Bill Little commentary: One heckuva man
May 17, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
In a land of giants, Doug English always came up big.
Tuesday, the former Longhorn all-American and four time NFL Pro Bowl tackle, reached the pinnacle of the collegiate sport when he was named to the 2011 class of the College Football Hall of Fame of the National Football Foundation.
English will become the 16th Longhorn player and 18th Texas inductee, including coaches Dana X. Bible and Darrell Royal, to be enshrined in the College Hall of Fame, which recently moved from South Bend to Atlanta. The 14 new members and two coaches joining the Hall will be welcomed at a banquet at The Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York City on December 6.
A team captain and the Most Valuable Player of the 1974 Longhorns, Doug earned consensus all-American honors his senior year, and was a two-time all-Southwest Conference selection at Texas in 1973 and 1974. The 6-5, 260 pound tackle was a second round draft choice of the Detroit Lions in 1975, and for ten seasons he was one of the best, and most popular, members of the Lions' team.
He was named to the NFL Pro Bowl as an all-star following the seasons of 1978, 1981, 1982 and 1983, but was forced to give up the game following a neck injury he suffered in a game on November 10, 1985.
His induction puts a final stamp on the faith held in him of his college position coach--and the man who recruited him to Texas--the late R. M. Patterson, who died in December of 2009.
Patterson found English after he had finally gotten on the field his senior year at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas.
"He was a lanky, tall fellow that ran hard and worked hard to get to the football," Patterson remembered during English's senior year at Texas. "I thought someday he might be a 6-5, 260 pound lineman with tremendous potential."
And that is exactly who he became.
"I liked what I saw in every way," Patterson said then. "He just came from an all-American family. You know any person who has great ability will be a natural leader. But when you get a real exceptional person with a great attitude as well, you'll almost always find good results, whether it's in football, or in any aspect of life."
Jerry Green, the long-time respected columnist for the Detroit News, saw the same gifts in English. When English was forced to retire from pro football in May of 1986 because of a ruptured vertebra, Green wrote a column entitled, "Lions lose a class act in English."
"You are not allowed to make too many friends among the athletes in this journalism business," wrote Green. "The athletes have to be choosy and so do you. Doug English was a rare friend."
Twenty-five years later, Green and fellow sports writer Mike O'Hara of the Detroit News still agreed.
"Doug English made such an impression on Detroit that 25 years later he is still remembered," says O'Hara. "I will use the words of his former coach, Monte Clark, to describe him: `Doug English is a cut above the guys who usually came through as professional football players. ` He was a great player, and a great guy. When they named an all-time Detroit Lions team for their 75th anniversary, Doug was on it."
He was on it, both sports writers would add, for all the right reasons.
When he returned to Austin after his playing days were over, English got involved in business activities, but still found time to support numerous charities, including one that is involved in research of spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. In 1998, he served as a member of the search committee which recommended the hiring of Longhorn football coach Mack Brown. He is active in the NFL Alumni Association in Austin, and now spends most of his time with his ranch and his family.
"First of all, he was a human being," says Green today. "He was a great person as well as a great football player. We would go to dinner together once a year, and would talk about everything and anything except football. He had manifold interests. I really appreciated him. He was a wonderful pro."
Jay Arnold, who played with English at Texas during the 1972 and 1973 seasons, remembers a teammate whose work ethic would be his lasting impression. It came naturally: when English was in junior high, his coaches cut him from the eighth grade squad. But English just kept coming back, and finally, the coaches agreed he could be on the team.
"He practiced as hard as he played," remembers Arnold. "And he led by example. He expected all of us to give as much as he did. I remember watching the film of an Arkansas game his sophomore year. He had been sick and hadn't practiced all week. Arkansas was at our goal line, and it was fourth down. They decided to run right up the middle. On the film, it looks like a bomb exploded. Doug crashed through everything and made the tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Plays like that were pretty commonplace for him in his later years, but I remember all of us looking at that video and thinking he was going to be a really special football player."
For English himself, joining the elite of college football is more of opportunity than an accomplishment.
"One thing that being able to split a two-gap and bring down a guy with one hand provides is a chance to help young people," said English, who was one of the most consistent tacklers at Texas and in the NFL, ripping down ball carriers with hands that were as big as baseball gloves. "You get a chance to pat a young player on his back and say `good job' and `are you doing your homework?', and they will listen to you more than they will 900 counselors and advisers because you enjoyed success as an athlete. In that, you may be able to do some good."
It is not without irony that English once played the lead in a movie called "Big, Bad John." It co-starred country singer Jimmy Dean, and was based loosely on Dean's song about a miner who became a hero when he used his mighty strength to rescue some co-workers trapped in a mine disaster.
"The only important thing sport can leave you is a chance to make a difference for people," English said Tuesday. "This is a chance to represent your school, but it is also a chance to represent those teammates who worked so hard with you. It is good for people whom you care about."
Through his example as a player, his character and reputation as a person, and his commitment to charities which make a difference to others, English personifies the big man who lifted those timbers in the song.
The day English retired from the Lions, he said this to Jerry Green:
"Life is an experiencing of emotion. Technically, you can take a computer and hook it up to a corpse and make it talk, make it breathe - do things that people do. But it wouldn't have emotions."
That is why Doug English's cell phone was full of messages Tuesday. It is why he called his old coach, Darrell Royal, to thank him. And it is why there will be smiles, and there will be tears, each time he is honored as the newest Longhorn member of the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame.