Thursday, August 30, 2012

From Gridiron Player to Grand Old Party (A Second Term)

Welcome back to our look at former NFL stars who made their marks on the political landscape as members of the Republican party.  Today I’ve also included some “honorable mentions”— players who lost their elections, or whose football careers included only a brief time in the NFL.



Regular readers of Naptime Huddle will remember Steve Largent from the wide receiver installment of our “Stars and Legends” series.  Rather than read a repeat of his impressive NFL resume, click here to read about Largent's NFL career. 

Steve Largent was part of the Republican Revolution in 1994, when the Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in forty years.  He ran to fill the seat of Jim Inhofe, who had resigned his seat representing Oklahoma’s First Congressional District to run for U.S. Senate.  Largent, who was elected to four terms, consistently voted according to his conservative Christian views, which was probably was kept him from taking the Majority Leader position from Dick Armey, which he tried to do in 1998.

Largent continued to represent the First District until 2002, when he gave up his seat to run for Governor of Oklahoma.  Though considered the favorite early in the race, he lost to Democratic state senator Brad Henry by less than 7,000 votes.  He is currently the President and CEO of CTIA—The Wireless Association, a trade association that represents the wireless telecommunications industry.



Ed Rutkowski attended Notre Dame and was a teammate of Jack Kemp’s in Buffalo, from 1963-1968. He was backup quarterback in addition to playing wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner; he earned one AFL Pro Bowl selection, in 1965.  Ten years after retiring from football, Rutkowski successfully ran for County Executive of Erie County, New York. After serving in that post for nine years, he was defeated in the 1987 election.  He reentered New York politics in 1995 when he was appointed to the position of deputy commissioner of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which put him in charge of all parks and recreation operations of Western New York, including Niagara Falls.  He held that office for twelve years.  


A graduate of Furman University where he played quarterback, Sam Wyche had a respectable career in the NFL, playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions and St. Louis Cardinals over an eight-year span.  However, Sam Wyche is best known for his coaching career.  That career began in San Francisco, where he was an assistant coach for the 49ers from 1979 to 1982. In 1983, he went back to college to coach the Indiana Hoosiers for one season.

The following year, he returned to the pros for good, first as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.  Wyche was known not only as an innovative coach (he was the first to use the no-huddle, or “hurry up” offense as a base offense instead of just in the closing minutes of a half), but also an emotional one. He bonded with players and fans, and delighted in stoking the flames of rivalry—particularly with the Bengals’ in-state rival, the Cleveland Browns.

In one famous incident, Cincinnati fans began throwing beer bottles and other debris on the field in protest of a bad call from the officials in a home game against the Seattle Seahawks. When the game officials stopped play, Wyche got on the stadium speakers and said:  “Will the next person that sees ANYBODY throw anything onto this field, point 'em out...and get 'em out of here - you don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!”  Here’s a video of that memorable moment:


Wyche led the Bengals to two division championships and one AFC championship, losing to the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII.  After he was fired from the Bengals in 1991, Wyche became head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and stayed there through the 1995 season.  In 2004 and 2005 he returned to coaching as the quarterbacks coach for the Buffalo Bills. 


Sam Wyche started his political career in 2008, when he convincingly won a seat on the County Council for Pickens County, South Carolina. He considered running for the U.S. House of Representatives for South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, but decided against it…for now.


Honorable Mentions:

Craig James: 
  • Played running back at Southern Methodist University and was drafted fourth overall by the Washington Federals in the USFL draft in 1983; joined the New England Patriots in 1984 and retired in 1988.
  • Became a radio analyst for SMU games, then worked as a commentator for CBS, ABC and ESPN before retiring in December 2011 to run for U.S. Senate; he was defeated in the Texas Republican primary.

Tom Osborne: 
  • After graduating from Hastings College, drafted by Washington Redskins in 1960 as a wide receiver; retired with 49ers in 1962.
  • Coached at University of Nebraska from 1964 to 1997—first as assistant, then as head coach starting in 1973. Had a 255-49-3 record over coaching career and won three national championships.
  • Served as U.S. Representative of Nebraska’s 3rd District from 2001-2007; lost the 2006 race for Governor of Nebraska.

Jay Riemersma: 
  • Attended the University of Michigan, where he played quarterback, then tight end after rotator cuff injury;
  • Drafted by Buffalo Bills in seventh round of 1996 draft; played for Bills until 2002, then the Steelers from 2003-2004;
  • In 2010, vied to represent Michigan’s 2nd District in U.S. House of Representatives, but lost in Republican primary by only 700 votes.

Lynn Swann: 
  • Wide receiver drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in first round of 1974 draft out of USC;
  • Played for Steelers his entire career, winning four Super Bowls (was MVP of Super Bowl X) and three Pro Bowl selections; was inducted into Hall of Fame in 2001.
  • Enjoyed a long broadcasting career, from 1976 (while he was still playing football) to 2006. 
  • In 2006, ran for Governor of Pennsylvania but lost 40%-60%.
  • Served on President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports from June 2002 to July 2005; currently is part-owner of Arena Football League team Pittsburgh Power.

J.C. Watts: 
  • Played quarterback at University of Oklahoma and played for the Canadian Football League, leading the Ottawa Rough Riders to the championship game in 1981. 
  • Represented Oklahoma’s 4th District from 1995 through 2003, rising to post of House Republican Conference Chair in 1998—becoming the first black Republican elected to a leadership post.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have a question you want answered, a correction or a comment?