JOHN FITZGERALD BOOTY, PART TWO
…the head coach of Daingerfield had talked to our head coach. Coach says “Listen, we wanna invite you guys come watch us play in the semi-finals. And we got tickets for you. And we gonna win for you. And because you are the only team that scored on us.”
We only team gave them any trouble. We could have beat them. But Coach Reynolds asked us, “Hey, do you guys wanna stop?” He asked the team, we said, “No. We don’t wanna stop.” That was the quietest bus ride. I mean, that was a long bus ride, too. That was a long bus ride. Oh, my god. That was a long bus ride. But it was a quiet bus ride back home to Carthage.
And so, that was the end of my high school football career. I didn’t think I was gonna get to the next level. Or so I thought…
John Fitzgerald Booty, Part 2
by Paul Heckmann
Executive Director, Memories Incorporated, a 501c3 Non-Profit
Paul Heckmann: So you are resigned to the fact that your football career is probably over. What happened next?
John Booty: TCU said they looked at me, but they weren’t going to put any scouts on me. I knew what that meant. I ended up playing basketball my senior year and ran track because I had something to prove. TCU said, ‘We’ll invite you as a walk-on. But if you make the team, we’ll look at giving you a scholarship.’
I couldn’t afford that so I had pretty much set my mind on becoming a construction worker like my dad.
We were at track practice getting ready for a regional meet, my secondary coach, Coach Harrison, came to me. He said, “John, have you heard of Cisco Junior College?”
I said, “I’ve heard of it, but that’s a long ways from home.” And he said, “Well, Cisco would like to talk to you.” And they had asked Coach Harrison if Carthage had any hidden talent. And he said, “I told them about you”. And he said “The running back’s coach is gonna come, the offensive coordinator for the Cisco gonna come. They’re gonna watch film on you.” They came and talked to me, Coach says, “Hey, you’re a good athlete. We’ll offer you a scholarship.”
I said, “I’ll come if you let me play wide receiver.”
And he said, “Okay, you can play wide receiver.” And then I said, I was like, “Okay.”
And then I think I eased around and talked to my head coach. ‘Well, have you talked to them?’ So I think he said he called them and told them “Well, you take the game film, so you can watch the game film on your TV. “
Now how I made up my mind was interesting. The head coach said, “John, we need to know what you’re gonna do because we’re getting ready to have the senior assembly, and who are you gonna sign with? And, obviously, you’re gonna sign with Cisco.”
I said, “Yeah. I’m gonna sign with Cisco.”
So, I had to call Cisco, say, “Yeah, I’m gonna sign with you,” at the last moment because I didn’t go visit. And so that was how I ended up signing with Cisco Junior College.
And have you ever been to Cisco? It’s out in the middle of nowhere, and on a hill. I didn’t go visit, but I heard about it. And the first time going there was before two-a-days started. I pull up, there’s a place called Bivins Hall, it’s like an old fort, later on they told me they said it was haunted. But as my mom was leaving, I’m like, “Don’t go. Don’t go. Come back and get me. This is a boy’s home! ‘Oh, god, This is not what I want. This is not paradise!’
So, Cisco’s really out in the middle of nowhere. I’m intimidated anyway, new kid. Seen all these other guys, all freshmen coming in from these bigger schools. We’re down the field. We can get our equipment first. Everybody’s sizing each other up. Who’s first in line, these 60-some, 50-60-some pounds. And getting out on the field, that low hill down there, walked out to this field, and guys like they’re superstar athletes, track stars getting ready to run the 40.
So, we ran the 40s and all that jazz. We had to go down physician meetings and whatnot afterwards. Because we had the team meeting. We had to go the physician meet after we ran the 40s.
So, I’m going to the receivers’ meetings. And the current Coach, he didn’t call my name.
Coach Anderson, who recruited me, he said, “If I didn’t call your name, come up to me afterwards.” And after the meeting, I said, “Coach?” He looked up. I said, “You didn’t call my name.” He said, “Hey, John. Yeah. Okay.” And he just quietly wrote my name down.
Like that is weird and as soon as I walked out of there, the defense coordinator Rick Frasier, and the secondary coach who had drove up, who had spotted me, said, “Booty, where were you?”
I said, “Coach, I was in the meeting.” He like, “We didn’t bring you here to play receiver. We bought you play defensive back.” Oh. I said, “Oh, okay.” And so, I started going to the defensive meetings, and all that. That was how I started playing DB
The freshmen meet and practice, then the sophomores come in. We’d practice with them.
One guy is like, “Man, you got good hips. The way you move, you’re a good athlete.” So, I found it pretty cool to be told that by a sophomore.
Labor Day, we had our first game after Labor Day, I think it was. But I was homesick. And the coach allowed me to go home for Labor Day. And another guy, he practiced – another freshman practiced at my place. And I come back and then he said, “John, you made the travel squad.”
So, I made the travel squad. And we won the first game. And I got some playing time throughout the year, but I wasn’t a starter. Because our starters are really good. We had about 15 guys from that sophomore team go off to the major universities, big colleges. I think Cisco was really the first “last-chance university”.
And we won 8 and 2, and didn’t make a bowl game. We lost by, I think, about a total of four points. You heard of Ranger Junior College?
Paul: Of course, strong program.
John: Yeah. We lost to them by one point. And man, I didn’t touch the field in that game because that was serious, that was our rival. But overall as a freshman, I got some playing time. Coach says I had potential.
So, during the Christmas break, I went home. I had a girlfriend, and, you know how it is out in the country. Some time passed, well, my mom, I think she got a letter in the mail, and she said, “Baby, aren’t you supposed be back at Cisco?” I said, “Yeah, mom. But, you know, we got time.”
I go to my room, and I hear her say, “Hey, baby. Come here.” I said, “Uh-huh?” She said, “Go back in your room, pack up all your stuff because the boy’s gonna take you back to Cisco tomorrow.” But I was trying to quit. And I didn’t wanna go back to Cisco. So, she made me get back to Cisco. And I got back to Cisco a week late that fall semester of ’85. And the head coach, I knew head coach, he was our defense coordinator, Rick Frasier, just first head coaching job at Cisco.
Paul: I told you, you had the best Mom!
John: Yes I did. Anyway Coach Fraiser said, “Way to go, Booty. That’s where you put yourself behind the eight ball, and fall behind in class. Now you gotta really talk with you professors and making you get caught up.” And after that, he still made me like one of the team captains that season. Now we’ve never played on Thursdays but this year some games we have Thursday night games because of who we’re playing. So, we out for the whole weekend.
And Dallas Cowboys were playing on a Sunday. And one of my friends, Mike Johnson, was good friends with Rickey Jackson. And Rickey Jackson was playing for the New Orleans Saints against Dallas at Texas Stadium.
And we asked Coach could we miss Sunday night meeting so we could go to the Cowboys game. And the head coach and the defensive coordinator said, “Okay. Go ahead. Go ahead and go. But you just be back for your class on Monday.” So, we said, “Okay.”
And we get there, and I met Rickey Jackson. And Mike introduced me and another linebacker to Rickey Jackson. Said, “These are my teammates.” Rickey Jackson looked at me, said, “Man, you play football? You too little to play football.” I’m like, “Golly. Thanks, Rickey.” And my friend, Mike, he was like, “John, uh. No.” he said, “No, he’s a football player.” He said, “You need to put some meat on.”
I said, “Damn, got called out by a Pro Bowler.”
Paul: How much were you weighing then.
John: Ooh, 160. Between 160 and 165.
Paul: But you were about 6’ though, right?
John: Yeah, 6’. but it was like better legs on a table, but I didn’t lift weights, I wasn’t living in the weight room.
John: So, going back to the spring, we had this hill, man at Cisco. They make us run on that hill and have us doing the time missing work and lift weights. And we made the best of it. And I got my 40 speed down to a 4.37.
John: And I was the fastest guy on the team. One practice, he had us line up, just run 100 yards. And we pretty much spot everybody about 40 yards, they running hard and we’re coasting. And then he and I would just turn on and just smoke everybody to get to that 100.
That summer break, my two classmates from Cisco and Carthage, we’re visiting TCU, because TCU had an unbelievable team in 1984 and went to the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston. So, they was high on the hog. And so that spring going into the summer of the ’85, they was looking to repeat.
And, Mom, she let me go to Dallas with Ricky and them after my freshman year at Cisco. And I didn’t have a job, and Ricky gotten a job working construction with a TCU alumni. I was supposed to, so I got a job working construction.
John: But when I went back to Cisco, and they’re like, “Man.” Because I’m working out with the guys at TCU, running and conditioning. He said, “John, you’re looking good, man. You’re legs look stronger.” And I made All American and in my sophomore year had like three interceptions, a whole bunch of pass defenses, and running folks down. Yeah, Cisco get to a bowl game!
And a lot of teams come calling for me then, Tulane, Illinois, Texas A&M and TCU.
And coach told me, “Hey, John. University of Miami has an interest in you.” But I was, well, leaning heavily towards TCU, ‘Man, they just offered me as a walk on, you know, coming out of high school’. And that stuck with me.
John: Plus I knew the guys because I worked out with them and partied with them during the summer. So, I end up going to TCU after that.
And now at Cisco, I just love, love, love Cisco, really. Me and some of the guys go back down to Cisco. This group of us go back down to speak to the football team and go to the lake, go to the lodge, reminisce, and party like it’s 1999. And it’s the boys’ weekend at the Lake Cisco Lobo Lounge.
Paul: It’s not like with that fort that when you first got there and you were begging your Mom to take you back to Carthage?
John: No. No, it’s not. Well, it ain’t too much different from it. But I think they have a new dorm for the players down Route 6. But Bivins is still there. And it looks better. But it’s still like it’s in the wild, wild west.
Paul: Man, I went to school in Kingsville at Texas A & I. I know exactly what you’re talking about, man. Neither one looks like the Garden of Eden. When they were working on the field or protecting it, we would practice on the side. ‘The Rock Pile’, it took my right knee. The left knee went on a 10 and out the year before.
John: Ouch. We tell the kids when we go back to Cisco, said, “Man, how many people wanna come to Cisco on a Friday night?” When you get out of here, we appreciate it. Yeah. We look forward to going to Cisco on a Friday night just to reminisce. But I know when I was there, we were looking forward to get out of Cisco on a Friday night. Yeah.
You said were at the Kingsville? Darrell Green came from there, right?
Paul: Darrell came about three or four years after I left. I think he came in in ’79 or ’80 if I remember. I left a day or so after the Championship in 1976.
John: Yeah. That’s right. And I know he got drafted in ’83. So, he’s coming in at ’79.
Paul: I was there with David Hill. You probably know him from NFL Alumni
John: Okay. So, John Randall. He went there. Right?
Paul: Oh, yeah. He does like to talk.
John: Yeah, that’s John, We talk every once in a while. And Darrell Green. And I know Gene Upshaw went there.
Paul: Exactly. But let’s back to John Booty and TCU.
Let me tell you a story about Cisco, I told Mike Renfro this a couple of years ago.
And I said, “Mike, you made me famous,” I said. He said, I was in line getting our letter from upper level schools while I was at Cisco. And I get a letter, and the header says, “Dallas Cowboys” with the helmet and star on it. I’m like, “Oh, my god.” And everybody saw, “Ooh, “John, you’re heard from the Dallas Cowboys. So, it was a recruiting letter from the Dallas Cowboys letterhead to me, recruited by Mike Renfro… because he went to TCU.
Paul: And your head – and ego is spinning!
John: Yeah (laughs). I said, “Mike, I’ve always been a fan of yours. Even when you was the oldest in the Cowboys, I used to love the way you used to jump up and catch a pass. So, why did you ever do that?” He said, “One time I caught a pass, and my leg’s on the ground and the guy hurt my knee.” He said, “From then on out, I just start leaving my foot – leaving the ground just a little bit, so I won’t get my foot caught.”
I said, “That’s pretty cool.” I said, ‘That’s Mike Renfro.” So, I said, and then, “That helped me kinda like wanna go to TCU.”
And when I was home for a Thanksgiving before the bowl game, Tulane flew me in. My first time I ever ride a plane was out of Shreveport, Louisiana to New Orleans and to go visit Tulane. And my first time on a plane. I’m like, “Oh, my god. Please, please, please.” And so, I leave Shreveport and get to New Orleans. And on the way back from New Orleans, and it’s like they put us on the smallest plane in the history of planes, a little crop duster. And that scared the dickens out of me.
We were like over Lake Pontchartrain, and all that, I was praying, “Oh, my god. And if it goes down, teach me how to swim. I’ll swim the alligators, pythons, whatever’s in that, teach me to swim like Tarzan so I get out.”
Paul: (laughs) Well you are here today I guess you either learned to swim on the way into the water or you didn’t crash
John: Thanks god we didn’t crash.
And now you’re in the big league. TCU Frogs. Big 12 play. Exciting, eh? Fast lights, big city!
John: The big city, right?
Paul: So, you’re in the big city, at least it’s a bigger city than you’ve been in.
John: Yeah. Bigger. Way Bigger. Yeah. Bigger than all the cities I’ve lived in put together. Yeah.
Paul: I mean, when you think of it, that’s some big changes in your life.
John: It is a big change.
Paul: What was the most overwhelming part of that?
John: Well, when I got to TCU, first thing was a weight program. And they weighed me in at 170. And I wasn’t strong. We had to max out and doing max stuff. And it was so bad you can’t even record something. I can’t even lift that, so I had to go to work on it.
And then the workout program there, the mat drills, when they take it through the off-season program, ooh, that stuff is tough.
And everybody pretty much is blue chipper. It don’t matter what you go play for now. Because TCU had a lot of blue chippers, then Coach Wacker let them all go because that situation with the boosters.
Paul: Oh I forgot about that (TCU declared seven players ineligible for accepting money from boosters including All-America Kenneth Davis. Texas oilman Dick Lowe, a TCU booster, admitted helping establish the fund and released a stunning letter outlining details of the fund, to which he says 50-60 boosters contributed and from which as many as 29 players received monthly payments in 1980 and beyond. FA Dry was blamed for starting it to ‘keep up with the big state schools’)
John: But we had some other young guys, a great recruiting class with some great HS players. And I learned as a junior college player, even though I knew some of the guys on the team, a lot of other guys didn’t know me. But there’s a transition that the junior college guy has to make. Because I’m coming in to take the incumbent’s place, so they don’t like that. So, I gotta make that transition.
And then I gotta make the transition into the classroom too. And I don’t think I’ll make the transition. I was always a mostly quiet guy. I like to fun, but I wasn’t I’ll say ‘Out there’.
In looking back, sometimes I could be misled because I wanna be inclusive. But I was always like, ‘If it’s get too rough; I’m gonna take a step back, you know?’
John: But they worked us. Oo-oo-oo-wee, they worked us hard. Oh, my god. I’m like, “Jeez.” But it was a great, great, great experience. And I end up earning the starting spot, left corner spot.
Paul: That’s the busy spot vs right-handers. And was Wacker the head coach then?
John: It was Jim Wacker.
Paul: Okay. The old Texas Lutheran coach. Solid coach!
John: Yeah. Yeah, that’s him. Coach Wacker. And Coach Dawson was my secondary coach. And summer comes, I’d had a summer job for as I worked for Lennox Air Conditioning. And go work out. And then something happened when Lennox was laying folks off, or whatnot. And I just went home, finished up, and came back for the tour days. Even that was tough. And all that turf down, and I’m used to the Texas heat anyway, right?
John: So, we play that first game of the season against Tulane, and we beat them. Tony Jeffers had a hell of a game. Seemed like he had over 300-some yards rushing. And I remember I was so excited – it was my first Power Five, a big-time college football game.
John: First tackle. I was like jumping around and all this jazz. We beat Tulane. And then I think we beat Kansas State. But I learned once we got into playing SMU, they were still powerful. Well, one of my junior college classmates left Cisco with me, David West, he went All American at SMU.
SMU beat us pretty good, I’m like, “Man, these guys are really good.”
Paul: Welcome to the SWC!
John: And this was the first of the Southwest Conference. And somewhere, I thought I wanted the Southwest Conference, but it was no joke.
So, we played. And because of guys who was suspended, we were so young. It was rough. We thought we had more.
Arkansas. Arkansas was ranked that year. I’m like, “Man, these guys are just freakin’ talented.”
Because somebody said, “I just never have liked Baylor.” But they are world class. So, making their adjustments, if I’m realizing – sophomore year to my junior year, huge difference in the level of play.
Paul: Oh, yeah. SWC had some strong teams at the time you guys played them.
John: Exactly. It was like I’m gonna shut down, but I thought, “Come on, John.” I learned you never could rest.
Back then, I just really studied football. And now they say, “Watch film.” I didn’t. Even in high school, I didn’t watch film. We watched it as a group because Coach was right there but, it’s just like am I supposed to come in and watch it all the time, or what?
Sometimes you learn as you go. Things really started to change about that time and when I got to the NFL.
Paul: Before that you didn’t need to much, you were an athlete, and you adapted. And at some point, everybody else is just as good, plus they study film and they’re bigger and stronger.
John: Sometimes it takes a while to learn. But we ended beating Houston and then we go into the last game of the season, Texas A&M. And when I said ‘they stomped the mud holes in us and walked it dry’, they did exactly that. We were down at A&M. Oh. They beat the stuffing out of us. But I wouldn’t stop. I mean, I was running guys down and going. Because of like you’re on the field, we’re not gonna quit. No, we’re not gonna – but we lost 70-something to 10.
John: I mean, we was hustling. I knew I was hustling.
But, man. But I think after the last game, I’m like ‘I didn’t have the season I wanted’. But I’m looking better, because I was learning how to adjust to the big-time football players. I wouldn’t give up.
So, after the winter break, we had a team meeting. Coach Wacker just up and said he has to make some tough, tough, tough decisions. And I’m like, “Wow. He’s fired our secondary coach.” And so, I had a chance to talk to Coach Dawson. He was heartbroken because he loved the game. I talk to him now sometimes. And he said, “John, you were so fresh, so green. I was looking so forward to coaching you your senior year, to kick you up to the next level because you have the potential.”
The new coach came in from Baylor University, Rick Johnson. “John, you gonna be the incumbent.”
They bought in two of the junior college teammates, I’m like welcoming the competition because it’s gonna make us all better.
And, so, this new coach comes in and say you’re gonna do this. You talk a good game. And I went to him after. I said, “Listen, I know my goal is to become All Southwest Conference. And I’m gonna work my tail off.” And this really happened. Because when I set my mind to it, I was gonna make it happen, just like in high school.
And I remember going through all the off-season workout programs. And the first gig, first day of spring ball, I mean, this guy was like, “Yeah, you should. Go for it.” He encouraged me. And the first day of spring ball, I jumped inside and get a interception. Big time play. This guy jumps my case. “Hey John, what’re you doing?” I said, “Making a play, Coach.” He said, “You don’t do that.” I’m like, “I thought you wanted us to get an interception,” I’m saying to myself.
So, a couple plays later, I jump. And I’m getting sacks and knocking the ball down. But then I missed it and the guy catch it and scores. And he jumped my case again. And from Day 1, I was in his doghouse.
Paul: Oh, wow.
John: And they won. I was after someone and everybody was getting it in the drills getting in practice. I hear my head spinning. And like, man, why this guy’s really hard on me? We had a guy named Mickey Matthews who was our secondary coach. I said, “Mickey, Coach Matthews, what’s going on with this guy?” He says, “John, just keep going. Just keep going.”
And I finally got my head wrapped around his defense. And after spring break and I start playing well, and he’s like, “Man, John ya got it down.” But he was just nitpicking, nitpicking, nitpicking on me all the time.
So, I go home during the summer, work hard and come back. “Okay, you got your act together. You’re ready to go.”
And first day of two-a-days, we have to run these the testing drills. I’m willing myself through that.
And I said, “Man, I’m gonna make it happen.” And I end up competing with the two guys they brought in, and still get the starting job. And I’m playing against Boston College. For some odd reason, he didn’t like the way I lined up on the field and the guys he brought in, one in particular got beat deep on touchdowns. And he just jumped MY case. And it like…
And another time, he like jumped my case again. I’m like, “Ooh, what is going on with this guy?” It was bad. It was up and down, off and on all season till one point he just benched me. He benched me! I had a knack for blocking field goals, is whatnot. So, I’ve got one against Houston and a couple other teams.
So, right before the half, I was just laying out for a field goal because the guy hit me. Their blocker drove me right into the holder. So, he got on my case about that. And then halftime, he said, “John, you’re not going in the game in the second half.”
And I didn’t touch the field. And everybody, after the game was like, “Man, you were all over the field in the first half. We just kept hearing your name, hearing your name. But what happened in the second half?” That embarrassed me. So, I got mad and got benched. They put a freshman in front of me. And so, we go down to Waco to play Baylor, his team, where he come from.
And the freshman gets hurt in the first quarter. And who has to go in? Me. I did everything in that game right except get a interception. I’m knocking passes down all over the field. We beat Baylor 24 to 0. And after the game, he could hardly say a thing to me. And then we played some other teams. I do well. Then he just doesn’t like me. Towards the end of the season, he kicked me off the field because I was hustling. And he just didn’t like the way I was. And it cost the team.
He even told me onetime at practice, said I need to slow down.
And I told a pro scout what he said. The pro scout said, “Don’t ever listen to that guy. You go 100 miles a hour all the time.” And I ended up starting the last game of the season, got an interception. We’re playing at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, I was playing well. And it was an inconsistent year for me. I didn’t have the year I wanted to because this coach just didn’t like the way I was.
And yet I met people who said I was the best athlete on the team. And pro scouts would come and question me, “Why is John is not playing?” And the coach wouldn’t tell them. “He’s had a little difference with the coach.” I didn’t cuss at him. I didn’t fuss at him. I just put my head down and go to work. And my mom, when I wanted to quit, she said, “Don’t quit because somebody’s always watching.”
Paul: And guess what, they were. That one coach probably prepped you for what you were about to see in the NFL.
John: Exactly. And I told him I’m not gonna quit, I’m gonna keep going. And after the season, well, situations happen, and I got invited to the NFL Combine. And I performed at the NFL Combine. Now Combine has some heavy hitters. Like Keith Jackson and Tim Brown and Rickey Dickson and Michael Irvin.
Paul: What a lineup!
John: We had some guys, man. These guys could play.
And, I was in Atlanta with my agent. And when I got drafted when I was in an airport because I supposed to go to in the ninth round. All of a sudden I heard, “John Booty, call your agent” over the intercom. I’m like, what? Did you hear my name called?
And then I called my agent. “You just got drafted by the New York Jets!”
So, I was so excited, man, I was celebrating with all the people I didn’t know in the Atlanta Airport, whoever walked by while I was on the payphone. And they did. And I said, “Man, this is a great feeling.”
But I didn’t go back to that coach and throw it in his face. When I see him, “Well, hey, coach,” and just keep going.
Because I had overcame, you know?
Paul: Good feeling, eh?
John: Oh yea.
I read where the Jets said, when they came to look at me, they looked at my junior film because I’m not getting a lot of playing time my senior year. They said, “We like that he wasn’t a chicken. He was always hustling, and he made the big plays.” My big plays were not necessarily interceptions and stuff like that, just but you right there. You know, you never quit even when the coach isn’t with you.
John: And so, the Jets thought I was still there in the 10th round. They said, “Do you want them?” They, “Yeah. Let’s get him.”
So, I got up that Sunday morning at the agent’s townhouse, condo, and look at the Atlanta paper, and I see all the draft choices from one through six in the Sunday paper. And I see the Jets, New York Jets, second round pick, Terry Williams out of Texas Christian University.
I said, “What, we didn’t have a Terry Williams?, They meant to pick me.” I’m like, “They made a mistake. They wanted me.” And I’m joking with my agent.
And then I get drafted by the New York Jets. And when we had our first mini-camp, I was thankful. But the one person who I wanted to see was Terry Williams. Who is this Terry Williams guy? Come to find out, he was also a DB and went to Bethune-Cookman College.
Paul: Oh, yeah.
John: And he was something else. He was built strong.
And when I got to 175, the weight at the Combine. And all during mini-camp, I’m all over the field, making a name for myself at that time.
I’m sitting at my locker wondering if I am gonna get cut and the secondary coach said, “John come here.” I’m thinking “Oh no, here we go. Here we go.”
Paul: Waiting for him to say “Bring your playbook son.”
John: You know it! So, I go down this little hall. He said, “I see you sitting there looking like you’re worried. Don’t worry. You made the team. You’re good.”
I think I floated back to my locker room. Then I went and said, “Listen, I gotta get on a pay phone. Let go call my mom.” I went and called Mom. Said, “Mom, I made it, I made it, I made it, I made the team.”
She told me to keep hustling because they can cut you at any moment.
John: So, you had to hustle in practice.
But e had some stars on the team. Our main star was, Mark Gastineau and there was also Marty Lyons, Freeman McNeil, Wesley Walker, Al Toon, Ken O’Brien. And we had some stars.
John: But I was special teams guy. And not even a dimeback at the time. Just Terry Williams out there, and some other veterans out there.
Paul: Terry Williams from TCU?
John: (laughs) That’s the one. That joker. So, our first game of the season, we played New England. And we got beat. I didn’t even touch the field even on special teams, barely broke a sweat in the warmup that day. That was it. And I got on the plane, I was quiet and drove home. After got home, and I get up early the next morning. I got to the facilities and I went to the special team coach. And I said, “Larry?” He said, “Come on in.” “Yes, sir.” Sat and I said, “Hey, Larry. I just feel bad.” He said, “Well, why do you feel bad?” I said, “Man, we got beat. And I didn’t even touch the field, like I could have helped us to a win.” And he said, “Well, you know, just pay attention to what’s going with special teams.” And he said, “Just pay attention in the meetings.” And then my head coach, Joe Walton, saw me. And he called me up, said, “John?” I thinking, “Oh, my god. He done went to the head coach and told them.”
So, he said, “John, I hear you’re a little frustrated that you’re not playing.” I said, “Yeah.” I told him. He said, “Well, just pay attention.” Two weeks later we were playing and Terry gets hurts and I am playing dimeback against the Houston Oilers.
Paul: Oh, wow.
John: And you are a Baylor guy so you remember Cody Carlson.
And I remember Cody Carlson because he threw a touchdown pass on me my junior year at TCU.
John: I was so nervous, my legs were shaking the first time I had to line up on the field because we in front of 70,000-80,000 people, like, “Oh, my god. I’m scared.” And Cody threw a long pass on me down the from the 30-40-yard line, into the end zone. And I jumped in front of the receiver and got my first interception and my confidence skyrocketed.
Paul: Oh, yeah.
John: And I almost got another interception that game. And we ended up beating Jerry Glanville and Houston 45-3. Yeah. We were fighting that game. We were just, well, whooping up on the Houston Oilers that day. Because I ended up having a good season, a great season as dimeback and nickelback for the Jets my rookie year. And ended up about third on the team in interceptions.
I got the MVP against Pittsburgh Steelers with an interception, fumble recovery, blocked a punt. We beat the Pittsburgh Steelers that game, first time in a long time. And then we ended the season at 8-7 and 1, one or two plays away from going to the playoffs. We lost to Buffalo in overtime 9-6. And Buffalo won the NFC East that year. But had a good season my freshman – freshman, my rookie year.
Paul: So, you’re moving along pretty good. Did you move into starting lineup of the Jets at some point?
John: No, I didn’t. What happened, my second year, I hurt my neck during training camp. So, I’m on injured reserve the first six weeks of the season. And so, I was brought back to the active squad. And Coach Walton was upset with us. And he said, “We’re gonna make a switch in the secondary.” Said, “John, you’re gonna start as strong safety against Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.” So, that’s my only start, my second in the league was against the Miami Dolphins. And I picked off Dan Marino, you know?
Paul: Oh, boy. Dang!
John: And that first time I ever played a strong safety, and they liked it. But things happened. I’m still at 180, if that, I think they wanted me heavier. And, you know, I guess sometimes the politics still plays a role. Certain guys you have to play more and whatnot like if they were drafted high. And then my third year in the league was kinda of battle because Bruce Coslet and Pete Carroll came in.
I had a good season. And politics played a role again. They put me on injured reserve for four weeks and brought me back, it was just a mind-boggling thing. And then in ’91 I was a Plan B free agent. And Richard Kotite was the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. And Bud Carson was my defensive coordinator with the Jets my rookie year.
We had a lot of coaching staff on the Philadelphia Eagles team. So, when I was a Plan B free agent, I could have signed with the Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Oilers liked me and I think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But I said I wanted to go with Bud Carson because they gave me a shot, you know?
John: So, I end up going to Philadelphia and making the team. Started against the Oilers. Got my first sack on a Monday night against the Houston Oilers. We beat the stuffing out of them 13 to 6, I believe. But our defense was like the House of Pain. I think we broke Jenner’s nose, and knocked out another receiver who was hit so many times, it was unbelievable. It was all that. And then that ’91 defense, and this is when I got the second start in my career.
John: And I got an interception against Phoenix. But last game of the season in ’91, we’re playing the future Super Bowl champions, Washington Redskins in Philadelphia. And so, the night before, our starting cornerback, left cornerback, he decided not to come to the team meeting that night. It’s with the players only, but you have to check in. So, he didn’t come in. So, I go in the locker room the next day, that’s Sunday before we getting ready to play the Redskins.
The secondary coach, Peter Colton, said, “John, you’re starting today.” I said, “Okay,” I barely got it out, “Okay.” I saw Bud Carson look at me, grinned and then he walked away. And I went over to Reggie White, “Reggie, I’m starting today.” He said, “Okay. Let’s go to work.” And I told all the guys on defense, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Jerome Brown, Wes Hopkins, all those guys, “I’m starting!”
Paul: I can just hear your voice getting louder each time you said it. That was one of the all-time best NFL defenses!
John: Now only person balking about it was Andre Waters because he was like, “Man, you wanna try and mess about with us. We’re the No. 1 ranked defense.” And I just looked at Andre, and said, “Andre, I’m a football player, and I know this stuff. I know this defense.” Yeah. So, I did.
John: And so, I went out against the Redskins. And I shut down Art Monk and Gary Clark. I mean, I should have had two interception against those guys. They threw a flag on me one time, said I pushed Gary down, but I didn’t. But you know, we end up winning the game.
And they kept their starters in for like three quarters. I mean, they kept Sanders in the whole time. They took Mark Rypien out of the game. We were going after him. And we ended up winning the game. And that was my first time starting at CB since winning against Baylor. And I shut down the posse.
John: And so, that off season, this is gonna be my fifth year in the league. Only started a couple of times. I said, “I wanna do something.” I just want to prove I can do it. I’m like they can put me back in nickelback anyway.
And Bud Carson called me and says, “Hey, John, during training camp, I want you to come in and compete for the cornerback spot because you impressed me the way you played against the Washington Redskins.”
Uh-huh? Of course I said, “Yeah.”
And I stopped on the side of I-20 leaving out of Arlington because I was living at Arlington at the time. I just cried. I cried like a baby, you know. I finally got my act together and drove to east Texas and DeBerry. Stayed at my mom’s house. And I was still crying. I said, “Mom, I just gotta make it happen this year.”
I drove to Atlanta and then on to Philadelphia, and we got in the training camp. And Eric Allen was holding out for more money, so I got to be a starter at right corner. And Isaiah got his starting job back. But I got some good experience being a starter at the right corner. And then when Eric came back, they moved me back into the nickelback situation.
And Isaiah was not having a good year, so, they put another guy on that corner, then they put me in the corner. And then I was just like picking off Troy Aikman passes. And I got my three that year, but they’re like wow.
And then Wes Hopkins goes down and Andre Waters goes down, so me and another safety from the Jets, Rich Battle, he and I became safeties, I was the free safety. And he became the strong safety. And we went into the playoffs.
And we did something Buddy Ryan couldn’t do. We beat the New Orleans Saints in the first round. And then we lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the second round. And that hurt me, because I thought we were gonna be in the Super Bowl.
I got a friend now, shes a friend of mine from TCU, she cared for the Cowboys back then. And I talked to her, “You know I’m upset with this.” She started laughing, “Yeah, I know.” And I’m like, “I can’t let it go. You gotta Super Bowl broach. I don’t have nothing. You went to Super Bowl.” She laughs about that all the time.
Paul: Ouch. Sounds like a great friend.
John: I said, “You got not only just one, you got two!” And I’m like, “Yeah. I’m happy for you, but doggone it, I’m mad at you.”
Paul: But not that happy.
John: Not that happy,
So, I became a starter. And probably I didn’t become a starter until my fifth year at two positions, cornerback, and safety.
And then when I was a free agent in 1993, my contract was up the first year of free agency.
And the Phoenix Cardinals called me. Sign me up!
We’ve got a big free agent contract. And they called me in as a safety. And I’m second on the team in interceptions. I got three sacks that year.
That was a piece of game footage I wish I could find. We were playing the Detroit Lions up in Detroit. And Barry Sanders didn’t see me. And I rocked him real good. And he got up and said, “Damn, where you come from?” If I could find that video, man, I’d be so excited about that. So, first year of frees, I was in Phoenix, in ’93.
So then Buddy Ryan came in from the Oilers. And he said I made too much money. And I said, “Well, I’m not gonna participate in your minicamps or your training camp or any of your minicamps if you gonna cut me or trade me.” And he said – well, I talked to him face to face. And he said, “Okay.” And so, I got cut June 1st. Yeah. The Eagles are looking at me to come back. And then the Redskins brought me in a workout. And because Isaiah’s calls, “Hey, listen. We want you. You’ll have to come work out.”
So, I go sign with Dan Reeves and the New York Giants. And I was not a starter, but I earned it, become a starter for them. Because they had the starters already placed, but I was having such a great training camp that I was making it tough for the starters, and they had to get me in the game. So, I was tired of teaming interceptions again, but only signed a one-year deal.
John: And so, I become a starter with them. And then, that’s right, yeah, after my contract was – and during the off season, they went in a different direction.
John: And my contract was up. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted me. Sam Wyche always wanted me to come play for him, some reason.
Paul: Oh, he… Yeah.
John: And so, I end up signing with the Buccaneers.
Paul: So, tell me about THEE catch!
John: Oh. THEE catch!–
This catch was my first reception of my NFL career
Paul: I love it.
John: It was top of the NFL. One for 48. But, you know, if you have at least one catch, I think I should go in the Hall of Fame for this one, so. And it was from a punter named Reggie Roby.
Paul: I remember him. Oh, yeah.
John: So, I didn’t start that game. And what happened, when the Buccaneers brought me in as a backup, just in case I started to get hurt. Thomas Everett went down that game. And I end up picking off Kerry Collins. And I’m like, man, this is pretty cool. But we had designed the play in practice. I was the wing guy. And I forget the rusher, I forget his name. But he had a knack of blocking punts.
So, he always cut the field hard. If he charge upfield, they say what you do, you just take a step back like you’re getting ready to block, and just run out, like a hook. And we did it in practice. And they’re like… And he said the outback guy going to give you a signal. So, when you’re looking back to get the signal, just acknowledge it, you know, shake your head a little bit then just good to go. I said, “Okay.” He says, “It’s gonna be up to him now.”
And John Stewart was our special teams coach. So, I lined up and I looked back. And he gave me that look. And my eyes just bucked. I almost gave it away because I’m like…. AHHHH!
Paul: It was like, ”please give me hands of glue!”
John: You know! So, I make my step back, the guy charge up, and I run it and catch it, BOOM! Man, I tear up the field, I’m gone. And another guy made a block and pushed the guy downfield. And I figure I’d outrun this other guy. And he was athletic enough to get the angle and catch up and hit me right in the legs. Right at the end.
But I do know this. I got a kickoff return in the NFL. I got a pass reception in the NFL. So, can’t nobody ever tell me I’m not a receiver. And what did I go to try? When I went to junior college, what did I want to be? I wanted to be a wide receiver.
Paul: You made it.
John: I’ve become a wide receiver.
John: I want to be a wide receiver, and nobody ever – defensive back I see, they should have kept me at wide receiver because my average was off the chain, you know?
Paul: (laughs) Should call the TCU coach back.
John: Yeah, let’s call him back.
Paul: So, I know you end your NFL career, 102 games, 37 starts, 14 picks, 4 sacks, 6 fumble recoveries, 4 fumbles, a blocked punt, a pass reception for 48 and a kickoff return. You picked off two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Marino and Aikman. You sacked Warren Moon and Steve Young. I mean, the kid that played one year of football until your junior year of high school, the kid that got cut from the JV, the kid that Mom put in a car and made go back to college, but he stuck it out as much as he hated it. That was the kid.
John: He did all that, man.
John: And I think back. My third year with the Jets, Russell Slaughter was this All Pro, and he would dance at the line of scrimmage and just fake guys out. And Pete Carroll, who taught me a valuable lesson, said, “John, just be patient when you play against him. And when he start doing all that dancing, just punch him right under the chin, right in the throat area.” And I shut down Russ Slaughter by doing that.
Paul: Oh, boy. These are the little things that stick out in your mind.
John: He was like, “You’re trying to make All Pro.” I said I was coached. But for a guy who he thought he – see, even in high school, I rode the offensive bus. I wanted to be on offense. And so, but when I see the ball in the air, I say, “It’s mine.” The ball is mine. It’s like I gotta hit it. And I’m right, so.
And I know there are some guys who are late round picks – or like Everson Walls who was a big hero of mine.
Paul: Cubby! From Hamilton Park!
John: That’s him. And I talked to Cubby, and I talked to Ronnie Lyle. Lyle was a first round. Cubby was a free agent. He’s all this. It all depends on what you system into.
John: But for me, it took me five years to become a solid star. But I also know that the game of football is all about business, too. When somebody new comes in, they wanna go their own direction. I have no control over it.
John: But at the same time, for a kid from DeBerry, back in Horton Community, who wasn’t supposed to be there. Who woulda thought I was gonna play in 102 National Football League football games and do well against Hall of Famers?
Paul: Isn’t it crazy? It’s cause you got that gear that very few folks have and its not just speed
John: I thank my mom because she said, “You’re gonna be my pro player”
Paul: And five bucks a week. Yeah.
John: Yeah. Five bucks a week.
Paul: To Roscoe.
John: To Roscoe.
Paul: That was a good investment.
John: That was a great investment. And the thing about it, now this, I couldn’t afford the first five years of my leagues, in the league, to buy her what I wanted to buy her. Now when I was a free agent in 1993, and I had signed this big deal, and she had this white Mercury Marquis that she drove and celebrated me in the eighth grade.
Paul: All right. Okay.
John: Yeah. So, when I got the big contract, I pulled up at her house. It was at night. And I said, “Mom, can you and Dad come outside. I think there’s a snake or something.”
She said, “You okay there?” I said, “I’m okay, Mom. Yes. Now come outside.” And my niece, she kinda turned on the security light. Now I’m in country, you know. Nobody else could see it. And she said, “Now who?” I said…. She said, then she says, I think she said something like, “Did you mess up this rental car or something?”
And niece pulls up in this shiny new car. I said, “I don’t want it. You want it?” She said, “Want it?” I said, “Yes. You can have it.” And she was like kinda stunned.
I said, “Well, you and Daddy can have it. Just take me back to Fort Worth tomorrow so I can get back to Philadelphia sometime.” And so, I get up. I go back and lay down. Get up the next morning. The rental car is gone!
Paul: Oh, boy.
John: She and Daddy had taken the rental car and just drove all over the place. And she was like, “Look what my baby just bought me.” Well, I bought her the biggest Fleetwood Cadillac. It was white with a blue top.
Paul: Oh, no.
John: And I said, “Momma, this is your car. You love the church” And I know, in fact, I said, “I know what you gonna do with it. I know you gonna put some fishing poles in it, out of it, and go fishing.” And that’s what she would do. Put fishing poles and go fish. So, from not wanna be go fishing with it, “Hey, Momma, here’s you a car. You go fishing all you want!”
I don’t care if I’m going through NFL hell, I can think about those moments right there. Make it all worthwhile.
Paul: Well, you know something. That’s how I was gonna end this was – and I you kinda like segued into it here. I know we talked about this earlier, to me, of everything you talked about today, there’s really only one thing that matters, and that’s the family. Tell me about your daughters.
John: My oldest daughter, she’s from the young lady I was dating in college, that didn’t work out. But my baby has her master’s degree in healthcare administrations. She is one of the trainers at a big high school in Arlington. Yeah, and she’s teaching. She went to UNT, and then she went to University of Texas Arlington. So, she got her master’s at University of Texas Arlington. So, she’s 29 now. And she’s grown up. She’s doing her own thing. She’s saving some money, wise, and staying with her mom in Grand Prairie.
And my youngest daughter lives here with her mom. Me and her mom got married, but we divorced in 2005. But I didn’t wanna leave her here in D.C. by herself, because all my family’s in Texas. I wanna stay and be with her. And she has her degree in theatre and psychology from Georgetown University.
John: Yeah. So, we got some smart girls, man.
Paul: Yeah. That’s a strong mix, too; theatre and psychology. Wow.
John: Yeah. She wants to be an actress. Yeah. So, she’s 25 and, I mean, we try to get her – every connection I might have, trying to get to become an actress.
Paul: Are you still doing TV, Sports Talk, and stuff?
John: Well, yes. Of course right now everything is shutdown due to the virus
John: And we do shows, but I don’t do it as often. At one point, I was a regular. Or I call them and say, “Listen. I’ve been working with the Redskins. We doing this. Can we come on the air?” And then when they need, well, like when we wanna cover something like the Combine, anything they need an NFL player for.
Paul: I see.
John: During the draft, or during the regular seasons, sometimes here lately, at one point, they had me working with ABC7. So, ESPN’s absence of Monday Night game here, gonna have me do a satellite feed.
Paul: So, are you still working with that gridiron legacy youth football clinic?
John: That’s Gary Clark Incorporated now. We still doing that. But every game, like again, everything is shut down now because we can’t take the kids out. And what’s great with Gary Clark Incorporated, what we do do, we work with real-estate agents, and then we try to market them.
And we would have access of taking some of our bigger people, our most dedicated folks. We’ll take a train ride up to New York and have a meeting at the NFL league office.
John: Yeah. And then they get a kick out of sitting around that big old thing that you tell – share, bullet roll, with the commissioner and all of them, doing their orders and sit. And we do that. And I lend my support to domestic violence, Walter “Sweet” Payton Foundations. And mental health issues, I work with them.
I’ve been involved in the Congressional Game since 2005. And we do it every two years, but now we’re doing it every year. This year kinda has got an asterisk. We really don’t know if we gonna have it.
John: We have members of Congress team up with some pro football players. Herschel Walker had played in it, and Gary Clark, myself, and Ken Harvey. But members of Congress take on the young guns
Paul: I’m trying to envision some of these people that are in Congress. And if you don’t like a bill they did, then somebody comes and pulverizing them.
John: (laughs) I know. That’s one of the time where I gotta say, “Okay, this is touch football!”
Then they get ‘touched’ a little bit harder.
Paul: I remember how touch football went. Touch football gave probably more bloody noses than real tackle football ever did.
John: I know what you mean!
Paul: Oh, my god.
John: Oh. This – but they love it though. But they wouldn’t bring – I didn’t understand this. What they really love. I had a friend, I remember seeing this. He was so excited that he had to go into the huddles and tell Herschel Walker to come out.
John: Just going in the huddle, and tell Herschel coming out of the game. So, we’re talking Jerry Rice to come and play, and John Randall, and Herschel Walker playing this year. So, I’m gonna try to get in contact with Roger Staubach because we have a member of Congress, he was in the military.
Paul: Oh, yeah.
John: Now, Roger’s in his 70s or 80s.
Paul: Yeah. Roger’s tough though. He’ll probably beat the crap out of them anyway.
John: (Laughs) “Touch” football…
So, we hope to get it going again at some points, it benefits the Capitol Police Memorial Fund and mostly the kids.
Paul: Oh, good. Yeah.
John: So, we try to stay busy. I try to stay busy. And keep up with the Washington Redskins.
Paul: So sorry about that! GO COWBOYS!
John: Steven Jones now, we communicate, emails and stuff and I see him occasionally.
Paul: Oh, yeah?
John: He always leave me field passes.
Paul: Tell him to leave you one more as you just got a new com-padre!
John, I just looked at the clock. We’ve been talking for nearly three hours, this is such a fantastic story. BTW – I think the moral of the John Fitzgerald Booty story is: “Listen to Mom, she knows best!”
John: Yes she does! And thank you.
Paul: I got one quick question for you. When you’re in Philly, did you ever run across Beasley Reece?
John: Oh yes.
Paul: We were in Boy Scouts together back in Waco. That’s a long time ago. We went up to Idaho for the National Jamboree in 1969. I had a blast with Beasley on there, he was such a goofball. We watched the moon landing out in these big screen theaters like you would see in a drive-in.
John: Yeah. Beasley Reece. I haven’t heard that name in a while.
BTW, before you take off. When I was playing for the Eagles, we came down to Dallas. I brought a bunch of Eagle gear. And we went to see my Aunt who lived there. She says, “I cannot believe I have Philadelphia Eagles gear in my house!”
John: (laughs) But anyway, I felt it. But things like that. And when I go back every year, the Carthage Bulldogs been winning, winning, winning, winning. And Coach Surratt tapped me on the sideline at every state championship. When I go home, I go speak to the guys. I love Texas high school football!
Paul: And there cannot be a better way to end this interview. Thank you my brother.
John: No – thank you!
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