By Dennis Dillon
It was sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2014, but Joe Bostic wasn’t exactly feeling the holiday spirit. He lay in a hospital bed at his home in Greensboro, N.C., unable to straighten out his legs, both of which were in braces. Double quadriceps surgery had made the former St. Louis Cardinals offensive lineman a prisoner in his own house.
While carrying a bag up some stairs, Bostic had slipped and his right quadriceps muscle had detached from the knee. When he shifted his weight to his left knee, that quadriceps also tore.
After surgery, Bostic was confined to bed for eight weeks.
“It was unbelievable,” says Bostic, who played for the Big Red from 1979-1988. “I was like, I don’t know if I can do this. I finally said, ‘God, you get me out of this bed, I’m going to keep moving. I’m not going to sit around on my rear end. I’m going to get going.
“He got me out of that bed, so I’ve been trying to keep my word.”
When he finally shed the braces, the once powerful legs of a 6-3, 268-pound football player looked like toothpicks, Bostic says. Two years passed before he could run again.
Now, you can call him “Walking” Joe Bostic. He walks. A lot. He tries to average 15,000 steps per day. His one-day record is 40,000 steps (equivalent to 20 miles) and his record for a week is 200,000 steps.
“Not that I’m a maniac about it, but why not do something healthy for yourself instead of sitting on your rump watching TV,” says Bostic, who some days walks three miles to a gym, works out for an hour, and then walks three miles back home.
Now 63 and semi-retired, Bostic splits his time between Clemson, S.C., and Greensboro, N.C. (he has houses in both cities). He also likes to vacation at Isle of Palms, S.C. He is married to Jami, and he has three adult children: Jennifer, 35, who, with her husband, owns a Boar’s Head meat distributorship in Illinois; Kathryn, 34, who works with Jennifer; and Mark, 23, who is currently studying at a technical community college but plans to eventually switch to Clemson University, his dad’s alma mater.
In addition to the two torn quadriceps, Bostic has had a few other health issues since he retired from football. His left shoulder was replaced in 2008, he had rotator cuff surgery, and nerves from his wrist were transplanted to his ulna nerve when he realized he was losing the strength in his hand. Overall, however, he feels good.
“If a slow guy was harassing me,” Bostic says in his euphonic Carolina drawl, “I guess I could run away from him a little bit.”
Following a stellar career at Clemson (1975-78), where he was a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference team selection and twice won the Jacobs Award as the ACC’s best blocker, Bostic was selected by the Cardinals in the third round (64th overall) of the 1979 NFL draft. (Among the team’s other draft picks that year were running back Ottis Anderson (1st round), running back Theotis Brown (2nd), and defensive back-turned-wide receiver Roy Green (4th).
It didn’t take long for Bostic to be thrown into the NFL fire. During the second game of the ’79 season against the Giants in New Jersey, right tackle Dan Dierdorf suffered torn knee ligaments while blocking on an extra point attempt. On the Cardinals sideline, Bostic heard someone yell, “Number 71, get ready. Let’s go!”
Thrust into Dierdorf’s spot at right tackle—he had played guard at Clemson—Bostic finished that game and started the final 14 games. The season seemed like a marathon for a 22-year-old rookie used to playing fewer college games.
“I never thought it would end,” Bostic says. “By the 11th or 12th game, I’m dying. I thought, How do these guys play this much? My body was just beat to crap. We were playing at the Cincinnati Bengals (in late November). I was walking out on to the field and my shoulders, my knees, my hips … everything was hurting.”
When Dierdorf returned to right tackle in 1980, the Cardinals called on Bostic in another emergency situation. Projected starter Terry Stieve suffered a knee injury in the final week of training camp, so Bostic started the season at left guard. He started six games there, missed one game because of an injury, then played the final nine games at right guard, where he became a fixture for seven seasons. While multiple players started at the other four O-line positions from 1980-86, Bostic was the only primary starter at his spot.
“He (Jim Hart) was just a real gentleman,” Bostic recalls. “I think he understood how hard it is to break into the league and how hard it was for a 22-year-old rookie. He was a good man. I always had a ton of respect for him.
By 1987, Bostic’s body started to wear out. He started four games in ’87 and one game in ’88 (the Cardinals’ first season in Arizona), when he tore the medial collateral ligament in his knee in an early November game against San Francisco and missed rest of that season. In 1989, he suffered a detached quadriceps in training camp and spent the entire season on injured reserve. He retired after that.
“I was pretty durable for quite a while,” says Bostic, who played in 132 games, starting 115. “In ’87 and ’88, I started to fall apart a little bit (with injuries). All that practicing on that AstroTurf (at Busch Stadium) seemed to takes its toll.”
Bostic has fond memories of many of his former teammates, especially quarterback Jim Hart, who was a 14-year veteran when Bostic came into the NFL.
“He was just a real gentleman,” Bostic recalls. “I think he understood how hard it is to break into the league and how hard it was for a 22-year-old rookie. He was a good man. I always had a ton of respect for him.
“Dierdorf was always kind of a bigger-than-life figure. A strong personality. I thought the world of Terry Stieve. I thought he was one of the toughest dudes running around. I had a lot of respect for Luis Sharpe and Tootie Robbins; they kind of solidified things (at the offensive tackle positions). There were a lot of really good guys that I thought a lot of: (running backs) Stump Mitchell, Wayne Morris, Willard Harrell.”
After his football career ended, Bostic returned to Greensboro, his hometown, where he attended a technical college and earned a contractor’s license. He and younger brother Jeff, who was an outstanding offensive lineman himself with the Washington Redskins, formed Bostic Brother Construction in 1991. Initially, they wanted to build one apartment complex, but their ambitions grew much bigger. Over the next 10-12 years, their company built 20,000 apartments.
Joe sold his share in the partnership in 2003, and the company eventually went bankrupt. Today, he still owns several apartment complexes and a smaller construction company.
Bostic also entered the world of politics for a while. From 1992 to 1998, he was Commissioner of Guilford County, the third largest county in North Carolina. One time, Bostic and another candidate were at a horse show, shaking hands and saying hellos when he heard the voice of an elderly lady coming from the top row of the bleachers.
“Hey, you’re one of them football stars, ain’t-cha,” she yelled.
“No,” responded Bostic, “but I’ve been run over by a lot of them.”
Bostic has received much notoriety for his college career. He was selected to Clemson’s All-Centennial team in 1996; to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players Team in 2003 (a fraternity that includes such super stars as Lawrence Taylor, Randy White, Derrick Brooks, Boomer Esiason, Julius Peppers, Roman Gabriel and Tiki Barber); and to several college hall of fames.
By contrast, Bostic didn’t have much to celebrate during his NFL career. The Cardinals had losing records in seven of his 10 seasons. They went to the playoffs only once, the strike-shortened 1982 season. They had another opportunity to make the postseason in 1984, but they needed to beat the Redskins in Washington in the final game of the regular season.
“If we won the game, we would have been the (NFC East) division champs,” Bostic says. “If we lost, we didn’t even get to go to the playoffs.”
The Redskins led, 23-7, at halftime, but the Cardinals came back behind quarterback Neil Lomax (37 completions in 46 attempts for 468 yards), who, after running for a touchdown in the first half, teamed up with Green for two scoring passes (75 and 18 yards) in the second half.
With the Redskins leading, 29-27, late in the game, the Cardinals had one final shot at winning. But it was a long shot. After their offense was stopped on third down at mid-field, the Cardinals’ field goal team rushed on to the field with no timeouts left and the clock ticking toward 0:00. Neil O’Donoghue’s 50-yard field goal attempt missed as time ran out.
“We left every single ounce (of effort) out there,” Bostic says.
That’s how Bostic played football. He never made a Pro Bowl team, but the Cardinals knew they could count on him giving it his all every play, every game, every season.
“I played hard and did the best I could,” he says. “I wasn’t a superstar. I was steady.”
(About the author: Dennis Dillon covered the Big Red for the St. Louis Globe Democrat from 1978-1983 and was an editor, managing editor, and writer at The Sporting News from 1985-2011.)