The 1983 season was two hours old, the Los Angeles Raiders were squashing the Cincinnati Bengals 17-3, and with a first down on the L.A. 38 the Bengals figured it was time to go to work on Ted Hendricks, the 35-year-old left linebacker they'd been carefully avoiding for three quarters. Ken Anderson flipped a little screen pass to Stanley Wilson on the vacated right side, and the rookie fullback from Oklahoma took off. All he saw in front of him were stripes.
It was over before anyone knew what had happened. Hendricks swooped in from the blind side, popped the ball free with his right hand and scooped it in with his left. He tossed it to the referee, winked at a teammate and sat down on the bench to watch the Raiders drive for a field goal and put the game away.
Two weeks later against Miami: the Dolphins' ball, third and two on their 47. David Woodley called a bootleg right. When he arrived at the corner, Hendricks was standing there waiting for him. Woodley hit the ground, the only sensible thing to do. Net gain: zero.
"Yeah, I saw that on TV," says San Francisco Tight End Russ Francis. "It was kind of comical, wasn't it? But you're never gonna fool him. You never know what he's going to do, where he'll be. There isn't another player in the NFL like him, and maybe there never was."
October 16, 1983
In a world devoted to the God of Iron, the sweat and toil of the weight room, Hendricks has never seen the need to seriously lift a barbell. In a society governed by the play book and the game plan, Hendricks will occasionally throw out the script and go with his own ideas. In a game which seemed to have no place for a 6'7¾", 215-pound defensive end, as Hendricks was when he finished his college career at Miami (he's only about 235 now), he has survived 15 years and has seven Pro Bowl appearances under his belt, his last three the last three seasons.
He has never suffered a major injury or missed an NFL game—he has played in 205 straight—although he has no off-season workout program. He spends part of every summer on Oahu's North Shore, at Mokuleia, where he and ex-Redskin Guard John Wilbur run a boys' football camp. Hendricks says he has his roots there. He's just as likely to attribute his roots to Orinda, a Bay Area suburb, where he has a home. His career in the NFL started in Baltimore, and he spent a year in Green Bay before finally settling in with Oakland, which is now situated in L.A., where Hendricks has temporary quarters. A collection of wild hats is the tangible memento of his travels.
"We moved 23 times in one nine-year stretch," says Hendricks' wife, Jane. "Our oldest son, Mark, had gone to eight different schools by the end of the third grade."
Hendricks' roots do seem to be everywhere. Mention a place and his feet get itchy—and the vagabond in him takes over. Maybe it's Mokuleia. Maybe it's the Tahoe National Forest, where he has a gold-mining claim on the middle fork of the Yuba River. "A whole different way of life up there.... You've got to see it to understand it," he says.
Maybe he'll surface around Miami, in Dade County, where he grew up, or in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, Calif., driving in a 60-mile celebrity off-road race with ex-Raider Ben Davidson, whose No. 83 he inherited. Or he might show up in Guatemala, where he was born, the son of a Pan-Am mechanic and troubleshooter from McAllen, Texas, who married a Guatemalan native. "My roots are in the banyan trees," Hendricks will say. "My cousin owns a rum factory in Quezaltenango. Each city has its different costume...the beauty there.... I get excited just thinking about it...."
The feet are never still, the thoughts spill out one on top of another, thoughts as difficult to pin down as the man behind them. The only three-year All-America in the University of Miami's history, Hendricks' string-bean contours were so unusual for a football player that the pros made 11 defensive picks before Baltimore took him in the second round of the 1969 draft. During his college career, Miami coaches spoke wishfully of the pounds Hendricks was expected to add during the off-season by lifting weights, but the weightlifting program was a myth, and his weight stayed the same. The Hurricanes were a team of nicknames on the Mad motif. Guard Nelson Salemi was The Mad Dog. Oscar Gonzalez, the 165-pound punt returner, was The Mad Dwarf. Jimmy Dye, the litle defensive back, was The Mad Fly. Hendricks became the Mad Stork.
His appearance has always baffled people. Bill Curry, the Colts' center when Hendricks played for Baltimore and now the Georgia Tech coach, once described Hendricks as looking "like a series of toothpicks" with "long, whippy, macaroni arms." Actually, his arms are well-muscled and sturdy. What's unusual is their length, even for a man as tall as Hendricks. He wears a size 37 sleeve. And those long, powerful arms, with tremendous strength in the wrists and fingers, are part of Hendricks' secret.
"He's got a different type of strength than what you're accustomed to seeing," says John Madden, who coached Hendricks for four years at Oakland. "You look at his body and you figure, 'Gee, it doesn't look very strong.' It isn't all that short muscle that people are used to seeing on football players. His real power comes from the muscle that starts at the insertion of the shoulder and goes to the insertion of the elbow; that's a big, big muscle, lengthwise. We're so used to judging muscle mass by thickness that we forget that if you take the same muscle and stretch it over a longer distance, it's going to be as big or bigger. Also, a long muscle like that gives you more tensile strength and power."
After Hendricks' senior year, Miami Coach Charlie Tate said, "No one who ever played defensive end on the college level ever played it any better." Practically everything else there was to say about Hendricks was said, too, including the fact that he was smart. He'd graduated 72nd out of a class of 1,400 in high school. In his senior year at Miami he carried a C+ average, but his courses were electromagnetic theory, elementary decision theory (statistics), differential equations, topology and mathematical analysis. "Math has always been easy for me," Hendricks says.
A magazine sent a stringer to get information for a possible feature story on Hendricks. "This guy's no dummy," the stringer's memo read. "His favorite authors are William Blake and Oscar Wild [sic]." Someone told Hendricks about that spelling of Wilde. He snorted. "Maybe he meant Wild Oscar," he said.
His college football career reached a peak when Miami played USC and O.J. Simpson in the Coliseum: The Stork vs. The Juice. USC won 28-3, and O.J. gained 163 yards, most of them on plays away from Hendricks'. The final line in one report of the game still bugs Hendricks. He says it was "the most disturbing thing ever written about me." The line: "...there probably are a lot of mad storks to be found in the world, but there is only one bundle like O.J."
"Just remember," Hendricks says, "that I'm still playing. I'm still here. They didn't think I could make it at 6'8", 215 because no one else ever had before me. It was silly, really. If you can play, you can play."
Baltimore's Don Shula took a chance on Hendricks. The first contract meeting was held at the Miami home of owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Hendricks hadn't eaten any breakfast or lunch.
"I guess you don't have any objection if I weigh you, do you?" Rosenbloom's son Steve said. The bathroom scale showed 218, with clothes. "He caught us off guard," said Hendricks' agent, Mike Zarowny. "If Ted had eaten first, he'd have been $5,000 ahead. But I never would have watered him. I wouldn't water a client." Hendricks signed that night—three years at $18,500, $21,500 and $23,500, plus a $20,000 bonus.
The '69 Colts were a veteran team, coming down from a Super Bowl loss to the Jets, a year away from beating Dallas in the Super Bowl. They were not a team into hazing rookies, and, in fact, they liked the gangly Hendricks.
"The day I joined the team," Hendricks says, "all the veterans came over to me and said, 'We're glad to have you with us'—all of them, John Mackey, Ray Perkins, Lou Michaels, John Unitas. They were all gentlemen. I found out later that Unitas was glad to see me because I was the only guy on the team with skinnier legs than his.
"Lou Michaels was my locker mate. He'd written down the date and place of all the field goals he'd kicked on the soles of his shoes. Before the games he'd sit there and look at those shoes. He'd put his arm around me and show me all the places he'd been to."
Hendricks was a reserve for his first six games. Then, in the seventh, Shula made a linebacker switch, moving Mike Curtis to the middle, Hendricks and Bob Grant to the outside spots, and benching Dennis Gaubatz and Don Shin-nick. "Shinnick wanted out at midseason," Hendricks says. "He wouldn't sit on the bench. I didn't know what I was doing, really, but I recovered quickly. I might have gotten blown off the line, but I got back to where I was supposed to be. Look at the films and you'll see some guys stretched out."
The focal figure on the defense was Curtis. To a young and impressionable pro like Hendricks, Curtis was what the NFL was all about.
"I learned not to stand near him in an enemy ball park," Hendricks says. "I remember coming into the old War Memorial Stadium to play Buffalo. Curtis was in front of me, and as we were coming onto the field, bonk, he got hit on the head with a hot dog. I'd never seen that before.
"Mike was very quiet, very much into himself. He didn't even hang around with the players much. But on the field, when he hit 'em they stayed hit. Once, when we played Green Bay, Jim Grabowski was coming through the line and Mike gave him a good old-fashioned clothesline shot. He hit him so hard he popped his helmet off. Grabowski got up wobbling. One of our guys handed him his helmet. He started heading toward our bench. I tapped him on the shoulder and turned him around and said, 'Yours is on the other side, Jim.' Then I looked over at Curtis. I figured his arm had to be broken from a shot like that. No problem. He was wearing pads on the inside of his arm. Next week I started wearing 'em, and I've won 'em ever since."
The clothesline was legal then, and Hendricks, with his size 37 arms, quickly gained a reputation as one of the best at it. "We were playing the Patriots when Joe Kapp was their quarterback," he says. "He called a sweep, and everyone ran right while he ran left. Joe's all by himself out there, trying to pitch the ball to nobody. He tried to give me his swivel-hip action. I brought my arm across from way back here. I caught him just right, feet dangling, head bobbing. I looked down to see what damage I'd done. He looked up at me and said, 'Nice hit, kid,' and went back to the huddle shaking his head."
By 1972 Shula was in Miami, and Joe Thomas had taken over as Baltimore's general manager. Don McCafferty, the '71 Super Bowl coach, was fired after five games, and the old Colt gang was breaking up. Their record sank to 5-9.
"All my old friends were gone," Hendricks says. "I told Joe I wanted to be gone, too. He said, 'When you remodel a building you take the strong pillars and build around them.' I said, 'No, Joe, you take a bulldozer and level the whole thing.' He said, 'Stay another week. If you haven't changed your mind, talk to me again.' I hadn't, so I came back. He said, 'I'll give you two choices—retire or play in Baltimore.' So I stayed for the '73 season." That year Baltimore dropped to 4-10.
In August 1974, Hendricks announced he had signed a contract for the '75 season with Jacksonville of the WFL. A week later, Thomas traded him to Green Bay. "Thomas told me, 'I'm putting you in cold storage,' " Hendricks says.
"We got a house in Ashwaubenon, a Green Bay suburb," Jane Hendricks says. "There was a paper mill on one side and a meat-packing plant on the other. We'd get the smell no matter which way the wind blew."
Hendricks considers his Packer season his finest in the NFL. He intercepted five passes, tops on the team, and blocked seven kicks, an NFL record—three punts, three field-goal attempts and an extra point. The extra-point block came against the Vikings. Fred Cox was going for his 200th straight. The kick made it, but Hendricks was offside. In those days it was a do-over. On the next one Hendricks blocked it.
In '75 Bart Starr took over for Dan Devine as Green Bay's head coach. Jacksonville had missed its first payment to Hendricks, thus voiding his WFL contract; he also was a free agent in the NFL. Hendricks told Starr he wanted his contract guaranteed. Starr said, "We have nothing to talk about." And the scramble was on.
Hendricks talked to Miami and to Atlanta and was talking to the Giants when a phone call came from Al Davis. "Don't sign, I'll top whatever they offer you," Davis said. The Raiders had to give Green Bay two No. 1 draft choices as compensation to get him.
"Al and I met with Ted and his agent in Oakland," Madden says. "Al said, 'His body looks undeveloped.' He started talking about a weight program. Ted laughed. He said, 'Al, when I grab 'em they're grabbed. I don't need weights.' "
Madden says his coaching philosophy was: "Be on time, pay attention, play like hell when I tell you to. As long as you do those three things, there's not a hell of a lot to fine you for." Hendricks says his own maxim was: "They never say you work football; they say you play football." And the Raiders certainly knew how to play, both on and off the field.
There was the day in camp when Madden called, "O.K., everybody up," and Hendricks came charging onto the field on a horse, in full uniform, with a traffic cone for a lance. "John didn't bat an eye," Hendricks says. "He could take anything." Another day the defensive backs walked off the practice field. "Where are you going?" someone asked. "We're going on our field trip," Skip Thomas said. And they lay down in the adjoining field.
There was George Buehler, the 270-pound guard, and his electronic machines. "He had this radio-controlled tank that he'd send to collect his mail," Hendricks says. "The tank had a little message on it: 'Place mail on top. Ask no questions.' Freddy Biletnikoff firecracker-bombed the tank one time when it was heading down the steps. 'Leave my tank alone,' Buehler told him. Blinky said, 'C'mon George, it's gotta be able to take some flak.' "
Oh yes, Hendricks fit in with this crew. At Halloween he showed up for practice in a pumpkin the equipment manager, Dick Romanski, had carved in the shape of a helmet, complete with face bar. One year he snuck a harlequin mask. a souvenir of the Dickens Fair in San Francisco, onto the field for a Monday night game, and TV caught him wearing it on the sidelines—red, toothy, ear-to-ear grin, long, pointed chin—flashing the peace sign. Al Davis tried to find out how the mask got onto the field. No one cracked.
"Here it is, I've still got it," Hendricks says, tipping over a huge packing crate so that the mask comes tumbling out, accompanied by hats, hats, hats—one of the alltime hat collections. "Do you know what this is?" he says, holding up a brown felt cone with star and crescent.
Sure, a sorcerer's hat.
"Right," he says. "Feel this. It's a secret pocket inside: they always have a secret pocket for potions. Here's another one; it's got a tassel on the star." He reaches down again and pulls out a powder blue helmet with No. 34 on the side. "Earl Campbell's helmet. We traded after a Pro Bowl." Now a jester's hat, orange and green with bells on top. He puts it on and shakes his head. The bells tinkle. Next comes a Renaissance nobleman's hat with a two-foot ostrich plume. "They judged you by the size of your plume," he says. And now a rubber Fasching hat from Munich, with spikes.
"He still has all his old jocks, all his old football shoes. Theo never throws out anything," Jane Hendricks says. She calls him Theo. It suits him. Theo now models, in turn, a navy blue North Sea fisherman's hat, a Hialeah High hat, a visor from Kamehameha School, Oahu, another from the Southwest Boys' Club in Miami. "You ain't seen nothin' yet," he says, pulling out a hat in the shape of a turkey with a long aqua crop. In the bottom of the crate is a jai alai cesta.
"My cesta," he says. "The great player Orbea gave it to me in Miami. I used to play at his fronton. The first time I tried to hit the ball off the back wall I swung at it like I was swinging a baseball bat and the ball hit me in the middle of the forehead. Felt like an earthquake going off in my head."
When the iron-pumping revolution first hit the Raiders, Hendricks had his own barbell made for bench-pressing: two empty drums fastened to either end of a bar, giving the impression of great mass while being virtually weightless. "To make you feel good," he says, hoisting it with one hand. He called it The Hurricane Machine. And in place of the bench, he devised a "hammock" made from strands of barbed wire, "to toughen you up."
Once, at a special-teams meeting, Madden was calling off the positions on the punting unit, and each player answered with his name. Hendricks was late. He was entering the building just as Madden called out, "Left end." Hendricks picked up a phone in the equipment room. "Emergency call for Coach Madden," he said. Madden got on the phone in his office. "Hendricks!" was what he heard.
"How can you stand it?" Madden asked Jane Hendricks one day.
"I'm into bird-watching," she said.
When Defensive End Lyle Alzado joined the Raiders in '82, he described the characters on the team as being "camped out on the edge of reality." Hendricks took exception to the quote. "I told him, 'Lyle, we're not camped out. We're over it. But we can flip-flop. Flop, we're out, flip, we're back in. When you learn that, you'll be one of us.' I think last year he learned."
"I've never played with a guy like him," Alzado says. "He smiles while he's playing; he actually smiles out there."
"It's not a smile," Hendricks says. "It's a grimace, a malevolent grimace."
Once a Boston writer asked Hendricks, "Ted, are you a flake?"
"Who calls me that, Ed Garvey?" he said. "I prefer to be known as an iconoclast."
He has always had a strong dislike for Garvey and the Players Association. In 1980, when the union threatened to have Hendricks suspended for nonpayment of dues, the Raiders anted up $1,322.18, two years' worth, without a murmur. They have also been known to bend their fine schedule for him.
"Once he missed bed check in camp," Madden says. "I called him in the next morning and told him I was going to fine him. He said he'd missed it because he'd gone out with Marv Hubbard. Hubbard had just been cut; it was his last day, and he wanted someone to go out with him. So I didn't fine him. I would have done the same thing.
"I'll tell you how it is with Ted Hendricks. Whatever he has in him, he will give it to you on the field Sunday. You are going to get every last bit. There's no reason to mess with a guy like that. Hey, I've never even seen him limp."
Still, it took a while for the Raiders to realize what an exceptional package they had in Hendricks. In '75, he mostly sat on the bench. The Raiders realized their mistake in the first playoff game, against Cincinnati, when an injury in the final game of the regular season to Defensive End Tony Cline forced them into a 3-4 defense. Hendricks started as the utility linebacker and sacked Ken Anderson four times. "Today," Cincinnati's Paul Brown said, "he earned his entire season's salary."
Hendricks refers to that '75 season as The Valley of Fatigue. "In one game against Denver we were losing 17-7, and Monte Johnson pulled a muscle in his back. They took him off on a stretcher. I went in there, and I didn't even know the defensive calls. Shinnick was the linebacker coach, yeah, the same guy I had replaced in Baltimore, and he hadn't even told me the signals. I had two calls—zone and man-to-man. But hey, we shut 'em out the rest of the way and beat 'em 42-17. Next week I started. Shortest start in history. One play. Johnson made a miraculous recovery and came in for me after one play. Yeah, you're shaking your head. That's what I did, too, shook my head."
"Well, he played some that year," Madden says. "Special situations. We got him in there.... Oh hell, we just made a mistake. Coaches are superstitious; they're reluctant to change something that's been working. You make mistakes. You're human."
The players took to Hendricks right away. They named him Kick-'em-in-the-head Ted, a handle supplied by Linebacker Dan Conners, who had played in college against a Ted Cooper, who was so nicknamed. For Hendricks it was soon shortened to Kick-'em.
He was a starter in '76, but from then until '79 his work load gradually diminished. The Raiders went to a 3-4 defense. Hendricks became a rover, and they would lift him on third and long. In 1980, Charlie Sumner took over as defensive coach and Hendricks became a full-timer, the focus of a Super Bowl defense known as The Boys of Sumner.
"Going into that season, they wanted "to get rid of me," Hendricks says, an accusation that is vehemently denied by the Raiders. "The vote was 9-2 that I go. But the two were Sumner and Al Davis, and as you know, Al's opinion carries a little weight. 'Uh-uh-uh,' Al said. 'I brought him here. He's my puppy.' "
It was an incredible year for Hendricks, an All-Pro year and his fifth Pro Bowl after a five-year absence. The Raiders won the Super Bowl, and Hendricks had a team-leading nine sacks plus three interceptions, three blocked kicks and a safety. He also had been appointed the Raiders' defensive captain that year.
"The first thing I did as captain was to get them to cut out all that hand-holding crap," he said. "They'd started copying the Broncos. Can you imagine that, on a team like the Raiders? I told them, 'Do what you want, but don't anyone grab my hand.' To me, the idea of captain was what you see on the Raider emblem, the guy with the patch over one eye. Arrr, Matey, walk the plank!"
The uncanny thing about Hendricks that year, and in subsequent years, was his ability to guess what was coming and to position himself exactly right. He has perfected his physical tools to the point where uncommon plays are no rarity—the leaping interception, the ability to take a block and ride it and at the last minute reach over and make the tackle or the sack. "At least once a game," Sumner says, "he'll do something and I won't know how he did it."
"Kansas City game, 1980, we were in a goal-line defense," Hendricks says. "I just had a feeling where they were going to run. So I drifted over to the other side. A couple of our guys looked at me.... 'What are you doing over here?' The Chiefs had some young players; they didn't have a checkoff system. I was standing right in the hole, but they ran the play anyway. Our coaches must have been tearing their hair out."
Free-lancing. The word makes Sumner wince. "He does things by design, he'll tell me," Sumner says. But how about that play against Kansas City? "Pretty good gamble, wasn't it?" he says. "A lot of guys might be able to guess where the play is going, but they wouldn't have the nerve to do anything about it. And 98 percent of the time he's right. What can you say?"
Six games into his 15th NFL season, Hendricks holds two records that should stand for a while: four safeties, 25 blocked kicks. "Blocking kicks is a knack that some people just seem to have," former Raiders Special Teams Coach Joe Scannella says. "He's got the rare ability to hit and slide his body sideways at the same time."
"When a guy reaches 35, you have to think about replacing him," Sumner says, "but you look around and there just aren't any people who can do the job he can. He's got at least two or three more years, maybe even more. Who knows? He's a unique individual."
Last June, Hendricks was asked how long he wants to continue playing. "Well, I'd like to retire in about a month," he said, "but the thing is, I'm having too much fun playing. I know there are things I can't do now that I once could. I can't run with a receiver all the way down the field, so the coaches have a system where I'll pass a receiver off to a safetyman. I can't recover from a game the way I used to. If you got up some Monday mornings feeling like I do, you'd understand that. But it's still fun—the game, my teammates, the fans. That's what it's all about."
And what kind of a legacy would he like to leave?
"I want to be remembered as a nice guy," he says. "I know I can play the game. That's all I need now."