The Michigan Daily - Sports Monday - November 11, 1991 - Page 3
&Q' ~ a~~c'
The former quarterback
about his career,
old and new
ESPN color commentator and
:ormer Detroit Lion Gary Daniel-
son realized his dream of playing for
the hometown team, but the journey
was not always easy. Ile starred at
Dearborn Divine Child and went on
to play at Purdue from 1970-1972,
but was not drafted by the NFL. Af-
ter stints with three different World
Football League teams, and a year
off he finally latched on with the Li-
ons. He played in Detroit from
W1976-1984 and finished off his ca-
reer in Cleveland. Daily Sports
Writer Chris Carr spoke with
Danielson over the phone.
Daily: What was that experience
like for you, bouncing around from
team to team for a couple of years?
Gary Danielson: At the time
we thought it was real tough. I was
married right when I got out of col-
lege. I was also going back to Pur-
*lue, working on my masters at the
It seemed like tough times be-
cause I was really convinced that I
was good enough to play and there
was a whole National Football
League telling me that I couldn't.
Everybody that I called said that I
wasn't good enough.
Most of my friends and family
*were telling me that I should get a
job and choose a different career and
that I was just basically chasing
windmills at that time. But I was
convinced that they were wrong. I
was fortunate enough to have a wife
who was helpful in working and
helping out financially at that time,
and we finally ended up proving a
lot of people wrong.
D: Where did you get your start
GD: I think it is more at-
tributable to the work I did with
the Easter Seals Telethon than any-
thing else. I was involved with
Easter Seals as a community project.
'I was really
convinced that I was
good enough to play
and there was a
telling me that I
I always believed that players owed
some time to the community. I
ended up being on TV once a year do-
ing that and received a lot of posi-
tive feedback from WDIV, so they
offered me an opportunity to do it
full time as a reporter.
I did that local television a cou-
ple of different times at WDIV but
really didn't enjoy local reporting a
whole lot. I heard about some op-
portunities at ESPN and called
them a few times, kind of similar to
my tryouts with the NFL, and con-
vinced somebody to let me try it and
I finally got the job.
D: With your job at ESPN, what
are some of the things you really
like and find enjoyable?
GD: I get to stay close to foot-
ball, and I think it is something that
I know a lot about. I'm not shy to
say it. I enjoy what I am doing, and I
think I do it well. I think I was
frustrated watching other people
try to explain football to the fans,
and I didn't think that they did a
great job of it. What I sold ESPN on
is that there were too many coaches
doing it, and we needed some play-
D: On the subject of your former
team, the Lions, are you surprised by
their success this season?
GD: A little bit. I think that
they are vastly improved, and they
are riding Barry Sanders a little bit.
I think they have slowly put a team
together that is now starting to be-
lieve what can happen. I think that
they are going to get better, better
and better. Of course now, with the
injury to Rodney, that's going to be
a big bump in the road.
The thing that worries me there
is they are building a team around
Barry Sanders similar to the way we
built it around Billy Sims where if
one guy goes down, you're team is
kind of bumped for six, seven, eight,
nine years which is what happened
D: How does Barry Sanders
compare to Billy Sims?
GD: I think they are similar in
their impact on the game although
they don't run the ball similarly. I
think Barry is a much better broken
field runner, has better balance, and
probably a lot faster than Billy.
Billy was a better inside runner, he
was a better blocker, picking up
blitzes, and I think he caught the
ball better than Barry does. They
both are dynamic football players.
D: In the past, the management
style in Detroit has received a lot of
criticism in the media. What's your
opinion of it? Do you feel that you
were always treated fairly in De-
GD: There was a lot of frustra-
tion playing because you're out
there in front of everyone, and
you're trying to win a game. As a
quarterback, you know that when
things go well things are going to
be good for everybody. When things
go bad, it's usually the head coach
and quarterback that get it.
The frustration I had in Detroit
was, when I was playing, I don't
think that everybody ever looked at
the big picture of what it took to
put a winner together. In the Na-
tional Football League, you win
with your backups. You have to have
depth. Nobody goes through a year
with their starters in tact. We al-
ways had a fairly competitive start-
ing unit. But we were always too
quick to give up on our backups and
give away our second and third
string guys and play with rookies.
There was a big sense of frustra-
tion about that because it was al-
ways tough for us. We would run
out of gas halfway through the sea-
son. A lot of people on the team felt
that there were financial reasons in
those decisions, and when you're
playing and in the middle of it, you
become frustrated with that.
I was always treated well by my
coaches. I always enjoyed playing
with the Detroit Lions. It is still
the biggest thrill that I had in
sports just to play with that team.
Everybody understands that
(former Lions General Manager)
Russ Thomas and I had some prob-
lems, but those were always in a
'I think even though
Gary (Moeller) doesn't
say it publicly, I really
think that the
changed. A Big Ten
championship is a
good goal, but it is
just a stepping stone
to a new goal, and
that's being a national
type of situation where he wouldn't
give in and I wouldn't give in. He
respected me for that, and I re-
spected him for his job. He was just
following orders. There was no an-
imosity between us.
D: Do you wish you could have
finished off your career in Detroit?
GD: At the time I did. But now
that I went to Cleveland, I think
that it was great that I went to an-
other place and found out that there
were other teams, there was another
league. I think it helped me to go to
another team and have different
people see me in a different light.
I retired as the 20th all-time
leading passer in the history of the
National Football League, and my
name was right there in the Hall of
Fame. I never will make the Hall of
Fame, and I was just a journeyman
quarterback. But I don't think that
there is any real embarrassment
D: What was your single great-
est memory of playing in Detroit?
GD: The very first time that I
was able to play for the Detroit Li-
ons. I grew up idolizing those guys.
And I was able to play with Len
Barney, Charlie Sanders, and Bob
Hand, the guys I grew up with
watching and I got to play on the
same team and there is nothing that
can ever really surpass that.
The single greatest disappoint-
ment was that my dad, who helped
me so much with my career and he
had the goal as much as I did for me
to be a pro quarterback, even when I
was nine and 10 years old, we both
talked about it, never lived long
enough to see me play on the Lions.
D: Having watched Michigan
this season, do you feel they are a na-
tional championship-caliber team
GD: They have the ability to win
a national championship this year.
It's basically because of a normal
mix of players that they usually
have here at Michigan. This is not a
greater team than they have had be-
fore nor a worse team. I think it's a
very typical Michigan team, except
that they are finally realizing that
to win on a national level they have
to have, number one, the goal to do
I think even though Gary
(Moeller) doesn't say it publicly, I
really think that the objectives at
Michigan have changed. A Big Ten
championship is a good goal, but it
is just a stepping stone to a new
goal, and that's being a national
champion. Because of that, they have
had to re-evaluate that they might
be able to run over the Indianas, the
Illinois, the Northwesterns, the
Minnesotas and the Purdues of the
Big Ten, but to compete on a na-
tional scale, they better learn how
to throw the football.
D: Do you think Desmond
Howard will win the Heisman?
GD: I have already given it to
him. I can't take it back. Although I
won't call him the "Magic Man", I
will call him the "Heisman Man"
D: With all of the great re-
ceivers you have played with or
against in the NFL, who does
Howard remind you of?
GD: Well, it's funny because he
reminds you most of Anthony
Carter. He tilts the game to his side
of field, and he makes the defense
change to stop him.
Gary (Moeller) has created what
I call a pressure point in his offense.
You can do it in a number of differ-
ent ways. The Lions do it with Barry
Sanders. If you don't stop Barry,
they're going to run him. In the
olden days, Earl Campbell was a
pressure point for the Houston Oil-
ers. He's the pressure point for
Michigan where the defense has to
split the tourniquet to stop him or
else he'll cut your heart out. He's
very much like Anthony Carter that
way. I think he does some things
differently than Anthony, but they
very much dominate a football
Johnson's tragedy is
difficult to stomach
I got that feeling again last Thursday.
It was the same feeling I had after turning on CNN Headline News
one spring afternoon a few years back. Two days after I watched the NBA
Draft, two days after I watched college basketball's biggest players
flash their biggest smiles, two days after I watched the beaming young
hero don the green Celtics cap.
But on this afternoon, the smiles had faded. Len Bias, the star in the
green cap, was dead.
I fell back in my seat. My throat clogged, my face became drawn, and
my head dropped. Most noticeably, though, my stomach hurt.
Though I hadn't been a fan of Maryland basketball, nor of Bias him-
self, his death was difficult to digest. To this day, I wonder why it af-
fected me so severely. In fact, I still feel a lump in my stomach when I
recall the event.
I haven't yet understood why. Why I feel the tangible pain of Bias'
death the same way my parents feel about JFK's assassination. Where I
was. What I was doing.
How terrible I felt.
On Thursday, there were different circumstances, but the same emo-
tions. Magic Johnson announced that he had tested positive for the HIV
virus, and hence retired from the NBA.
Many people I spoke to about the tragic announcement lamented the
end of his basketball career. This I found unfathomable.
The thought of Magic Johnson infected with the most deadly virus
known to humankind wedged that lump right back into my stomach, and
it will be some time before it disappears.
Magic. To me, he is not just larger than other point guards. He is not
just larger than life. He is larger than other larger-than-life athletes.
Magic has that smile - the one that Bias wore along with his Celtics
hat. But Magic has given us that smile for the past 14 years.
He was the type of player that filled people with goodness. He gave
us the no-look passes that would make our hearts stop, but also the em-
braces with opposing players that would make our hearts warm.
The way he presented himself Thursday further saddens me. He spoke
with such grace, and wore that wide smile despite having to inform the
world of his tragedy. The scene made me wonder why this happened to
Magic - why it would happen to anyone, but more so why it would
happen to someone with whom I felt so close.
He deserved to be angry. He had just gotten married less than two
months earlier, his wife pregnant with their child when he held the fate-
ful press conference. I wanted to see how great a father he would be.
Magic always planned to own the Lakers and had been waiting for
owner Jerry Buss to sell the team to him. I wanted to see him run it.
Magic had a lot of goals before Thursday. I wanted to watch him ac-
complish them all.
He still can, doctors say. He's not in much physical danger right now.
He may never develop AIDS. He may live as long with the virus as he
would have without.
This is not a eulogy. I don't want to have to remember Magic, because
I want him to be right here, in the immediate present, doing whatever he
does that makes so many people so happy.
He's not dying, as Magic says himself. Because he's not dying, compar-
ing him to Bias is unfair. Magic is still alive, still thriving, and still
smiling. And now he has a new purpose, a new cause in which to put all
Good will come out of this tragedy, I have no doubt, but it's difficult
to acknowledge right now. For now, I'll just think about Magic and feel
that lump in my stomach.
ISO YOU'RE GOOD IN MATH I
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