the stands as the Baltimore Colts were being trounced 42-0 by Miami. A friend turned to Hill and said those oft-heard words of the disgruntled fan: "You could do better than that." "You know," replied Hill, "that was just going through my mind, too." The next day he began making calls.
The Rams gave him a tryout in Los Angeles, and the Colts talked with him, but, as Hill puts it, "Their estimations of my abilities were not the same as my own." In 1975, when he was in the WFL, he had undergone knee surgery, and the 558 yards he had gained for Washington in two years were not evidence enough that he had fully recovered. Then, in the fourth game of 1978, with Greg Pruitt already injured, the Browns lost Running Back Tom Sullivan to knee surgery, and they signed Hill. Teaming up in the back-field with Mike Pruitt, Hill gained more than 600 yards and scored seven touchdowns in 12 games.
"Calvin made it clear he wouldn't come if there wasn't a need," says Rutigliano. "But he realized his role. He told Greg Pruitt that he wasn't any threat to replace him as starting halfback, but then he added that the position didn't belong to Pruitt, it belonged to the Cleveland Browns. I wish I'd said that."
Hill had been taught the concept of "belonging" to an organization at Dallas, where in six years he gained more than 5,000 yards rushing. Hill went to the Pro Bowl four times and to the Super Bowl twice, but when he tried to get a $100,000 salary, he was politely, but firmly, refused. "If the Cowboys had paid me what I was asking, it would've upset their whole salary structure," Hill says. "They had the greatest promotion department in sports: you could go anywhere and people knew you. But it's the organization that reaps all the benefits, not individual players. It's not the greatest thing in the world to feel that the organization always comes first. It's like being in the CIA. As soon as I left they gave my number  to Scott Laidlaw. That rankled me a little bit. But it's not my number, it's their number. Nothing belongs to anybody; we're just here to use it for a while, to take advantage of it and not abuse it. Then to leave it, hopefully better, for someone else."
Hill learned that philosophy from a Hawaiian fisherman, who taught him to take no more from the sea than he could use himself or sell. In that way, man could depend on the sea forever. Hill's year in the WFL was rewarding financially—he made nine times what he did during his last season in Dallas—and it blunted the bitterness Hill felt as an educated and perceptive black athlete living in conservative Dallas. "Before you can turn somebody to your way of thinking, you have to understand where they are coming from," he says. "I was too impatient to understand that before I went to Hawaii."
Hill plans to retire after this season—for good this time. The violence of the sport, the obsessive preoccupation of its participants, have not diminished his love of football. The only time in his career he remembers being intimidated was in the opening game of the 1973 season, when Chicago's Dick Butkus took it upon himself to re-spot the ball after a play.
"He told the referees they didn't know what they were doing and just picked up the ball after a running play and moved it back. I've thought about that a lot since then; sometimes I wonder if I dreamed it. But I remember thinking, 'If the refs are intimidated by this guy, I'd better be.' "
In his fantasy of fantasies, Hill would like to become a general manager, to run his own NFL team. He has already made a pact with Brian Dowling, his old Yale quarterback, that if one or the other gets there first, he will bring the other along. Hill would probably be a good GM. He has played under Tom Landry, who reduces football to logic ("The Cowboys are as syllogistic as possible," says Hill), and also under Allen, who threw away the computer and dealt with men of character, often very old men of character but doddering steps who depended on the spirit to quickeneth. "When I hear that song, I think of Washington," he says. "A lot of it was Allen, sure, but a lot of it was also the kind of guys he got. They all had the willingness to pay the price."