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Steve McMichael: Tough guys get love, too

( Ed Spaulding is a 1969 graduate of the University of Texas and a former sports editor of the Daily Texan and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. He worked for the Houston Chronicle for 21 years. The South Texas town of Freer, where Steve McMichael went to high school, was part of the area covered by the Corpus Christi paper. Ed covered McMichael during his high school days, and later at Texas. Tomorrow, McMichael will be honored for his contribution to football with induction into the College Hall of Fame. Fifteen Texas players and Coach Darrell Royal have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, including McMichael’s UT teammate, Johnnie Johnson. Thanks, edsp.  whills)


You start in a dusty South Texas town. Population maybe 3,000. In high school, you play every position except quarterback and defensive back. Your first start in college is at defensive end. Your dad dies, violently, in a shooting incident, that same day.

Skip ahead. Let’s find out how the story ends. You end up an All-America defensive tackle. You start for one of the great (and most adored) Super Bowl champions. You do a stint in the pro wrestling ring, do a gig behind the microphone. As you pass age 50, you coach an arena league team to a championship (and a perfect season). And, this week, you join an elite handful out of the many thousands who have played the game with induction into the National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame.

The life and times, as it were, of former Longhorn star Steve McMichael.

Awards, honors, headlines almost always go to the glory guys. The throwers and runners and catchers of the world, like fellow Hall inductees Curt Warner, Tim Brown, Major Harris and Gino Torretta. McMichael wasn’t one of those. He got dirty while they played the national anthem. He was the guy at the bottom of the pile who made the play, the guy the announcers couldn’t see so they credited the tackle to somebody else.

The names people remember from the fabled 1985 Chicago Bears defense are Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Gary Fencik, William "Refrigerator" Perry, Wilber Marshall and coordinator Buddy Ryan. McMichael, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, lined up between Perry and Dan Hampton for the Super Bowl XX champs. He played 14 NFL seasons.

As a UT senior in 1979, McMichael anchored the front line of a defense that ranks among the best in school history. He had 13 tackles in that year’s win over Oklahoma, making 1978 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims his personal assignment. He caused 11 fumbles and had 30 sacks for the Longhorns. McMichael is a member of the Longhorn Hall of Honor, the Texas High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.

Back to the beginning. You don’t get to McMichael’s hometown, Freer, by accident. You have to plan the route carefully (it’s about an hour east of Laredo). Don’t forget to fill up before you start out – there aren’t many gas station – and carry water. There’s oil wells and dust and scrub vegetation. Water and anything green, not so much. And, in the mid 1970s, there were a lot of winning nights and days in Freer. Three of McMichael’s high school teammates played Division I sports in college. Brothers Bill and Jim Acker were at UT with McMichael; Bill and Steve were the starting defensive tackles in 1978 and 1979. Jim Acker was a star pitcher for Cliff Gustafson who went on to a lengthy major league career.

McMichael was almost a Hollywood script in high school. He played offensive tackle, tight end and fullback on offense, defensive end and tackle and linebacker on defense, kicked off, handled extra-point and field goal duties. (He even kicked, briefly, as a Longhorn.) His college coach, Fred Akers, once said of a young McMichael, "He backed the line as well as anybody we’ve seen in high school. But he did it at Freer, so you don’t know how that’ll work out."

According to the Hall of Fame selection panel, it worked out fine.