Long before the Super Bowl became the world-wide phenomenon it is today, Tommy Maxwell played in the great game.
He was a defensive back for the Baltimore Colts when they defeated the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in Super Bowl V. It was a historic Super Bowl, being the first since the American Football League and National Football League merged (the Colts were in the American Football Conference and the Cowboys in the National Football Conference).
An All-American defensive back at Texas A&M under the great coach Gene Stallings, Maxwell played six seasons in the NFL. He had the irony of being a part of the world champs and the worst team in the world in that era (the Houston Oilers), along with spending some time with the then-great Oakland Raiders.
He was coached by legends such as Don Shula, John Madden and Bum Phillips.
Long retired, Tommy and his wife Janice now live in Granbury. After earning a masters of theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminar, he started Coaches Outreach, a Christian ministry comprised mostly of retired coaches and lay people who minister to coaches and their spouses.
Recently he took a little time to sit down with the Hood County News:
HCN: You faced the Dallas Cowboys in their early years. Did you ever dream they’d become the legendary franchise of now?
TM: Not really. The Colts in that era were America’s team. There were more people watching Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry. Growing up in Houston, I used to throw the ball up in the air and run and catch it. I’d be Johnny U. I remember the first time Johnny threw me the football (in practice), and all I could think was “Don’t drop it.”
HCN: You played for not one, but two franchises that later left town and broke the hearts of fans. Do you think franchises should be more loyal to fans?
TM: The first thing that comes to mind is money didn’t influence things so much back then. I know Carol Rosenbloom (former Colts owner before Bob Irsay) loved the Colts and Baltimore. When Irsay bought them, he was a different kind of owner. The older owners really cared about players and fans. There should be more loyalty to the fans, but it’s gotten to be more of a business and that dictates everything now.
HCN: What do you think of the recent court decision to reject the settlement for retired players still suffering after-effects from concussions and brain injuries. Did you ever have to deal with such injuries?
TM: Back then if you got knocked out guys would laugh about being goofy. I remember in the college all-star game – when they used to play the Super Bowl champs – I got my worst concussion. But you didn’t think about brain bleeding and such. But now that bleeding gets to calcifying, and I’ve seen a little of that with me. Now they take them out of the game and won’t let them back, and that’s a good thing. We’d just go back in, and I’m sure it made things worse.
Now I’ve got a grandson who’s playing, and this doctor has said it’s even worse for the younger guys. It’s 15-16 years of age before the brain if fully encased. I think it’s the greatest sport ever. I love the gladiator mentality, but maybe they can somehow temper this.
HCN: In a short time you went from the world champs to the worst team in pro football. How does a player deal with that?
TM: Coming to the Oilers, because Bum Phillips was defensive coordinator then, he made it fun. I was going back to my hometown. I had friends there. But man, it sure was fun playing for Bum. All the guys loved him.
Kids today know all about John Madden because of the videogame – and he was a great guy to play for. I wish they knew about Bum because he was such a great guy, a hilariously funny guy with that dry, country sense of humor. Bum had a way to phrase anything in a way that was simple, funny, and we could all understand.
HCN: You also played for one of the most reknowned owners ever in sports, and it’s widely believed Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is emulating the late Al Davis (Raiders). Your thoughts?
TM: I don’t think Jerry has the football knowledge that Al had. Al didn’t have a football background, but he would analyze. For example, he studied the San Francisco (now Golden State) Warriors NBA team and how their defenders stuck with players, and he asked “Why can’t we do that with football?”
We also had a mandate come down when I was there that told us players were to stop going to Al and go to John (Madden). I don’t know a lot about Jerry, but he does like to go public. Al never did that, but players knew he was very involved.
HCN: What was the Super Bowl like then? Did you ever envision it becoming the spectacle it is today?
TM: The day of the game was super exciting. Balloons went up, but most games were like that. I don’t remember all the parties, the buildup on TV. Now I see it and think, “Good gosh.” But one thing hasn’t changed, they are playing for the granddaddy of all rings.
HCN: What players today remind you of players in your day?
TM: Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos QB) reminds me of Johnny Unitas. I’ll see some hits from some guys here and there that me of Jack Tatum (former Raiders/Oilers DB) and Mike Curtis (former Colts LB) sometimes.
HCN: Do you think sports salaries will ever top out?
TM: I don’t see that as long as people keep watching and advertisors pay $2 million a minute. I’m a free enterprise guy, but you know who should be making $2 million a year? Teachers.
HCN: Obviously winning the Super Bowl was a career highlight. What was a low point?
TM: When I was with Oakland and the Steelers had the Immaculate Reception (Franco Harris caught a deflected pass and raced more than half the field to the end zone on the final play of a 13-7 playoff win, one of the most memorable endings in sports history). I’m sitting there thinking I’m getting another Super Bowl ring. (Pittsburgh QB Terry) Bradshaw’s going back and forth. We had him down. If there was instant replay back then, that might not have counted (it was a controversial play), but we didn’t and it did.
Once it was over, we left the field and nobody said one word. We showered, flew back to Oakland, four hours, and not one word.
HCN: Today we have steroids and human growth hormones, what was the banned substance of your playing days?
TM: We had characters who would go out and drink some. We had guys who would play no matter how tipsy they got the night before. Back then it was just beer and alcohol – and there was marijuana.
Not that I was all that good, I was just naive, but I never really got involved. I do remember a funny story, though. My roommate once, we smelled smoke from the room next door and he said, “Tommy, that’s marijuana!” We opened the door, it was pitch dark, but all we could see were five cigarettes glowing in the dark.
HCN: Coaches Outreach keeps you busy these days, doesn’t it?
TM: Yes, it does. It means everything to me. I’m always thinking of all the things I could have screwed my life up with.
These kids are listening, whether we know it or not. You’ve got to get back to character.
Coaches need to lead the way with that.
HCN: While it started out small, this is no longer a small group, is it?
TM: It’s been a slow, gradual growth. There’s 4,000-plus coaches in the studies now, and it’s not just in Texas anymore. We’re in places like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, Kansas.
The thing I love most is there never was an agenda.
HCN: But it is certainly on your agenda for the rest of your life, right?
TM: This isn’t like football. I’m not retiring. This work will never end. Good things will keep happening.
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