Even though a blown-out knee cut short his career two weeks after he appeared on SI's cover, former quarterback George Ratterman has never lost his take-charge attitude. A four-sport letterman at Notre Dame, Ratterman played 10 seasons of pro ball, guiding the Buffalo Bills to the 1948 All-America Football Conference championship game and leading the NFL with 22 touchdown passes while with the New York Yanks in 1950. He was a backup to Otto Graham when the Cleveland Browns won the '54 and '55 NFL titles and had taken over for the retired Graham before suffering that career-ending injury.

Undaunted, Ratterman over the next five years owned a brokerage firm, sold insurance and served as an investment consultant in his native Cincinnati. When nearby Campbell County, Ky., where he lived, needed an imposing and reputable sheriff to combat problems of gambling, organized crime and government corruption, his neighbors persuaded Ratterman--who'd earned his law degree in night classes during his football career--to seek office, despite the objections of his wife, Anne. "She was against my running, out of fear for my life," says Ratterman, who at the time had just begun the first of what would be 14 seasons as an AFL and NFL color commentator for ABC and NBC.

Turns out Anne had reason to be afraid. In an attempt to tarnish Ratterman's image before the election, a criminal group drugged him, put him in a hotel room with a stripper and hired a photographer to document the seeming scandal. The group then tipped off police and Ratterman was arrested, but the plan quickly unraveled when the photographer confessed that he'd been hired as part of a setup. Seven months later, in November 1961, Ratterman was overwhelmingly elected sheriff. "And in four years I got rid of the gambling and the prostitution--and I didn't get killed," he says.

Ratterman moved to Colorado in 1967 to work for a mutual fund company, and he later became a certified financial planner. He also taught real estate classes until his retirement five years ago. In the summer of 2003 he had to draw upon his old football toughness. One day he started experiencing nausea and a headache, and a few hours later he was unable to move. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was found to have the deadly mosquito-spread West Nile virus as well as meningitis.

After spending two months in a nursing home, Ratterman is healthy again and back at home in Centennial, Colo., where he spends time with Anne and visits with the couple's 10 children, 23 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He spends occasional Fridays on the field with the Lounge Lizards, a coed softball squad made up of family and friends. With their patriarch as their first base coach, the team has won two league championships. --Andrea Woo

After retiring from the NFL, Ratterman had several careers, including one as a sheriff, and survived a brush with death.

COLOR PHOTOROGER RIGER (COVER) BAD LUCK Injury cut short Ratterman's Browns tenure. COLOR PHOTOTIM DEFRISCO BAD LUCK Injury cut short Ratterman's Browns tenure.

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