For­mer UMES star cleaned up in 15-year ca­reer as pro­fes­sional

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS WEEKEND - By Mike Klinga­man mike.klinga­man@balt­ twit­­man

Com­ing from UMES, then a speck of a school on the East­ern Shore, it took time for Carl Hairston to learn the ropes as an NFL rookie in 1976.

His first day in camp with the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, Hairston did what he’d al­ways done in col­lege. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound de­fen­sive end stuffed his sweaty uni­form in a bag, lugged it home and washed it.

“Next day, the equip­ment man­ager asked, ‘Where’s your jersey? We can’t find it,’ ” Hairston said. “I took it out, all clean and folded. He said, ‘You didn’t have to do that.’ But, in col­lege, we were used to do­ing things our­selves.”

That mind­set served Hairston well in the NFL. A self-starter and feared pass rusher, he played 15 years in the pros and un­of­fi­cially reg­is­tered 94 quar­ter­back sacks — 15 in 1979, when he led the NFC. (The NFL didn’t start keep­ing of­fi­cial tackle stats un­til 1982, Hairston’s sev­enth sea­son.)

“Hard work was my mantra,” the 64year-old Hairston said from his home in Phoenix, Ariz. “I got a job at 13, wash­ing dishes, to help pay the bills. At UMES, we wore hand-me-down jer­seys and shoes and took care of our own equip­ment, right down to our jock­straps. There was no weight room. For some­thing to do, we’d go down to Po­comoke, wait for the boats to come in and help un­load the clams and crabs.

“We slept 10 to a room in the foot­ball dorm, which wasn’t air-con­di­tioned. It was cramped, but I fig­ured that’s just the way it was. There were rail­road tracks next to cam­pus, where trains passed every morn­ing at 3 a.m., so we’d wait up for them. No sense try­ing to sleep with a train com­ing. Some play­ers to­day, I don’t know if they could sur­vive what we went through.”

A four-year starter from Martinsville, Va., Hairston shined on a dis­mal UMES team that lost 19 of 21 games in his last sea­son. His ju­nior year, the Hawks scored 27 points in 10 games, pro­vid­ing lit­tle fan­fare for the school’s 12-man march­ing band.

A one-man wreck­ing crew, Hairston made All-Mid-East­ern Ath­letic Con­fer­ence three times, and as a se­nior, he to­taled 147 solo tack­les, 15 sacks and one in­ter­cep­tion.

“I’d make plays 20 yards down­field,” Hairston said. “I’d say, ‘C’mon guys, don’t quit’ — it wasn’t my na­ture to quit.

“Once, against South Carolina State, I got hurt. Coach hollered, ‘Hairston, get your [butt] back in there; the pros don’t want guys who get hurt!’ So I jumped up and started play­ing again. I took that men­tal­ity into the pros.”

The Ea­gles’ sev­enth-round draft pick in 1976, Hairston re­called his first talk with head coach Dick Ver­meil.

“I was stretch­ing on the field and [Ver­meil] said, ‘You’re from an 0-and-20 team and you don’t have a chance in hell to make it here,’ ” Hairston said. “Well, I wasn’t go­ing to just walk out. In­stead, in prac­tice, I would line up against the best of­fen­sive line­men, load up and try to knock the crap out of them. I was like a snake strik­ing.” Ver­meil took note. “[Hairston] has a strong pop. He just ex­plodes into a guy,” the coach said later. “He plays like he’s mad on every snap.”

The Ea­gles called him “Hur­ri­cane” and kept him eight years, in­clud­ing in 1980 when they lost to the Oak­land Raiders in Su­per Bowl XV. There, he squared off against Raiders tackle Art Shell, an­other UMES alum­nus and now a Hall of Famer.

Felled by knee surgery in 1983, Hairston was dealt in 1984 to the Cleve­land Browns, for whom he starred for six sea­sons and earned the nick­name “Big Daddy.”

“The Browns strength coach first called me that,” Hairston said. “I hated the name; it made me sound like a drug dealer. But then I thought of the other ‘Big Daddy’ [for­mer Colts star Gene Lip­scomb] and fig­ured I was in good com­pany.”

Hairston re­tired in 1991 but stayed in foot­ball. For 14 years, he served as a de­fen­sive line coach in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Pack­ers and St. Louis Rams, with whom he won Su­per Bowl XXXIV.

He now works as a vol­un­teer coach at sev­eral Phoenix schools (“It gets me out of the house”) and takes yoga classes at the lo­cal YMCA. Big Daddy likes ... yoga? “Sure,” he said. “In Cleve­land, coach Marty Schot­ten­heimer had me and Ozzie New­some [now the Ravens gen­eral man­ager] take bal­let for off­sea­son train­ing.”

In 1985, Hairston re­turned to UMES, which be­stowed on him an hon­orary de­gree. The school, which sent a bevy of play­ers to the pros, had dropped foot­ball five years ear­lier. But it was there, Hairston said, that he shaped the lead­er­ship acu­men that he hopes is his legacy.

“Foot­ball isn’t about the yip­pin’ and yellin’,” he said. “It’s about play­ing hard on every play. Line up, beat the [ex­ple­tive] out of guys and wear them down. Do that, and good things hap­pen. It’s a sim­ple game.”


Carl Hairston, wrap­ping up Steel­ers run­ning back Wal­ter Aber­crom­bie, played 15 sea­sons in the NFL for the Browns, Ea­gles and Car­di­nals, reg­is­ter­ing an un­of­fi­cial 94 sacks.

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