Legendary coach John Majors and I always have had a great relationship. When he was coaching at Tennessee, I planned one trip each season to see him and scout their talent.
Our annual tradition was to go to "The Orangery," a great restaurant in Knoxville, the night before the game. It was at one of these dinners where I first heard about Reggie White.
Coach Majors hadn't seen this young recruit from Chattanooga play football in high school, but he had recently witnessed him on the basketball court. Majors referred to him as a "man among boys" in that game and determined that he probably could have had an NBA career if that had been the direction he pursued. Fortunately for coach Majors and football fans everywhere, White chose the pigskin.
White was a larger-than-life person, who had been recruited to Tennessee by Bobby Jackson, who now is an NFL assistant.
Majors recalled White, a very religious person who became an ordained minister at age 17, asking him regularly to hold a team prayer on the field before practice started. He was able to use his wit and personality to mock those he played against on the field, as well as those around him in everyday life.
Majors recounted a story to me once that typified White's persona. The hot walk from practice to the locker rooms at Tennessee was a little under 10 minutes. Majors decided to forego the walk and ride as a passenger in a car up the hill. As he tried to get out of the car, he found a dog snarling, yelping and attacking his leg. It wasn't any normal dog, though. White had snuck up behind the car and put on a show that left the rest of his teammates howling with laughter. That was White -- always the life of the party.
White put on one of the most remarkable individual performances I ever witnessed as a scout, in a night game in 1983 against LSU in Knoxville. He started the game playing straight up against tackle Lance Smith, who was a talented player. He was no match for White, though, and neither was anyone else on the field that night. LSU tried to double- and triple-team him -- and even chip him with the tight end -- all to no avail.
White and the Vols held a very talented Tigers offense that featured future second-round picks Dalton Hilliard and Gary James to only 170 yards and won 20-6. White finished the game with a sack and six solo tackles, three of which went for a combined total of 19 yards lost. But the stats didn't even come close to telling the story. The only other comparable performance I every saw was Randy White's final game as a senior for Maryland in the Liberty Bowl. These were two future Hall of Famers playing to their capacity.
Following his senior year, White was one of the three players I had been assigned by the NFL to usher through the predraft process. The USFL had been formed and was on the warpath to sign as many of the seniors coming out of college as they could.
The day he flew back from the Japan Bowl -- and was named the game's MVP -- I met his plane at Los Angeles International Airport and took him to the Sheraton Hotel to have dinner and explain all the pros and cons of signing with the NFL vs. the USFL.
But a lot of owners in the upstart league were offering millions in deferred payments to players -- most of which the players unfortunately never saw.
White played for the Memphis Showboats in 1984-85. In between those two seasons, on June 5, 1984, the Eagles selected him with the fourth pick overall in the supplemental draft. After the USFL played its final game in 1985, White joined the Eagles.
Since he was in our division, we got familiar with White's abilities at the pro level. Two games every year taught us quickly how the "Minister of Defense" got his nickname.
White went on to an NFL career that included 13 Pro Bowls, two Super Bowls and 198 sacks in 232 games. He is one of a handful of players to make two different NFL All-Decade Teams (1980s and 1990s). The Eagles and Packers retired his familiar number "92" last year, making White the only player in NFL history to be so honored by two teams. The University of Tennessee also retired his number.
My last fond personal memory of White was during Media Day on the Tuesday before Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans. He was sitting on the ground in the Superdome playfully answering reporters' questions when he called me over to needle me about something that had been on his mind. He wanted to get his point across that a merchandise company I had been affiliated with should allow him to sell its hats and shirts in his Green Bay retail store. Then he gave me that huge smile.
That Super Bowl victory was his crowning moment, and his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame will cap an outstanding athletic career for one of the most unbelievable people I've ever known in sports.
DID YOU KNOW?
The nickname "Minister of Defense" was given to him by University of Tennessee public relations men Bud Ford and Haywood Harris before the 1983 season.
He sacked 75 different quarterbacks during his NFL career, including Troy Aikman (seven) and Warren Moon (five).
He became the first big-name player to switch teams in the era of unrestricted free agency in 1993 when he signed with Green Bay.
His nine consecutive seasons with 10 or more sacks is an NFL record.
In 1980, as a high school senior, he was named the nation's top two-sport athlete. He finished ahead of Patrick Ewing.