Bill Little commentary: A place in the Hall -- Steve McMichael
April 30, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
If it is as they say -- that there is a thin veil between life and death -- then somewhere from a place beyond E. V. McMichael is smiling right now.
It has been a long time since that night in 1976 when young Steve McMichael was returning to Austin after starting his very first game as a Texas Longhorn defensive end against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock. A lot would change that late October night. The night before the game, Darrell Royal would confide to some close associates that he likely would retire as the Texas head football coach following the season.
Earl Campbell, the star of the team, would re-injure a hamstring and would miss the next four games in what would turn out to be a 5-5-1 season. For Steve McMichael, a sturdy young freshman from Freer who had been considered for the tight end position, his first start as a Longhorn had ended in a 31-28 loss to the Red Raiders.
But that night -- October 30, 1976 -- young Steve would learn the difference between the game of football and the reality of life. That night, E. V. McMichael, an oil field superintendent, was shot to death outside his home in South Texas.
In the years that would follow, Steve would stick with the game E. V. had helped teach him. Where it was football that had brought him to The University of Texas, it would be Steve's drive and dedication that would carry him to the greatest heights of the game.
That is why, on Wednesday, when Steve McMichael was announced as the Texas Longhorns' 15th player and 17th overall inductee (including coaches D. X. Bible and Darrell Royal) into the National Football Foundation's College Hall of Fame, you have to figure there was a loud cheer somewhere beyond the sky.
"I will never be able to thank The University of Texas enough for what it did for me during that time," McMichael recalled from his home in Chicago, where he was a star in the NFL for the Bears and is now the head coach of the arena league Chicago Slaughter. "My 'old man' put me on the road, but if it hadn't have been for Texas, I have no idea where I would be right now."
McMichael joins a class that includes, among others, Tim Brown of Notre Dame, Major Harris of West Virginia, Chris Spielman of Ohio State, Curt Warner of Penn State, Gino Torretta of Miami and Grant Wistrom of Nebraska.
There were those, during his playing days at Texas, who would swear that McMichael was the poster boy for the old cartoon showing a grizzled guy with a menacing look with the take off on the Bible scripture saying, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil...'cause I am the meanest dude in the valley."
Back at Texas Tech his junior year, when the Red Raiders' spirit group came to the airport and rolled out a red carpet, McMichael and his fellow tackle Bill Acker took one look at the welcome gesture, then pushed through the red-and-black clad students and walked around the carpet. Texas won the next day, 24-7.
His senior year in 1979, as part of perhaps the best defense in Texas history (it allowed an average of only nine points per game), McMichael personally dominated the 1978 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims in the Longhorns' 16-7 victory over the Sooners. Sims gained only 73 yards on 20 carries, and McMichael registered 13 tackles -- nine against the running game.
McMichael totaled 133 tackles during his senior season, and posted 369 tackles, 30 sacks, 40 tackles behind the line, 99 quarterback pressures and 11 caused fumbles during his career as a Longhorn.
In the NFL, McMichael's name would become famous in Chicago, where he would help lead the Bears to some of their greatest moments, including a Super Bowl win in the 1985-86 season. Drafted and later cut by the New England Patriots in 1980, McMichael rebounded to become a two-time Pro Bowler in Chicago. He played 14 years in the league, retiring in 1994 after a final season with Green Bay. He set a Bears' record by playing in 191 consecutive games, and during his career he registered 95 sacks and played in 213 NFL games.
He then took a spin as a professional wrestler before retiring in 1999. In 2001, he returned to Chicago where he has hosted the Chicago Bears pre- and postgame shows on the local ESPN radio affiliate.
His Chicago Slaughter Professional Arena team is 7-0 and has clinched the Western Division of the Continental Indoor Football League, doing so with a 78-25 victory over Milwaukee last Saturday.
A member of the Longhorn Hall of Honor, the Texas High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, McMichael is involved in numerous charities, most notably the Fisher House Foundation and other organizations that support wounded soldiers and their families.
McMichael becomes the second member of his Longhorn era to be inducted into the NFF Hall of Fame, joining safety Johnnie Johnson, who was enshrined in 2007. Upon his induction during the December festivities in New York, Johnson allowed that he would have made a lot more tackles, had McMichael not made them all before they could get into the secondary.
"I can tell you this," McMichael said Wednesday. "I will be wearing orange. There is no way to describe how much this means, or how thankful I am to all of the people who helped me at Texas. All I can say is, 'Hook 'em!'"
It is a long way from Freer, Texas, to the ballroom of the storied Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The years perhaps have dulled the pain of that night so very long ago that changed the life of a young freshman. But when Steve McMichael, his wife and new baby girl celebrate that moment in the grand old hotel, there will be a lot of pride in a lot of places, seen and unseen.
Because, you see, in his playing time at Texas and at Chicago, many people saw the tough exterior of a man carved from the dust of the land and the steel of the spirit. But what drove Steve McMichael was a wry smile that reflected someone who could see the fun side of life, even in the hard times. It was paired with a fierce determination and an unbending drive of competition.
Most of all, it was about matters of the heart -- the kind which fought undaunted, perhaps bloody, but always unbowed.