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JOURNAL OF A PLAGUED YEAR
Ahmad Rashad
October 18, 1982
Now in his 11th NFL season, Minnesota Viking Wide Receiver Ahmad Rashad has been selected to the Pro Bowl four straight years and currently stands fourth among active players in career receptions (472). Known as Bobby Moore when he was drafted in the first round out of Oregon by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972, Rashad later played for the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks before joining the Vikings in 1976. This summer, at the urging of Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Frank Deford, the 32-year-old Rashad began collecting on tape his thoughts about life in pro football. In Part I Rashad takes us through the early days of the Vikings' training camp, which are clouded over by the issues of chemical dependency and a possible players' strike.
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October 18, 1982

Journal Of A Plagued Year

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But there is some loner in me. I think that comes from my childhood. My father was a barber and he always worked, and we lived comfortably. I don't know any more about slums than the Brady Bunch does. Growing up, in fact, at school and on teams, I was often the only black kid, and whereas I was certainly sometimes aware of racial discrimination, I was much more affected by a form of personal discrimination that was devastating to a child.

When I was six, I suddenly started developing huge, blood-filled bumps on my joints—fingers, elbows, knees—and on my ears. I was a real freak, and, worse, the growths could be extremely painful. My mother pleaded with me not to play sports because whenever I made a few catches, the sores on my hands would burst and spill my blood all over me. I couldn't even wear jeans like all the other kids because the denim was so strong and abrasive that it would break the sores on my knees. The cruder kids called me Bumpy or Raisin Ears, and somehow it made it all the worse that the same guys would choose me first in all the pickup games. But, as soon as sports were over, everyone would shun me. I began to stay more to myself. I concentrated on my studies or just stared at the walls and wondered whether I could ever wear a ring or whether any girl would ever even hold hands with such a grotesque human as Bobby Moore.

I saw doctors from all over. I mean, they were fascinated with me. I was a terrific exhibit. No one could figure out what the problem was. The medical people would talk in front of me as if I were some object, not a person. I can still remember, when I was 12, having a nurse nod toward me and spell out L-E-P-E-R. Just because I had bumps all over, she didn't think I could spell a two-syllable word when I was 12 years old?

But then, not long after that, a doctor just took to cutting the bumps off me and after a while the damn things just stayed away, as mysteriously as they had come in the first place.

I often wonder how deeply the whole experience must have affected me. I have to be different than almost all other football players, because most of them grew up so strong and healthy that they think their bodies are invincible. Sometimes it really amazes me that those six or seven years didn't leave me emotionally disturbed. Probably it helped that we had such a strong home and that I lived in such an atmosphere of faith. My parents were strict Pentecostals. We went to church all the time, and it was a measure of their trust and love that when I turned to Islam in college, they weren't dismayed. Oh, sure, they were disappointed that I'd left the Pentecostal church, but they were happy and proud that I'd cared enough about religion to examine the subject and to remain a religious person.

Of course, at first my becoming a Moslem frightened some people who didn't know me well. I think they expected me to put on robes and ride around Oregon on a camel. And, let's face it: All the Black Muslim publicity was terribly alienating to many people. Myself, I don't see how you can be a black—or a white, or an anything—in the worship of one Almighty God.

In the past decade it has helped me gain acceptance that all those Arab oil sheiks have been in the news, because now names like mine don't seem quite so unusual. Of course, this doesn't mean that everybody gets it straight. I got an autographed picture the other day from [tennis star] Stan Smith. Now I've gone down to Hilton Head, where Stan and his wife, Margie, live, and I've played doubles with him, and my major tennis goal in life is to beat Margie, and here comes this picture inscribed to "Rahmad Rashad." Some people hear my name and think I'm that great French Canadian hockey player, Henri Richard. It's very common for people to call me Ramada. I figure O.K., it could be worse. They could call me Best Western. All I ask is that you try. Poor Don Coryell, who coached me one year when I was with the Cardinals, he just couldn't get my name right. Finally, I took him aside and said, "Look, Coach, don't worry about it. Now don't tell anybody I told you this, but you can still call me Bobby." I mean, he was trying, going all out.

Actually, Frank, I'm very lucky. I don't have a roommate, but my next-room neighbor in camp is Jim Hough, one of our offensive linemen and one of my favorite guys on the team. The Huffer shares his room with 3,000 pounds of weights and with Rick Danmeier, who's our kicker. Like a lot of kickers, Rick's a worrywart. He has stomach problems. Of course, it doesn't help any kicker that pro teams always keep lots of kickers around training camp because they can hold the dummies and do useful things like that. Some toe goes back to East Cupcake and he tells everybody he lasted in the NFL till the last cut, but more often than not that's because the team he was with just needed some extra bodies in camp. You can't have the good players run every play in practice and hold the dummies, too, and for a body trying out it only costs the team $300 a week plus room and board.

Of course, it does cost a team a lot to keep its players in food. That's another reason to keep extra toes around during training camp. They don't eat nearly as much as the guys without necks. Linemen eat everything. My father—like a lot of fathers—used to tell me to eat everything I took on my plate, but the thing about linemen is, they put everything on their plate so then they can eat it all. Our dining hall here at Mankato State looks like a high school cafeteria, only there's lots of everything. There isn't just one meat. You get a wide spectrum of starches. And the linemen will always take something of everything. In fact, they will take a great deal of everything, and then they will eat and eat and eat. And when they're finished, they say, "Well, I guess I'll get some ice cream too." And they do.

The Huffer is one of the great eaters. He's super strong. A couple of months ago, I went with him and Studwell to Las Vegas for the NFL team arm-wrestling championships. Don't worry, I wasn't there as an alternate or anything. They wouldn't even allow a wide receiver to try out for that kind of competition. I was just there as one of the TV announcers. Jim and Scott did pretty well, too. They beat every team in the league except Joe Klecko, who was like a one-man team for the Jets. Honestly.

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