Off the field Wolfley has his rage in check; he displays no love of violence. He'll poke fun at his Rambo personality when introduced at fund-raisers in Phoenix, pulling a headband out of his suit jacket and slipping it on before speaking. At home he plays Mr. Mom to his three children, Ashley, 7, Connor, 5, and Jenna, one year. A man with strong Christian beliefs, he gains strength from daily prayers and reading the Bible. "I have no fear on the football field," Wolfley says. "Failing my children as a father, my wife as a husband and my God as a servant, that's what petrifies me."
In solitary moments, usually in his den late at night, Wolfley writes poetry about his special teams experiences. He calls it primitive poetry because the punctuation isn't perfect and the words aren't always spelled correctly. Here's a sample, entitled The Army of Sorrow:
Crack goes the whip, a shot in the hip
An intruder assaults my senses.
Boom goes my head, now comes the dread
This foe cares not as it dispenses.
This time my shoulder, hit by a boulder
This force that comes like a train.
It doesn't matter where, it's really unfair
It quickly lays siege to my brain.
I try to stride, there's nowhere to hide
This battle is fought in my spirit.
I try to adjust, play on I must
I have learned that I cannot fear it.
The jury is in, I think that I'll win
But the verdict I'll feel on the 'morrow.
Today I'm a knight, today I will fight
This siege by the Army of Sorrow.
Wolfley began writing poetry five years ago, when he was wrestling with his violent and gentle sides. While watching game films, he felt detached from the destructive force inside the number 24 jersey on the screen. He suffered three severe concussions in 1986, and he started to wonder if he took pleasure in injuring himself. He never intended his poems to be read by anybody but himself, not even Kathy, and for a long time she didn't know that he was writing them.
"I just needed my own personal analysis of my job," Wolfley says. "I needed to be able to say, 'O.K., this is what I do,' and then answer the questions, Why do I do that? How come I feel that way about it? At first I'd write them and rip them up. It was purely therapeutic. I didn't want to go to a shrink and pay him $200 to say, 'When did it all start with you, Ron?' I thought that was bogus."
It all started for Wolfley in the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg, four miles from Rich Stadium. He was the second-youngest of Ron and Esther Wolfley's five children. Ron Sr. was a short, barrel-chested truck driver, and Esther was a self-proclaimed football coaching genius. All three of her sons played football: Craig, 33, was an offensive lineman at Syracuse and now is a guard for the Minnesota Vikings; Ron was a fullback, known mostly for his blocking, at West Virginia before becoming Phoenix's fourth-round draft choice in 1985; and Dale, 24, was a guard at West Virginia who was not drafted by the NFL. Esther used to get down in an offensive lineman's stance to give the boys pointers. She and Ron Sr. struggled to make ends meet, and often there was barely enough food to feed their brood. Ron wore hand-me-down tennis shoes from Craig.
"My father would get up at four in the morning and go out in the dead of winter, in the freezing cold," Ron says. "He did it with a smile on his face, knowing his kids were tucked away in a warm bed with a roof over their heads. He was my idol—a tough, tough guy."
Football was Ron's escape from the hard times. "When you live on the wrong side of the tracks in a very nice town, you have to justify yourself in some way," he says. "I was good at football, so I worked at it. It made me feel proud and accepted."
In the fall of 1982, during Wolfley's sophomore season at West Virginia, Ron Sr. was dying of leukemia after a five-year battle. Instead of confronting his father's illness, Wolfley chose to ignore it. He would purposely stay out of the house at times during his visits to avoid having to see his parents suffer.
"My father lay there and couldn't move," Wolfley says. "He used to be 220 pounds, and now he was about 120. It freaked me out. My mom was suffering with him. I was filled with so much frustration and rage that I wanted to make other people feel the same way I did, put them in the same pain. The only outlet I had was football. I didn't care what I did to myself, because I knew that it couldn't compare to the pain that my father was going through. But I could make other people hurt."