Anatomy of an Era: John Reece, Part 2
Excerpted from Chapter 58, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 1 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: John Reece, Part 2
Q: So after the Florida State game you got drafted by the Rams?
JR: I actually got drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. (laughs) I kid with people all the time that I left heaven and I got sent to hell. (laughs)
Me and Buddy Ryan, man, we just didn’t get along. He drafted a guy by the name of Perry Carter out of Southern Miss, so he drafted the guy two picks ahead of me. He was like the 111th pick and I was the 113th pick. So he had those picks back to back. We played the same position: we played corner. We were both pretty big, fast guys. And it turns out I had a pretty good sports agent at the time; he had a lot of Cowboys. And we had talked ahead of time going into mini-camp, “Don’t talk contract. Let me talk contract. Here’s a number that we’re gonna start at and here’s probably what we’re gonna get.” And we left it at that.
And I remember after mini-camp Perry and his agent were on the phone with me and his agent says, “Perry just told me he signed for a little bit of money.” And I go, “What do you mean?” And Perry goes, “Yeah, he just got me this much...” And I told him, ‘Dude, you got screwed! We should have gotten a hundred grand more..’ I said, ‘…why’d you do that?’ And he goes, “Well, they told my agent they’re out of money and yada, yada, yada, and all that.” So I called my agent and he’s like, “What?!” So he called them and the (Cardinals) played this game like, “Well, we can’t pay more than we paid Perry because we picked him two picks ahead of you.” So I held out of training camp for one day, (laughs) which was totally stupid for a fourth round pick. Not something a fourth round pick wants to do, you know? So I get back up there and he’s giving me the cold shoulder, and it just wasn’t a good fit at all.
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Then they come to me and say, “You know, there were a lot of teams that were interested in you before we drafted you.“ And I was, ‘Oh great, just send me someplace. I don’t care.’ So I ended up going to Kansas City. It was great, man, with Joe Montana and Derrick Thomas. I got to hang out with Derrick a lot. For some reason he took me under his wing. It was fun, a great team, great camaraderie, great teammates, great coach in Marty Schottenhiemer, back in the Midwest where I was comfortable with things. And as it turns out they had a bunch of running backs get hurt going into the 10th week. And I was on the developmental squad, so they needed to bring in some running backs and I got axed. And then I got picked up by the Raiders. I finished the season with the Raiders, signed back with Kansas City in January or February, and before I could pack up all my stuff and move back to Kansas City they signed James Hasty, Brian Washington, Ronnie Lott, A.J. Johnson, all these guys that had years in the league, (laughs) All-Pros and they all walk in with million-dollar bonuses. So I go from being #2 on the depth chart to #5 overnight and I go, ‘There’s no way.’ So I ended up working my ass off during that offseason program and I ended up getting married that June and go to camp in July, get all situated and wake up the next morning with a phone call from Marty Schottenmhiemer saying they’re gonna let me go. And I go, ‘You’re not even gonna let me compete?’ And he was like, “I just signed too many guys. I’m sorry. You know I like you as a player, but there’s other guys we’re paying a lot of money, so we’ll roll the dice and just see where we end up.“
And it’s funny, because my wife was the Entertainment Coordinator for the Rams and also one of the Rams cheerleaders, and they knew we were getting married and it was at that time the Rams had moved to St. Louis. So while I was in Kansas City going to practice they were flying her back because she was helping them get their cheerleading outfit started out there. So during the week she’d fly out there and on the weekends she’d fly back home. Then the special teams coach I had with the Raiders, Steve Ortmeier, got the General Manager’s job with the St. Louis Rams. So I’m getting released and I call her, and Debbie Polan, the recruiting person, walked by the desk and talks to my wife, “Hey, when you see John tell him hello.” And she goes, “Well, you’re not going to believe this, but I just got off the phone with him and they just let him go.” So she’s like, “What?! Well, where is he?” So she goes and talks to Ortmeier and he says, “Yeah, we want him.” So they got me on the next plane to St. Louis, went to the training camp, ended up making the team and signed a two year contract with them. So it all worked out in the end, but man, it was stressful. A stressful time. (laughs)
Q: A nice time to be a newlywed, right?
JR: Yeah, exactly.
Q: John, how did you meet your wife?
JR: Oh, it gets better. Do you remember that trip we took to Tokyo to play Kansas State? Yeah, she danced for Long Beach State’s Competitive Dance Team, so they got invited over there. They won the national title the year before. Florida State’s Dance Team was over there cheering for us and Cal State-Long Beach was cheering for Kansas State, but they were staying at our hotel.
And you remember Kareem Moss? He was begging me one night to go out on the town. I always had this thing where I didn’t want to go out before the games. (And if we went out for a bit later after the game that was okay, but I didn’t want to go out on nights before the game) So we’re sitting in the lobby of that hotel and my wife comes walking down, and Kareem is just begging me to go out. I said, ‘Dude, you know I don’t go out. I’m not going out.’ And he’s like, “C’mon! We’re in Tokyo! Let’s go see the city, let’s have a beer and we’ll be back before midnight. Let’s go.” And I’m kind of eye-balling her the whole time as she’s getting her money exchanged for yen and not really paying any attention to him while he’s giving me his sales pitch… and he notices that I’m staring at her. So he turns and goes, “Hey! Are you going out?” And she says, “Yes, I’m going out with my friends.” And he says, “See, she’s going out!” So I made my mind up then that I was gonna go out. (laughs)
And it was so funny, because here’s a shot in the dark, right: we’re in Tokyo, Japan and I see this girl walk across the lobby and I knew she was probably from Cal State-Long Beach. We ended up jumping in a cab: me, Kareem and Tyrone Hughes, and going down to some area the guys told us about. We get out of the cab and this guy, about 6’ 9” comes out -blond hair, blue eyes- and he goes, “Hey, you guys are Americans?” We’re like, “Yeah, we are.” And he goes, “Come up! I just opened up a new club upstairs. We’ve got great music. I’ll buy you guys a beer.” So we go upstairs and lo and behold her and her friends are all sitting there and I go, ‘Okay, this is fate.’ We sit down -Tyrone, Kareem and I- and they get up and start dancing. And she walked over to our table and says, “Hey, how are you doing?” And I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m great.’ (laughs) So we talked and talked for most of the night and just really hit it off.
Talk about long distance relationships. For about a year and a half, talking back and forth, long distance phone bills, trying to get to know each other. And we were married two years later.
Q: So that was the latter part of your junior year and your whole senior year?
JR: Yeah, that’s the story.
Q: So while your teammates are getting into fights with professional wrestlers you’re meeting pretty dancing girls…
JR: Oh man, you brought back my memory now. Dude! I met her that Wednesday and then we played. It was weird, our timing was all screwed up. It was like Friday there and Saturday over here -or the other way around- but that night we all went out kind of as a group and she went out with me, and we end up at the same place we were before. And getting off the elevator at the hotel I see David White getting pummeled by these two big ol’ guys. So John Parrella, before the elevator closed, just punched one of the guys in the nose. We’d won the Big 8 the year before and he had his ring on and just lacerated the guy’s face.
What started it all was one of the linebackers from Kansas State was talking trash to these guys. So as he’s getting off the elevator he says something to David, who just happens to be on the elevator with the guy, and he gets stuck on the elevator. And these guys think they’re together, so these guys just start pounding on him. As it turns out, we ended up meeting them downstairs at the bottom floor of this place and all hell broke loose. Elbows were flying. It was crazy. I forgot all about that. They closed David’s eye, though. They did a pretty good job on him.
Q: Was David the one who wore sunglasses on the flight home?
JR: Yeah, we got back and Tom was like, “David, come up here and take those glasses off. (laughs) I understand you guys were fighting.” And we’re like, “Coach, it wasn’t us. It was a guy from Kansas State. He started it. We saw these guys beating up our teammate and we all jumped in.” Tom understood. He said, “I told you guys I don’t like you guys going out drinking and that other stuff.“ It was really innocent. We were all gonna meet up at the same place. Some of the guys from Kansas State were pretty cool, but apparently this guy had a chip on his shoulder. Old memories. (laughs)
Q: So tell me, what about your moving to Nebraska stands out to you, such as the team mindset or the walk-ons?
JR: It gave me a greater appreciation for the place. I’ll always hold Nebraska in high regard. I always watched the Oklahoma-Nebraska game. You dream of playing for a program like that growing up. I never realized in my wildest dreams that dream would actually come true.
I befriended a guy in a class that I had, his name was Shad. He’s from Norfolk and he took me home one weekend, “I’m gonna take you to Norfolk.” And I’m like, ‘No problem.’ And he was going back because he was the prom king the year before, to crown the new guy, and I go walking in, and it was right after the Fiesta Bowl. So I walk in with all my Fiesta Bowl stuff on into this gym and I’m like the only guy colored in the place. (laughs) And everybody knew who I was and it was, “Hey, how you doing?” It brought it full circle for me. This was their life to these people: the program. It was just cool, because I was never treated unfairly. Nobody ever made crazy comments to us.
I was talking to Kevin Ramaekers and Toby a few months ago, and the more I’m away from it the more I appreciate what went on there. We were treated like kings, man. Aside from me having kids and everything nowadays, those are the best times of my life.
Q: Wow, Norfolk, Nebraska. You know John, I grew up about 45 miles away from there, and as a kid Norfolk was the ‘big city’ for me. (laughs) It was a 45 minute drive from my hometown to the Norfolk, and at the time it was the nearest place a person could get McDonald’s french fries…
JR: (laughs) That is hilarious. Hey, what was the place with those..what were they called? Runzas? The food place? My mom and dad still talk about that place, and my sister, too. They had the best swiss mushroom hamburger and fries! I was talking to my sisters a month ago, man, and they always used to get dragged along to all the games, right? And I said, ‘I know that was tough on you.’ And they go, “No, we had a great time. Those people were wonderful. I loved that Runza place. When we pulled into Lincoln there, mom always said, “Okay, we’ve got to get a Runza before we go to the hotel.” (laughs) “And on the way back they would stop and get something for the ride home.” I said, ‘I never knew you guys liked that place. That was my favorite, too.’ (laughs)
Q: You know John, if we were smart we’d both buy the California franchise rights. We’d make a killing.
JR: Oh man, I tell you what. I was telling my wife the other day, “We go back, I’m gonna take you there. You’ll understand.” Especially on a cold night, right?
Q: Bingo, my friend. Say, does any favorite game stand out to you?
JR: They were all special. All special to me. One game that does stand out was coming back my junior year and breaking back into the starting lineup. Colorado had been kicking our tails for so many years. And a lot of the games we got screwed out of. Beating their butt the ways we beat ’em then, and beating Oklahoma, as well.
And winning the Big 8 was awesome. The whole season my senior year was just magical. We’d coined the phrase, “Refuse to Lose” one day. And lo and behold we go 11 and 0 going into the bowl game, and that just seemed like that was going to be our year. We got over the hump and we were going to win the national title. We were two points shy, but that was just a magical season. And not necessarily any game in particular, but what I miss about it is the camaraderie. That year, in particular, we did everything together. We had a cookout at different guys’ houses every weekend. We didn’t have any cliques. We hung out together, we studied together, we went to movies together. We did everything together as a team. It was special.
And I think that’s what the young guys picked up on from us and carried that over in the back to back championship years. We all hung out together. If we saw each other today we’d probably be like we never left the place. I hadn’t talked to Kevin Ramaekers since I’d left until just a few months ago and it was like I’d been with the guy the whole time.
Q: How did you end up talking to Kevin?
JR: Somehow Doak was trying to put a reunion or something together. We always talked about that ’94 class coming back and some of those guys have always said, “Hey, if it weren’t for you guys we never would have won it.” So we were seeing if we could set that up through Doak, and Toby was talking to Doak. Then he called Ramaekers and he called me and three-way’d me in. Toby was like, “Hey John, who was the craziest guy the whole time you were there? Give me his name!” And I’m like, ‘Ramaekers.’ And here Kevin breaks in on the phone just busting up laughing. (laughs) It was a great time. Those type of relationships we had those days? You can’t buy them. I miss those guys.
Q: Did you ever have the chance, while you were in the pros, to sit down with other guys and talk about your college experiences?
JR: You know what was funny, when I was with the Raiders, Tom Rathman and Jamie Williams were still on the squad. (laughs) When I first arrived I was just amazed, because here Rathman walks in and goes, “Hey Husker, how are you doing?” I’m like, ‘It’s Tom Rathman!’ And Jamie Williams was the same way. Knowing me and knowing they’d signed a guy from Nebraska, it was kind of cool.
Q: Did they have any good Coach Solich or good Coach Osborne stories?
JR: None I could share. (laughs)
Q: I think Rathman used to cut his own hair in those days…
JR: Yeah, he did. And it looked like it, too. (laughs) But what great guys, him and Jamie. Great guys, man. Typical Nebraska guys.
Q: Any favorite practice stories?
JR: I’ve got one funny story. Do you remember Big Twinkie, offensive lineman Doug Waddell?
Q: Twink! King of the Airdynes!
JR: We were sitting on the sideline and Doug, he’d always run scout teams for us. And he’d always get everybody so fired up, he was so damned funny.
And they were running a sweep where he had to pull, and I remember Reggie Cooper was our strong safety. Well, Twinkie saw the card beforehand and he was talking trash to Reggie, “You watch out. I‘m gonna get you! I’m coming after you!” And Reggie was like, “Alright Twinkie, you better leave me alone. You better leave me alone.” So he pulls full steam and he’s sprinting, and he comes around the side and Cooper lit his ass up. Bam! Just knocked him on his ass. And something went wrong on the play, so Coach McBride was like, “Run it again!” So Twink gets all fired up: “You got me this time. But I’m coming back. I’m gonna get you good this time!” And Reggie was, “I told you, Twink. Leave me alone.” So they snap the ball and Twinkie comes around full steam again and it looked like a damned replay. He hit him in the same place again, dropped him in the same place. Everybody on the sideline lost it, man. (laughs) Old Twink picked the wrong guy to mess with. Reggie Cooper was physical, the most physical safety I’ve been around.
Q: Did you room with Toby Wright?
JR: Yeah, we were roommates.
Q: Well, I was talking to Lorenzo a while ago and he said that Toby really brought a level of physicality to the defensive backfield…
JR: Yeah, by far. And I don’t say that just because he was my roommate and my best friend.
There’s two guys that George had me recruit. And there were two guys he had me watch film on. It was Lawrence and Toby. George and me had a great relationship. I used to get razzed all the time, “Oh, you’re the Coach’s pet.” For some reason he really didn’t mess with me. He’d call me up 7 in the morning, “Hey, I want to show you this guy. I’ve got film for you.” And so I’m watching this film and Toby’s just lighting everybody up. It was just like a highlight reel for a strong safety. Every hit was a textbook hit: form tackles, driving them in the chest, driving them, just running through them, playing with this ferocity like he was just mad at the world. I was like, ‘Who the hell is this kid?’ and George was like, “I’m bringing him up here tonight. I want you to spend some time with him. Derek Brown is going to be his host. I told Derek to find you wherever you are so you can talk to him. So talk to this guy.” Derek actually ended up dropping him off at my place and we hung out most of the night, and I told him, ‘We have a need for a safety, big time. We need somebody like you who’s physical, who can change the attitude of this defense. We’ve got to get more aggressive.’ He decided to come out and it was just amazing.
That Tokyo trip was so special to me because it was kind of Toby’s coming-out party. He had two or three sacks against Kansas State, I met my wife and had a really good game. I look back on that, and it solidified friendships between him and I and Kareem, Ed Stewart and some other guys.
That trip was so special, but Toby, he was unreal. And he had a knack for just getting to the football and making stuff happen. He and George had a really difficult time. Toby was a guy where you just wanted to open it up and let him go. To give him a whole bunch of assignments or have him think about where his feet were going before the snap of the ball and all that? I was like, ‘Hey, just line him up and let him go.’ It was kind of my job there. It was difficult because I was actually rated pretty high as a corner going into my senior year and we get into the Kansas State game and Troy Dumas, who was a hell of a young safety, he and George were really butting heads one game and Troy blew an assignment, and I look up and we’re behind 14-0 at home.
And George called me on the intercom from the press box and says, “How much safety do you know?” And I go, ‘Coach, I know the package.’ And he says, “You go tell Troy that you’re going in at safety.” And I said, ‘No, you tell Troy that I’m going in a safety and I’ll tell Tyrone Williams to get prepared to go in at corner.’ I thought it was just going to be for that game, but it ended up remaining that way for the rest of the season. But anyhow, it worked out. You do what you’ve got to do to benefit the team. Me and Toby were a great combination at safety. I was able to get everybody lined up and just get in the right defense and calm everybody down back there. Tyrone was a hell of a corner. It was a shame keeping him on the bench, so it all worked out.
Q: And then Troy moved to linebacker…
JR: Where he probably should have been. Troy was another guy that was good going straight ahead and covering the H-back, your tight end, but really didn’t have the hips to play safety the way we needed to play, doing a bunch of covering. That’s not a knock against Troy, but he was just better suited at that linebacker position.
Q: Watching film from those days, he would hurt people!
JR: Oh yeah, he’s a big old backer, man. Big old kid. They thought he was going to be another Steve Atwater, but he just didn’t have the hip movement. A little stiff in the hips, but he should have been put a little closer to the line of scrimmage for starters. He didn’t have any business being ten yards off the ball. You wanted him 3 to 5 yards off of the ball where he could go in and get physical. That was an attribute of his. The same thing with Toby. Only Toby could cover, good hips and everything. He was just a good football player.
To be continued….
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