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Five minutes with a legend: Ted Hendricks

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Mike Beacom
Contributing writer

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By Mike Beacom

For 15 seasons, Ted Hendricks lived in the nightmares of NFL quarterbacks. The Mad Stork used his long arms to disrupt passing lanes and wrap up opposing passers. He also haunted kickers, having accumulated a combined 25 career field-goal and point-after-try blocks. Hendricks had the fortune of playing for the game's all-time winningest coach (Don Shula) and the coach with the highest winning percentage in the modern era (John Madden).

Following a brilliant career as a defensive end at the University of Miami (he finished fifth in the 1968 Heisman Trophy balloting), Hendricks was selected in the second round of the 1969 NFL draft by Baltimore, where Shula moved the 6-foot-7 rookie to outside linebacker. By his third season, Hendricks earned the first of eight Pro Bowl invitations, helping to breathe life into an aging roster. He spent one season in Green Bay before joining a colorful bunch in Oakland and helping the Raiders to their first world title in January 1977. Hendricks’ career ended following a third championship (Super Bowl XVIII). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Today, Hendricks lives in Buffalo Grove, Ill. (a northwestern suburb of Chicago), where he assists with the Hall of Fame Players Association and keeps busy by painting and hitting balls on the golf course. Hendricks is also active with his charity work. The Ted Hendricks Foundation supports youth and seniors, sponsoring Pop Warner teams in Miami and contributing to the Boys and Girls Clubs in the Bay Area.

What inspired you to take up painting?

It started out with Lonnie Sisson, an artist who used to live in Maine. We have a golf tournament up there for Special Olympics. He moved to Albuquerque where he began doing landscapes. I went to Albuquerque for a golf tournament and visited him. He gave his art lessons out on the golf course. We’d look at scenes that we would remark on, picture in our heads and then go back to his studio and paint from memory. He does such remarkable work. It amazed me.

Who at the University of Miami handed you the nickname the Mad Stork?

Our middle guard’s (Nelson Salemi) nickname was the Mad Dog. He gave everybody on our defense a nickname with “mad” in front of it. There was a defensive back with the last name of Dye; he was the Mad Fly. There was a defensive tackle that had an oversized head, so he was the Mad Head. I had skinny legs and no calves, so he nicknamed me the Mad Stork.

In 1969, you joined a Colts team fresh off one of the most memorable losses in NFL history (Super Bowl III). Talk about the team’s mood that training camp.

First of all, I was in awe because they were the Baltimore Colts. They were the only game broadcast in the Miami area, so I was familiar with all of the players. They had All-Pros at every position. I remember when I joined them in San Diego after the college all-star game, they were having an exhibition game against the Chargers. At the pregame meal each one came up and shook my hand and told me they were happy to have me. I thought that was classy.

We had high expectations of repeating that year … (Super Bowl III) was behind them and they were ready to get started for a new year.

There are a lot of 6-foot-7 defenders today, but nobody blocks kicks like you once did. What was the trick? How were you able to be so disruptive?

Teams gave me the freedom to rush the kicker every time. I didn’t have any blocking responsibilities, except maybe when we rushed the punter and peeled back to help on the runback. On extra points and field goals, we studied the films and got across from the weakest lineman and put three people there. I remember Matt Millen was there because he could power through the offensive lineman and get a good push so we could get closer to the kicker. He even blocked one.

You were No. 83 for all but one season. Any negotiations with Packers DE Sweeny Williams about letting you keep the number prior to the 1974 season?

Big Cat Williams? Yeah, I tried to buy it off him. I asked him how much he wanted and said I’d give him a couple hundred dollars, but he was attached to it and wouldn’t budge.

Some folks in Wisconsin are still bitter the team did not keep you around for more than one season. It was arguably your best NFL season (first-team All-Pro, five interceptions, safety). What’s your understanding of how things unfolded during the 1975 offseason?

Green Bay was the first team I came back to negotiate with. I had a real good time playing there, and, like you said, I had a pretty good year. But the holdup was the same as it was later in my negotiations with the Miami Dolphins — a five-year contract with no guarantee. I almost signed with the Atlanta Falcons because they offered a guaranteed contract for five years. Rankin Smith, the owner, was in the insurance business and was going to provide the guarantee. I slept on the thought of playing with Atlanta, but Pat Peppler, the general manager, told me the next morning they were going to respectfully withdraw the offer. They had me in the paper as having already been signed. So we went to Florida where things didn’t work out with the Dolphins and my next stop was with the Raiders, where Mr. Davis gave me a three-year, no-cut contract. That was what I was asking for.

Fans are familiar with Al Davis’ football legacy. Tell me something people do not know about the man, or don’t talk enough about.

I think only now people are becoming aware of how loyal he was to the people he surrounded himself with. That goes for the whole team — once you’re a Raider you had a friend for life in Al Davis. And that policy is being taken over by his son and his family. It’s a close-knit team.

And then there were the things he did that would go unmentioned; whenever someone needed help he was always there to help them. It’s something he never wanted to talk about, but he was always there for the people around him.

The end of your career was one of the more remarkable parts about it — not just that you played so long, but that you were playing in Pro Bowls and Super Bowls well into your 30s. What allowed you to keep up that level of play at the linebacker position?

I was never hurt. I had those 215 consecutive games played, but like I tell everybody — I might not have finished them all, but I was always there for the next game.

Early in my career I didn’t have to work out. Training camp was six weeks long; that was enough time to get in shape. Toward the end of my career I started working out in the offseason just to keep in tone. That probably is what enabled me to extend my career. Plus, I never had a weight problem. I was always pretty thin. When I got to the pros, I was 6-7 and 215 — looked like a basketball player. Everybody always told me I was too light to play in the NFL. Coach Shula was my first coach. We’d have lunch in Memorial Stadium during the week and he’d always slide over ice cream and potatoes to put weight on me (laughs) but it didn’t help at all.

The Ted Hendricks Award — given annually to college football's top defensive end — is going on its 11th year. What is your relationship like with past award recipients?

Well, (recently) I was invited to LaMarr Woodley’s wedding (2006 winner). It’s a unique thing they share … we follow up to see how they’re doing, keep in touch. One year we were in Miami for the Pro Bowl and had a chance to visit with three winners there (Elvis Dumervil, Woodley and Brian Orakpo).

Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mikebeacom.

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