Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sorry, "DNC" You There!

Before we get into the substance of today's post, I wanted to remind you about a new feature that is premiering today on Naptime Huddle's Facebook page. Every day during the regular season, I will post a randomly-selected Player of the Day on the Facebook page, with his basic facts and a piece of intrigue or interesting factoid. It could be a household name, or someone who made the roster by the skin of his teeth--that's the beauty of it! This is only for Facebook fans of NH, so be sure to visit and "like" our page! 

Last week, we looked at former NFL players (and stars from other levels of the game) who ran for public office as Republicans after they retired from the gridiron.  Now that the Democratic National Convention is underway in Charlotte, North Carolina, it’s the Democrats’ turn to have their favorite NFL sons in the Naptime Huddle spotlight. Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly as many players who have been Democrats as there have been Republicans; my job isn’t to speculate on why this is, so I’ll leave that up to you.  It is partly for that reason that the first name on our list actually never played in the NFL. He deserves mention on his own, though, given the high office he attained.



Forrest Hood “Fob” James, Jr. attended Auburn University and was a four-year letterman playing at the halfback position from 1952 through 1955; he also earned All-American honors.  James graduated from Auburn in 1957 with a civil engineering degree, which he used in employment until 1962, when he founded Health-Disc Inc.  His company first manufactured plastic-disc barbells then diversified to produce other fitness equipment and ballasts and counterweights for agriculture and industry use. The company’s name was eventually changed to Diversified Products Inc. (“DP”), and by the time it was sold to Liggett Group in 1977, it brought in about $1 billion in annual sales.


After leaving his position of CEO of DP, Fob James decided to run for Governor of Alabama in 1978 as a Democrat (he had left the party in the early 1970s but changed back before the race) and beat Republican Guy Hunt in the November election. Although the state had financial difficulties, James had many highlights during his first term as Governor, including improving the state’s mental health system, implementing a 10% spending cut and integrating the Alabama government—he appointed the first African American to the Alabama Supreme Court and the first African American in a century to run a major state agency.


James chose not to run for a second term in 1982, but got back in the political arena in 1986. He once again ran for governor, but was defeated in the Democratic primary that year, and once again in 1990. He kept himself busy in defeat, however, running several companies with his sons. Finally, in 1994, Fob made one more run at the governorship, this time as a Republican, and won.  James’ second term was filled with controversy. He chose K-12 education as one of the focus areas of his work, and worked with the state legislature to pass an educational reform package. However, this effort also took away substantial funding from the state’s colleges and universities, straining the relationship between Alabama’s higher educational institutions and the Governor’s office.


James also came under fire for other positions he took, such as: bringing back prisoner “chain gangs” (which were shut down shortly thereafter in response to a lawsuit); refusing education funds from the federal government (a position that was overruled by the State Department of Education); and threatening to use the Alabama National Guard to support a county judge in his defiance of a federal court order that required him to remove a copy of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom.


Larry Jack Mildren played quarterback at the University of Oklahoma, where he earned All-America honors and was known as the “Godfather of the Wishbone” (click here for an explanation of the wishbone position).  In 1971, his senior season, running the wishbone earned the Sooners an amazing 472.4 yards rushing per game and an 11-1 record. Mildren himself set several records that season:  rushing yards by a quarterback in a season (1,140), most career touchdown passes (25) and passing efficiency for a season (209.0). The Sooners’ 1971 campaign culminated in the National Championship Game against the University of Nebraska in what was called the “Game of the Century.” Despite Mildren’s four touchdowns (two passing and two rushing), Oklahoma fell short, losing 35-31. After graduating from Oklahoma, Jack played defensive back for the Baltimore Colts in the 1972 and 1973 seasons, and the New England Patriots in the 1974 season.


After football, Mildren pursued a career in oil and gas, but didn’t completely leave sports. He became an announcer for an all-sports radio station in Oklahoma. In 1990, Mildren ran in and won the race for Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma. After his first term, he ran for Governor in 1994 and earned the Democratic nomination. However, Jack was a victim of the Republican Revolution that year, and lost to the Republican candidate, Frank Keating, by about 17% of the popular vote. After leaving politics, Jack entered the world of banking and was host of a popular daily sports talk show. He died of stomach cancer on May 22, 2008 at the age of 58.



Fortunately for Heath Shuler, his political career has been considerably more successful than his time in the NFL. His football career had a promising start, though, as he shone as quarterback for the University of Tennessee Volunteers. He set most of the school’s passing records by the time he left, but most were broken when a guy named Peyton Manning took the reins in 1994. Before that, though, Shuler was a big star on the national stage, and was runner-up in the Heisman vote in 1993.


Shuler was drafted by the Washington Redskins with the third overall pick in the 1994 draft. As we have discussed before, the Redskins have been looking for a savior at quarterback for over twenty years, and Shuler was one of the team’s earliest hopes. Shuler himself clearly thought he represented the future of DC football, as he held out of his rookie-year training camp, ultimately getting a 7-year $19.25 million contract—big numbers at the time for a rookie QB. He didn’t quite live up to expectations, though, as he put up less-than-impressive stats, including five interceptions in a single game against the Arizona Cardinals. He ended up competing with, and ultimately losing his starting job to, Gus Frerotte, who was also drafted by the Redskins in 1994.


After the 1996 season, Shuler was traded to the New Orleans Saints but didn’t fare much better there. He ended his career in Oakland in 1997, where he aggravated a foot injury that had caused him trouble in New Orleans and decided to retire before ever taking the field. In a sport that generates endless lists and rankings, Shuler has not been treated kindly by football pundits. Among the dubious honors given him have been: ESPN’s rating as the fourth biggest NFL Draft bust ever, along with the 17th biggest sports flop between 1979 and 2004; and NFL Network ranking him as the ninth biggest bust in NFL history.


Like I said, things looked up for Heath after he put football in his rear view mirror. Returning to Tennessee, Heath started a real estate business, which became one of the largest independent real estate firms in East Tennessee.  In 2006, Shuler decided to challenge Republican incumbent Congressman Charles Taylor, who had represented the 11th Congressional District of North Carolina (which includes Asheville) for eight terms. With socially conservative values that mirrored the constituents of the district, and successful attacks on Taylor’s voting record, Shuler easily won the election, taking 54% of the popular vote.


And he has easily won each election since. He has also asserted himself as a leader among Democrats of similar ideological leanings, and is a whip in the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives. Shuler also benefits his district by serving on important committees in the House:  the Committee on the Budget and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Despite his success as a Member of Congress, however, he has decided not to run for reelection in 2012. Last year, redistricting took Asheville out of the 11th District, making it a predominately Republican constituency.


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