By Ron Munden – 2/18/2021
2021 has proved one thing – Texas is unprepared for cold weather. I am one of the lucky ones. I have power currently. I do not have the internet, so I have lots of time to write about the past.
I don’t dream often. At least I do not remember my dreams very much. When I do dream it is often the same dream.
In the dream – I am always carrying a football going for a touchdown. I take a hit and go down just inches short of the goal line. The outcome of the dream never changes.
My football career started on a Saturday afternoon in June 1954. That was the day for Little League tryouts in Marshall Texas. I have been practicing baseball with my friend Charles McIntire for weeks prior to this day. At noon Charles’ dad drove us to sign-up for the tryouts. He dropped us off and drove home. All was going well until I found out that it cost $2 to register. I had no money. I panicked, put my baseball glove under my arm and ran home from the Little League park to 902 East Burleson.
By the time I arrived home my dad had come home from work. He ask me why I was home. I explained. He seemed concerned but not mad at me. He just said, “Get in the car.”
I assumed he was driving me back to the Little League park, but I was wrong. Instead, he drove to Logan and Whaley Sporting Goods Store and bought a football. The rest of the afternoon he and I passed the football in the backyard.
During one of our breaks my dad told me what my future was going to look like. He said that he did not have the money to send me to college, but I was going to college on a football scholarship and I was going to be an engineer. He then said that if I did not do this, I was going you spend the rest of my life working in the body shop. Since I have been working summers in the body shop since I was 9-years old, I knew exactly what that meant, and I also knew I did not want that life.
While it might be blind luck, what dad told me happened just like he said. However we lived in a railroad town, I had never met an engineer and I really did not know what an engineer was, I spent the next couple of years thinking I was going to spend my life driving trains.
My father telling me that I was going to play football came as a surprise. I had never thought about playing football but that fall my dad took me to sign up for midget football.
My first year of football could not be rated as a big success. Football is a contact sport and I hated hitting and being hit. I have always been blessed with speed, but I used that speed to run away from action, not toward it. So that first year I played bench warmer. I hated playing football but I hated thought of telling my father I was quitting much more.
I continued holding the well-deserved position of bench warmer through the 7th and 8th grade. But something happened in the 8th grade. I changed from hating contact and hitting to loving it. The high point of my 8th grade year was overhearing a 9th grade player let his friend I really hit hard.
I was an undiagnosed dyslectic throughout grade school thru graduate school. I only found out later in life. Now I understand why school was so difficult for me during my early years.
Though grade school and the first two years of junior high I hated school. I dreaded going to school every day. I was at the bottom of my class and my twin sister Carol was at the top.
Finally, in the 9th grade I found something I was good at – algebra. I had always understood all of the concepts and processes of arithmetic, but I often got the answer wrong because of transposing numbers. In algebra it is hard to transpose an “x” or “y”.
In football, after three years of bench warming, I made the starting lineup.
My high school football years were good but not great. I played a lot and I did make all-district my senior year. I got to play because I was fast not because I was big. I ended my high school senior at 6 foot 1 inch and 142 pounds.
I never thought about where I would go to college. I knew the school would choose me by offering me a scholarship or I would not go to college. I quickly found that very few schools wanted to offer a football scholarship to a 142-pound halfback. Because of my speed I did get track scholarship offers from some major schools but at that time track scholarships were only half-scholarships and that was not an option. I also knew my father wanted me to play football.
That left the junior colleges, Kilgore and Tyler JCs were talking to me.
Fortunately, Bob Mason, a Marshall coach, took me under his wing. No one in my family had been to college so I knew nothing about college and even how to apply.
Coach Mason was coaching at Marshall but had announced that he was leaving to take a coaching position at Austin College in Sherman. He asks me if I would like to see Austin College. Of course, I said yes. He and his wife took me to AC for a weekend. At the end of the weekend, he asked me if I would like to go to school there. The rest is history. He helped me complete all the paperwork and I was off to Austin College in the fall of 1961.
I arrive at Austin College in August to start two-a-day workouts. I was probably in the best shape of my life. I spent most of the summer building fence but quit two weeks before leaving for college. I sent 8 to 10 hours each day working out at the old Mav stratum with other guys that were also headed off to college.
I was up to 152 pounds when I arrived at AC. Even though I was small, I was the fastest player on the team and that earned me a starting position as defensive safety my freshman year.
Being a college athlete was a completely new experience for me. I got to eat on the training table. I got all the food I could eat and things that I had not eaten before. I don’t recall eating a baked potato before getting to AC but I had one every night after that first night. Between classes I would go to the gym and get high-cal chocolate drinks, I returned home to Marshall at Christmas weighing 195 pounds. I was longer one of the small guys.
Coach Mason once told my father that he thought the more I played the better I played. In track he registered me for the maximum number of events allowed in a track meet. He must have passed that on to the head football coach, Coach Gass.
My sophomore year at AC, I continued to play defensive safety but also played running back on the offensive about half of the time. I loved being on the field that much. I reached 200 pounds that year which made me a more effective ball carrier. Unfortunately, my ability to receive a pass did not improve.
My junior year at AC was my dream year. It started with a bang – a bang I was not expecting. Coach Gass always called the plays from the sideline and a player took the play to the huddle. The first game of the year, AC received the kickoff, and then I carried the ball the first 5 or 6 plays in a row, including a 45-yard run that was called back for clipping. After the last play in the series, I was laying on the ground in the end zone and thinking “do I have enough energy left to walk off the field.”
After being on the sideline for a series or two, I was back in the game, but I never carried the ball two plays in a row for the rest of the game. At half-time I remember sitting against the wall in the locker room sipping on coke from a cup. The coach was discussing the game plan for the second half. At one point he looked at me and said, “Horse can you keep running?” When though I was so tired it felt like my arms were asleep, I said, “yes sir.” I must not be very convincing. I only got to carry the ball a few times the second half but still went over 100-yard rushing for the game.
Things continued going well for the season and I racked up more 100-yard plus games. The last game of the season I did pull a groin muscle, but I just slowed me down for that one game. All-in-all it was a good season. I was lucky enough to be named to the Dallas Morning News All-Texas Football Team and even started getting letters from some of the pro team. At this point I only remember the San Francisco 49s and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Even though I had increased my weight to about 210, I had a successful track season recording a series of 9.7-hundred-yard dashes.
I was honored to be selected as the athlete of the year at Austin College.
It was a very good year.
Austin College is a well-respected liberal arts school, but I went there because I could get my education paid for not because I want a liberal art degree. Remember, I was going to be an engineer. My plans called for me to transfer to University of Texas, Austin at the end of the year three to work on my engineering degree. I considered my athletic career over.
In the late spring of that year, I was contacted by the Head Football Coach and he suggested I consider coming back to AC for one more semester. He outlined some of the benefits. Almost immediately after that my father called and said he had been talking to the Coach. He said that he really wanted me to go back to AC for a semester and if I decided to go back, he could afford to buy me a new car. At this point all of my cars had been cars that had been totaled in a wrench and repaired by us at the body shop.
So just like that my plans changed, and I was going back to AC for a semester and I would be driving a new car.
Maybe if I had been honest with people, they would not have pushed me to come back to AC. I never told my coaches or my father that my groin injury had not fully gone away. I could sprint because you don’t use the groin muscle but when I moved to the side, I could still feel it. I just thought if I gave it enough time it would heal.
The 1st of July was when I started training for football each year. 1964 was no different but the day after my first workout was quite different. After running several sets of sharp cuts, it was clear that the groin injury was still there. I knew I had a problem. I called the coaches at AC. They said to come up to Sherman immediately and they would send me to an athletic doctor.
After the doctor did his exam and a series of x-rays, he said that part of the groin muscle had pulled loose from the bone taking a piece of bone with it. He said it could be repaired with surgery, but I would not be ready by the start of the football season. Surgery was out. So, they started treatment with shots and physical theory.
My senior season was not a good season. I played every game, but my numbers did not match by junior year. I could run but not without pain. My senior year the routine became to play the game on Saturday and run like nothing was wrong. By Sunday morning the groin was very sore and hurt with each step. At 1pm each Sunday I met the trainer at the field house, and we began therapy. Therapy was mainly hot water, ultrasound and an occasion shot. This continued through the week. My workout was limited to mainly running in straight lines. By Friday I felt fairly good. Saturday, we started the routine over.
No one ever said anything, but I know I disappointed a lot of people that year.
After the season ended there was one more chapter. In December. I was called by the Head Coach. He said a scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers wanted to talk to me. They gave me the number. I called him. The scout was a nice gay, and we had a series of conversations. I kept wondering why anyone in their right mind would offer a free agent contract to anyone that had such a disastrous season. Finally, during a conversation, he said that they were looking for a running back that was over 200 pound and had sub 10 flat speed. So, at 210 with 9.7 speed, I got in the door.
I had a conflict. Although the money was good, there were a lot of negatives – I would have needed surgery, I would have left college without a degree, and statistically the chances of me making the team were not good.
My coaches did not try to influence me but my dad wanted me to sign the contract. Finally, I told dad that I was going to engineering school and my football days were behind me.
I spent 2 ½ year at UT and 3 year at UC Berkeley and never attended a football game. During the past 50 years, I may have watched 6 games on TV. I loved playing football but watching is just not the same.
I wonder why I keep having my dream.
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