Imagine being a 14-year-old football player who shows up for practice and waiting to coach you are Aaron Donald and Ezekiel Elliott.
Retired Army Col. Kenneth Allard had a similar experience 50 years ago growing up in Towson, Md., when he came face-to-face with future Hall- of-Fame defensive end Gino Marchetti and Colts’ star running back Alan “The Horse’’ Ameche.
Allard, the former special assistant to the Army Chief of Staff and MSNBC military analyst, visited the Talk of Fame Network this week to recall those days when kids lived in the same neighborhood as their heroes and interacted with them as if they were no different than other parents in town.
No living behind gates. No walls of agents, publicists and team officials keeping them from the men they cheered for each Sunday as the Baltimore Colts dominated the NFL.
“We were the luckiest boys in Baltimore,’’ Allard recalls. “Johnny Unitas would stop by for practice. They were guys you saw all the time. They came to our churches. My father sold real estate with Tom Matte. In those days playing in the NFL was a part-time job.’’
Allard had 100 stories of being a kid among giants, including Marchetti’s steely-eyed reaction after Allard was thrown out of a game for fighting for reacting to something an opponent said.
“That was the longest walk of my life,’’ Allard recalled of trudging toward Marchetti, who stood on the sidelines with brawny arms crossed waiting.
After upbraiding Allard for letting down his team and then sending him to the bench, Marchetti then put an arm around him and said, “You ought to hear what they call me in the games.’’
“You see character being shaped,’’ Allard says.
Former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager Charlie Casserly also drops by to discuss the apparent dysfunctional relationship between new Jets’ head coach Adam Gase and whomever replaces recently deposed G.M. Mike Maccagnan.
The NFL Network insider, who was a Maccagnan supporter, insists the Jets “were headed in the right direction’’ from a personnel standpoint as a result of some of Maccagnan’s moves, including the trade that landed quarterback Sam Darnold. He said he’d heard “rumblings’’ that Gase was criticizing his GM “outside the building’’ and points out that whoever is the next hire will be perceived as either a Gase puppet or someone looking over his shoulder at his own coach.
Casserly also tells our Hall of Fame co-hosts Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge that Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger “won the offseason’’ because Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are no longer in Pittsburgh, but then cautioned that “they can’t replace Antonio Brown. He changed coverages.’’
Former NBC Sports’ head Dick Ebersol also drops by to celebrate his selection as the winner of the 2019 Pete Rozelle Radio/TV award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This year has special meaning for Eberseol as he will enter the Hall with his long-time friend, Denver Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen, former head of the league's broadcast committee who helped Ebersol with the creation of Sunday Night Football.
Ebersol points out that his first encounter with Bowlen didn’t seem likely to lead to the kind of personal friendship that later grew between them.
“Initially, I was scared to death of Pat Bowlen,’’ said Ebersol, who also credits Bowlen as being the first NFL owner to see the value of creating Sunday Night Football.
The program has been in the top-10 rated TV shows for over a decade and is the only live weekly game broadcast that became the top-rated show for an entire season.
To hear more from Ebersol, Allard and get all of Casserly’s takes on the rise of the Cleveland Browns, fall of the Steelers, insanity of the Jets and a host of other NFL nuggets go to your local SB Nation Radio Network station or download our free podcast at iTunes or on the TuneIn app to listen at your leisure. You can also listen to the show at our website, talkoffamenetwork.com.