Former St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist and Cards beat writer Jeff Meyers wrote this story a few years ago on Big Red center Bob DeMarco and wanted to share it here.
There was a brief moment when Bob DeMarco considered becoming a TV sports analyst after football. None other than legendary broadcaster Jack Buck was encouraging him to give it a shot.
DeMarco, a 2-time All-Pro center, was a natural for the broadcast booth: gregarious, intelligent, outspoken. But with only three TV networks and no cable channels in the early ‘70s, analyst job openings were rare, and DeMarco needed to feed his family of four in Creve Coeur, Mo.
So when he retired in 1976 after 15 NFL seasons, he took a job selling deflocculants, a chemical additive that prevents flocculation in liquids (look it up).
Apparently the need for deflocculants in treating waste water and thinning paint is so great that DeMarco spent 25 years helping a Cincinnati chemical company generate $30 million in annual sales.
DeMarco had worked offseason sales jobs for many years to augment his NFL salary, so his new job was a snap despite the seemingly arcane world he was entering. But wasn’t the language of chemistry harder to learn that Xs and Os?
“I couldn’t go in there dumb as a rock,” he explained. “But I dealt mainly with plant managers and so basically I had to know the process. It’s like missionary work.”
Would a Super Bowl ring have gotten him through more plant doors? “Not really,” he said. It seems an American Football Conference Championship ring impressed people enough.
DeMarco earned that ring in 1970. He played for a Miami Dolphins team that reached the conference final by beating the Kansas City Chiefs on a balmy Christmas Day in the Longest Game in NFL history, 82 minutes 40 seconds. It was DeMarco’s snap that set up Garo Yepremian for the game-winning 37-yard field goal 7 minutes 40 seconds into the second sudden-death overtime.
In the huddle before the kick, DeMarco did his best to inspire his kicker, saying. “You better make this you son of a bitch. I’m getting tired.”
But a week later, the Dolphins lost to the Baltimore Colts in the AFC title game. A year later, DeMarco reached Super Bowl VI but the Dolphins were beaten by the Dallas Cowboys, 21-3.
The Dolphins did attain football immortality the next season, going 17-0 and beating Washington in Super Bowl VII, but DeMarco wasn’t around to enjoy the festivities, having been traded the year before.
“[Coach Don] Shula called me in one day, right before the [’72] season, and told me they’re putting [center Jim] Langer in with the first team to see if he could compete,” DeMarco said. “I told him I wanted a no-cut, no-trade contract and I wanted it in writing. Shula said he gave me his word. Riiiight. That’s what they always say. So I got in my car and took off.”
When he finally returned to camp, he learned he’d been traded to Buffalo, but he flatly rejected the deal, so the Dolphins traded him to Cleveland, where he toiled for three years. After a 4-10 season in 1974, the Browns went with a youth movement, and shipped DeMarco to the Los Angeles Rams.
Backing up center Rick Saul, DeMarco played in every game and the Rams went 12-2, but lost to Dallas in the NFC title game. Rams’ Coach Chuck Knox wanted DeMarco to play another two years.
DeMarco was 37. Every time his joints creaked, he remembered Bills’ center Jim Ringo’s advice: it was time to quit when your body didn’t recover from the previous game until the day before the next game.
“I told Knox, ‘Coach, I’ve got more years in the league than the offensive line together,” DeMarco said. He quit and didn’t look back.
DeMarco had seen a lot of changes in the NFL since his rookie days as the St. Louis Cardinals’ 14th-round draft pick in 1961. Children of the Fifties, he and most of his teammates didn’t relate to the cultural shifts occurring in society. And by the ‘70s, most players coming into the league were part of the counterculture and influenced team behavior.
“I remember when I was traded to Miami and saw all these guys laughing one night at training camp,” DeMarco said. “I asked someone why, and he said, ‘They’re all smoking dope.’ It was like that in Cleveland, too. They even had to make a rule: no dope after Thursday. All those young guys, it was a different breed coming in.”
DeMarco has a jaundiced view of the NFL today, particularly offensive linemen. “These guys weigh 330 pounds,” said DeMarco, who played at 248. “They look like sumo wrestlers, pushing and grabbing. It’s not football. I’d be ashamed to walk out there looking like that.”
But it’s more than their size that annoys him today. He was told by an NFL trainer a few years ago that injured players are unilaterally deciding when they go back into the game. A former coach told him that “half the players out there are just like you were, the rest play for money,” DeMarco said, adding: “The problem today is, they’re not players, they’re entertainers and celebrities.”
Having been a player rep in the Sixties, DeMarco kept tabs on the current labor unrest. He thinks the union is now just another subsidiary of the NFL and that the owners still disrespect the players.
“The owners didn’t care about us [players] back in the day and they don’t care about us now,” he said.
And what does he think of the new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players?
“The retired players got screwed as usual,” he said.
DeMarco also believes the pervasive influence of television has affected the game negatively. “I played in the Longest Game, which took 3 hours and 18 minutes to play [on TV]. Today, that game would last six hours with all the commercials. But those fat-ass lineman couldn’t play today without them. They couldn’t last physically.”
Is there any doubt that DeMarco would fit in nicely with today’s opinionated sports analysts? As Howard Cosell famously liked to say, he tells it like it is.