Napoleon McCallum was eight years old when his family moved from Jefferson City, Mo., to an 11-acre cattle farm in Milford, Ohio. Every day for 10 years the future NFL running back labored long hours with his father, tending to livestock, crops and farm equipment. This live-off-the-land life might seem romantic, but McCallum never saw it that way. "I didn't like growing up on a farm—feeding the cows, shoveling manure, cutting wood," he says. "It was a lot of work."
Football was McCallum's ticket off the farm. A bruising 6' 2", 220-pound tailback, he received an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1980 and broke every major rushing record at Annapolis. (His 4,179 rushing yards and 7,172 all-purpose yards remain Navy standards.) In '86 the Raiders used the 108th selection in the NFL draft on McCallum, and as a rookie he rushed for 536 yards while also serving on the Peleliu, a Naval helicopter carrier stationed off Long Beach, Calif.
After a three-season hiatus to fulfill his Naval obligations, McCallum returned to the NFL in 1990. His career ended on Sept. 5, 1994. In the third quarter of a Monday Night Football game against the 49ers, he was running up the middle when he suffered one of the most gruesome sports injuries ever recorded. Live on television—and again several times in slow motion as ABC broadcaster Dan Dierdorf gushed "Oh, Lord!" over and over—viewers watched as the running back crashed into the line, planted his left cleat and then got pulled down awkwardly by linebacker Ken Norton Jr., hyperextending McCallum's left knee to almost 90 degrees. So severe was the ligament, artery and nerve damage that McCallum required six surgeries and nearly had his leg amputated. "When it happened, reality set in," McCallum reflects now. "Luckily, I had the benefit of an education."
While rehabbing, he attended an entrepreneur show in Los Angeles, near where he lived, and decided to launch a computer graphics company. Then, fate intervened again—this time in the form of a weekend getaway to Las Vegas with his wife, Yvonne. "We were on vacation and we drove around [the nearby city of] Henderson," he says. "We fell in love."
August 1, 2010
Ten years later, the 46-year-old is fully embracing Vegas life, a far cry from his Milford upbringing. After selling his graphics company, he was hired as the director of community development for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, one of the world's largest casino operations. There he raises money for local charities, organizes employee volunteer outings and serves as a commissioner on the board of minority affairs for the state of Nevada. He works from an office at the Sands-owned The Venetian and The Palazzo, and from there he keeps close contact with his former sport. "Emeril Lagasse owns the best sports bar [downstairs]," he says of his Venetian digs. "There is a giant HDTV screen and a stadium area with sofas. I like to have meetings there."
At home he maintains another tie to his past. "I have my own little garden," he says. "I'm proud of it, but it's real nice and small. I have eggplants, squash, zucchini, peaches, plums and grapes. My three daughters help out once in a while. It's a pleasant experience."