Where are they now: Bob Lilly
By Lisa Zimmerman
(Hall of Famer Bob Lilly, the Dallas Cowboys' first draft pick in franchise history, is now a professional photographer.)
(Sept. 14, 2003) -- If athletes are art in motion, Bob Lilly has had the unique experience of being both subject -- as a Dallas Cowboys
superstar -- and creator -- as a professional photographer. While the aggression of football hardly flows seamlessly into the grace of photography, in this case, for this Hall of Famer
, one led naturally to the other.
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"In 1961, I was selected as a Kodak All-American for my senior season at Texas Christian University," Lilly explained. "Every player selected got a little 35mm camera and 200 rolls of film and that's how I got started."
Some of Lilly's favorite subjects early on were fellow Cowboys.
"I started out taking pictures of my teammates. I took lots of candid shots and eventually put them together for a book called Bob Lilly Reflections
," Lilly continued. "It's a reflection of the different periods of the Cowboys while I was there, from the very beginning, to Roger Staubach and the Super Bowl years. I went over different eras and waves of players and it became basically a pictorial essay."
While capturing his teammates on film was his hobby, capturing the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage was his job, and Lilly learned early it was a tough thing to do.
"When I first came into the league, we played a preseason game against Baltimore, where I had to go up against Jim Parker. I was a 260-pound defensive end fresh out of school and I was playing against a guy who was six-foot seven or eight, weighed almost 300 pounds, ran a 9.8 hundred and was a sure Hall of Famer. After that game I was depressed.
'You know,' I said to myself. 'I've got to get bigger, stronger, quicker and smarter or go get me another job.' So I did all of those things."
And more -- you can add durability and consistency to that list as well.
After being the first player ever drafted by the Dallas Cowboys franchise, Lilly played for 14 seasons, where he missed only one game in his entire tenure. During that span, he was an 11-time Pro Bowl performer, seven-time All-Pro selection and a member of the defense that held Miami
to three points in Super Bowl VI.
During those 14 seasons, the game slowly evolved into what it is today.
"It was totally different when I started because in pro football back then, we only have five coaches, including Coach Landry. We had only 33 players and everyone came into camp out of shape and worked their way into shape in the preseason," Lilly said. "The transition to today's game started when I was there. You could see the need for an off-season conditioning program, which, once we started, was basically running. Then, in '66 or '67, we began a weight program to build strength and endurance. We did that four days a week in the off-season starting in April. Up until then, we were just naturally big guys."
Being "naturally big" used to be a key attribute teams looked for in defensive linemen, but Lilly realizes that now teams look for so much more, as seen in the recent 2003 NFL Draft, where 11 defensive linemen were taken in the first round.
"Defensive linemen have always been at a premium. The difference now is that the technology and the scouting systems are so sophisticated in finding athletes at a young age. The football players coming out of high school today are better and know more about football than when I came out of college," Lilly said. "They're bigger, better conditioned, have been lifting weights since they were young and they've had more coaching."
"It takes tremendous skill to be quick off the ball and strong enough to absorb a 300-pound offensive lineman."
Still, playing on the defensive line in the NFL hasn't gotten any easier, as Lilly explained.
"It's difficult to find really good interior linemen. There is so much action because one of three players from the offense is always coming at you. You're going to get hit and it's going to be instantaneous. It takes tremendous skill to be quick off the ball and strong enough to absorb a 300-pound offensive lineman. You have to have that sixth sense of where the play is. That feeling can't be coached, but you can see who has it when you watch the great players on Sundays."
Lilly still watches.
"I watch at least two games every Sunday and I have high hopes for my Cowboys this year with (Bill) Parcells at the helm. He's establishing discipline and authority, which is important. They've got two young quarterbacks, whom Parcells has kept. He's a huge evaluator of quarterbacks, so we'll see how it works out."
On the six days where Lilly is not watching football, he enjoys spending his time taking walks with his wife, Ann, and visiting his four children and nine grandchildren. He hunts and fishes on occasion and is trying to take up golf.
"I've tried to hit my irons and I can putt a little bit, but that's it. I'm still a member of the Hundred Club. If you break a score of 100, three times, you're out, but I'm still a member," Lilly joked.
He spends the rest of his time taking pictures and making appearances for companies and memorabilia shows.
"The shows are great. I get to see my old buddies and the fans, which is awfully nice. I also donate a lot of my pictures to charity auctions."