Years before Rocky Balboa threw his first punch on the silver
screen, the original Italian Stallion was plodding along in the
obscurity of the CFL. As a sophomore halfback at Alabama, Johnny
Musso had received that tag from a school publicist. After being
named an All-America in 1970 and '71, Musso joined the BC Lions
and met Carl Weathers, an undersized BC linebacker. When Rocky
appeared in theaters in 1976--with Weathers starring alongside
Sylvester Stallone--the handle was no longer Musso's
exclusively. "Carl liked to tease me about my nickname, and I
kidded him, too," Musso says. "He was a great actor back then,
especially when he played linebacker."
Even today the 51-year-old Musso occasionally gets hailed as the
Italian Stallion. Hearing the nickname takes him back to his
days in Tuscaloosa, where in three seasons he rushed for 2,741
yards and scored 38 touchdowns, earning a place in the College
Football Hall of Fame. Musso dressed for success: He wore
acid-dipped jerseys, which would tear away as soon as they were
stretched. In a 33-28 loss to Auburn in 1970--during which he
gained 221 yards on 42 carries--Musso went through 11 jerseys.
After his three-year stint with the Lions, Musso signed with the
Chicago Bears and spent four seasons as Walter Payton's backup.
Following his retirement from football in 1979, Musso became a
commodity futures trader at the Chicago Board of Trade before
starting EME Enterprises, a private equity investment company,
15 years ago. "I'm not active on a day-to-day basis anymore,"
says Musso, who lives in suburban Hinsdale, Ill., with Tanner,
his wife of 29 years. "I still dabble in it, but I now prefer
spending time with my children, playing golf or playing cards."
Three of the Mussos' five children followed their father's
footsteps into football: Brian, 26, was a wide receiver and punt
returner at Northwestern; Scott, 25, was a defensive back for
the Wildcats; and Brad, 19, is a redshirt freshman wideout at
Division III Wheaton (Ill.) College. Like their father, all the
Musso children (including Zach, 28, and Tyler, 17) are highly
competitive, which makes for some intense afternoons of gin
rummy when the clan gathers at Johnny and Tanner's 100-acre farm
near South Haven, Mich. Every so often the kids will coax Johnny
outside for a game of catch. "I can't move the way I used to, so
tossing the ball around is about all I can do," he says. "Even
so, some sort of competition will break out. I guess that's just
our family's nature."
December 3, 2001