Old interview with Eddie LeBaron re: careers in pro football

Discussion in 'History Zone' started by fgoodwin, Aug 5, 2008.

  1. fgoodwin

    fgoodwin Well-Known Member

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    I was flipping through an old children's book about careers called "Is My Job for You?".

    In it, author Dic Gardner interviews men in fifteen different career fields, ranging from test pilot to space scientist. For "pro football player", Gardner interviewed Eddie LeBaron. Although the book was published in 1962, the interview was apparently conducted sometime in 1960.

    Oddly enough, although the book is about careers, in five pages of questions, Gardner doesn't ask LeBaron about a career in pro football until the very end!



    Pro Football Player

    Eddie LeBaron is a quarterback and a lawyer. He was All-American in 1949 and afterwards a very popular back with the Washington Redskins for eight seasons. When we talked with him, he was just beginning his first season as an offensive quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, a new team in the National Football League. He is also employed as attorney by an oil company in Midland, Texas, where he lives with his wife and two boys.

    When they are in Dallas, the Cowboys stay at the Ramada Inn. Eddie’s room had a tidy look; the ashtrays were unused; a shaving kit sat squarely in the center of the bureau top, neatly closed. LeBaron’s sandy hair is close-cropped, his eyes blue. His face carries a quiet, almost solemn expression until he begins to speak, then he smiles, bending forward as he talks, giving even his most serious statements a mood of friendly, cheerful persuasion.

    Q. On what vacant lot did you play your first football?

    A. I lived on a ranch and the vacant lot was the cow pasture where I’d throw a football at a clump of grass or a levee and kick it as far as I could. I didn’t have any one to play with, so when I got a little older I trained my dog to bring the football back. When I started to school I had fellows to play with, but for me the real training came when I came home from school. After the chores were done, I’d go out and kick and throw the football around.

    Q. Another former Washington Redskin, Sammy Baugh, taught himself to pass by throwing the ball through an automobile tire.

    A. That’s good training. Of course I didn’t learn it all by myself. My dad and uncle taught me how to hold the ball and so forth. After that, after you learn the basic techniques, you have to spend a lot of time working on it.

    Q. Were you a one-sport man in high school?

    A. No, I played basketball and was on the track team.

    Q. When did you decide on football?

    A. Well, at five foot seven, basketball didn’t offer me much opportunity. In college I spent my time mostly in football and study.

    Q. What did you study at College of the Pacific?

    A. I majored in economics, which left me enough time to take a pretty general course, from philosophy to accounting to art appreciation.

    Q. You were All-American in 1949. Can you name some of the other All-Americans that year?

    A. We had quite a crew at the Chicago Tribune All-Star game that year. It was the graduating group that had come back from the war -- Doak Walker, Charlie Justice, Leo Nomellini, Leon Hart, Emil Sitko and many, many more.

    Q. Which of these men went into professional football?

    A. Of the All-Star team I think all but three went into pro ball.

    Q. How many of them are still in?

    A. Let's see, there are Nomellini and myself, and there might be one or two more.

    Q. What made you decide to play football professionally?

    A. Well, I got out of college in 1949 and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. The offer to play pro ball came along and it was really kind of a challenge, because people said I was too small, and Mr. Marshall of the Redskins decided to take a chance to see if I really could make it or not. I like football -- so I thought I’d play for a year or so and see if I could make it.

    Q. You’re a lawyer now. When did you get your law degree?

    A. After I had played pro ball for a couple of years and had been in the Marine Corps for a couple of years, I decided that you had to either get into a profession or do graduate work of some sort or call it quits in football and get started in business somewhere. I decided to go to law school while I was playing football.

    Q. It has been said that professional football is better football than collegiate football, that the best players by far, are the professionals. Do you agree?

    A. Going into pro ball is a step up from college ball. Your best college ballplayers go into pro ball. It’s just like, to a degree, going from high school to college. Even a great college player gets better in pro ball. He gets bigger, gets stronger, wiser. Contrary to what a lot of people think, football requires a lot of thinking these days. I know in our own ball club we put in from three to five hours a day in practice and meetings and most of that in meetings where we go over the systems. Your players are bigger, stronger, faster and they know a lot more in pro ball.

    Q. Is pro ball rougher than college ball?

    A. If by rough you mean dirty, I don’t think so, because I think individuals cause dirty plays in football and those individuals did the same thing when they were in high school or college and they’re no different in pro ball. It tends to catch up with them as time goes by. Certainly it is rougher when a man 240 pounds hits another man 240 pounds than when a man 190 pounds hits another man 190 pounds. That’s one difference. Also, pro ball players have a tremendous determination to win. That’s the big thing, not the fact that they’re paid, but because the players who do play are great competitors and that’s why they’re there.

    Q. Being only five feet seven inches, do you have much trouble with those monstrous linemen?

    A. Oh, I’m sure it would help to be taller, but – it’s very difficult for me to answer that because I’ve never been taller and I really don’t know. You know, normally you don’t try to throw right over the top of a six-foot-six-inch lineman anyway, no matter how tall you are.

    Q. Do you worry about all that weight rushing toward you when you’re trying to get a pass away?

    A. I’d just as soon get hit by a man 270 pounds as one 190 or 210, because normally the large men hit me fairly high and just fling me down. A smaller man will come in low and hit with more shock.

    Q. Red Grange made $100,000 in his first season in pro ball. There must be even more money to be made these days.

    A. Well, of course Grange was an exception. The average player in those days was playing for $50 or $100 a game. I believe the median salary in the National League right now is close to $9,000 a year, which means a player is making around $750 to $800 a game. Older players who have had a lot of experience get paid more, and of course there is a lot of supply and demand, especially with two leagues now. The salaries are very good for the five months or so that you put in, and I believe that they will keep going up because of greater interest in pro ball and the money coming from TV and things of that sort.

    Q. Away back when Jim Thorpe had an all-Indian team, one of the men, named Big Twig, used to wear an Indian suit onto the playing field. He wore it around town too.

    A. League rules require a certain uniform; you wouldn’t get onto the field in an Indian suit. Nowadays your average pro player is a college graduate, he’s got a family and one or two children, and he is either going to school or working at some business during the off-season. He is a pretty substantial citizen. We do have some colorful players. As they say, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.

    Q. You have two sons. If one of them decided to play pro ball, would you encourage him?

    A. I certainly wouldn’t discourage him. If he wanted to and had the ability, I’d give him the full go-ahead. With the condition that while he was playing ball he used his time and financial advantage to either get an education or work at some business. Pro football is certainly not a profession that you can follow all your life; you’re an old man at the age of thirty, and you have wasted your years to some extent if you haven’t used them to full advantage. Football, if it makes a boy lazy by letting him do nothing for seven months of the year, is not good. But if he uses that time to get himself started in something he’ll be doing the rest of his life, then it’s certainly a wonderful thing.

    Q. What has been your most thrilling moment in pro ball?

    A. There are so many when you’ve played as long as I have -- this is my ninth season -- in 1956 we were playing the Cleveland Browns. We had only beaten them twice and never twice in the same season. We were behind four points and lost the ball with a minute or two left to play. We took the ball on our own twenty-five with a minute left. We marched down and just as the gun sounded I threw a touchdown pass to Johnny Carson. That was a thrill. And also this last season against the Colts with about fourteen seconds left, when Sam Baker kicked a field goal from the forty-five to win the game.

    Q. When you have been playing so long, does the game get old?

    A. When the game gets old, you shouldn’t be playing anymore. The pre-season training is drudgery, but when that first game rolls around, you still feel that fire build up inside of you, and it’s just as if you were playing your first high school or college game all over again.

    Q. What advice would you give to a young man looking forward to a career in professional football?

    A. It is important to have determination in football, but individual skills are important too. A boy has to get good coaching, he has to work hard, and he has to develop individual skills to a high degree. In my own case, I got out and threw the football by the hour, and I made it in spite of my size because I developed that skill. And of course you have to work hard. To be good at anything requires hard work, and the same is true whether you want to be a lawyer or a doctor or anything else. Skill and hard work are what separate the good ones from the rest of the flock.

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