I have been somewhat remiss since my first article, having been indisposed for a couple of weeks while I had my pacemaker/defibrilator updated – yes, I really am that old – entertaining family over the holidays, and helping train a new reporter at the local weekly paper in our county.
Before all those interrruptions, my online friend, threadkiller, asked in a comment if I had the chance in school to know any of the athletes.
The answer is, "Yes," and "No." "Yes," I had the chance to interact with several of our fine Tigers, but "no," I never got to know any of them as buds.
At sometime before my freshman year in 1968-69, the powers that be at MU had decided to integrate Tiger athletes in regular dorms rather than have an athletic dorm or anything like that. Like all the rest of us, they were only allowed to live off campus if they were married. So, every floor of every dorm (and in those days there were men and women dorms and no such thing as co-ed dorms) had a few athletes.
Some of the athletes who lived on the fourth floor of Hatch Hall while I was there that were noteworthy enough to remember were defensive back Butch Davis (who later played briefly for the Chicago Bears), starting tight end Tom Shryock, starting noseguard Bob Luther, defensive end Dan Kelley, starting catcher Steve Patchin (who later played AAA ball in Albuquerque but may have never reached the majors, I don't remember) and linebacker Dan McDonough who played a couple of years in Canada. The rest will have to remain nameless, for my memory is of the 64k variety . . . gigabites were unheard of when I was formed.
The Missouri athlete who most impressed me did not live on our floor, but on one of the floors above us. He came to Mizzou during my sophomore year and was probably the finest physical specimen of the homo sapiens species that I have ever encountered - including many members of the Denver Broncos that I had the privilege of meeting during my 10 years in that fine city.
One day during the first week of my sophomore year (1969-70) I was coming back from a class and had stepped onto the elevator when I heard a voice down the hall yell, "Hold the elevator!"
I dutifully stuck my foot in front of the closing door and, as the door retreated, a figure filled the entire doorway (or so it seemed to me at the time) and I instinctively stepped back two or three steps. The student standing in the elevator doorway, I was to learn, was John Matuszak.
He later became known to football enthusiasts as "the Tooz," but on our floor we called him the "Man Mountain." He came to Missouri his sophomore year, recruited from Fort Dodge (Iowa) Junior College by Dan Devine as a tight end. He was 6'8" and weighed 275 pounds and was built like a Greek god. He must have had about a 30" waist and shoulders that spread four feet - or so it seemed to me, standing beside him there in the elevator that day in all of my 5'9" 110-lb. self.
When I stepped back to make room for him in the elevator, I must have shown a deal of surprise on my face, because he had a wry smile when he had to ask me what floor I wanted to get off on.
My job assignment as a scholarship student was as fry cook in the little snack bar in the student lounge on the basement level below the cafeteria that served Hatch and Schurz halls. I only had to work weekends, and got off for ballgames. In that position, I became friends with many students, including some of the various athletes who lived in our dorm and spent time in the lounge with their girlfriends.
Sunday night was very busy at the snack bar since there was no meal served in the cafeteria on that evening. The Tooz was one who spent some time in the lounge, and I quickly learned how he liked his grilled-cheese sandwiches – buttered and grilled on both sides of the bread before melting double cheese and cutting diagonally – and while standing in line, he would catch my eye from above the crowed and flash me a peace sign, which meant two sandwiches, complete with double the pickle slices and potato chips that went with them. By the time he got to the head of the line, I would deliver his sandwiches to him and receive a "Thanks, Little Man," from him. He never asked my name, and I was just happy to be "Little Man" in his life.
The Tooz didn't play much his sophomore year, since our floormate Tom Shryock was an excellent blocker and in Dan Devine's scheme, that was what a tight end did.
In the spring, the Tooz got into an argument with a guy at a frat party and rearranged the dude's face when he insulted John's girlfriend. When Devine left the next year for the Green Bay Packers, Coach Al Onofrio let the Tooz know he wasn't needed or wanted, and he transferred to Tampa University, where he switched to defensive tackle, won All-American honors, and was the No. 1 draft choice, taken by the Houston Oilers.
After trying to play for both the NFL Oilers and Hoston's World Football League team, the Tooz was traded to the Redskins, but was waived. He caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs for a year, before being waived again before Al Davis gave him a chance with the Oakland Raiders. He helped the Raiders win two super bowls and was one of the most feared defensive ends in the NFL for about six years.
After leaving football due to knee problems (I think) the Tooz went into acting and made several movies and starred in an HBO series.
He died young, at the age of 39 in 1989, the result of an oversized heart and too many drugs. He, and teammate Lyle Alzado were some of the first to pay the price for using Performance Enhancing Drugs to get additional advantage over mere mortals in the NFL.
The Tooz lived and died "bigger than life" – and for one short year at Mizzou, I was the "little man" who kept him supplied with grilled-cheese sandwiches. . . . my only claim to fame from my wonderful days at Mizzou.