Stories Live On in Pueblo, But Football Is a Memory For Big Rodney Wallace

Associated Press

They still tell stories in Pueblo about Rodney Wallace's strength and skill on the football field. But Wallace left football and the NFL behind him more than a decade ago and he isn't looking back.

"A lot of ballplayers never let go of the game," said the former Dallas Cowboy. "The day I left football, my phone stopped ringing. When it's over, it's really over."

Today, Wallace is 37. His hair is flecked with gray, but he remains a powerful 6-foot-6 and weighs only a few pounds more than his professional playing weight of 255.

It has been 12 years since he threw his last block for Coach Tom Landry, and a Super Bowl ring is the only telltale sign of Wallace's athletic successes.

He has gone to only two pro football games since his career ended in 1974. He'll occasionally watch a game on television, but doesn't get too excited about the larger-than-life world of pro football that so many fans devote their Sundays to.

Wallace, whose perfect English and soft voice make him sound like a college professor, would just as soon talk to you about his business interests, his passion for cycling, and his desire to become a writer.

"When I left football, I told myself it was time to see how the other half lives," he said.

He spent the last 3 1/2 years in Detroit as a manager for a pharmaceutical company, but returned to southern Colorado this spring as a senior consultant and medical sales representative for Searle Laboratories. His territory covers Colorado Springs, Pueblo and surrounding communities.

As a teenager, he burst upon Pueblo Central High School in 1964, an early-model 300-pound refrigerator with impressive speed.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sollie Raso was a teacher at Pueblo Central during Wallace's years there and recalled that Wallace always could separate the jammed arenas from the real world.

"Basically, he was simply a good, stable kid. All the accolades never once took Rodney off his feet," Raso said.

"Probably some of these young people today have so many things come their way so fast they just can't handle it. Rodney was never affected that way. He was always a gentleman."

"People in Pueblo still tell 'Rodney stories' about his strength and skill. His identity came from being a star in the golden era of local prep sports, but you always knew he was a bright, ambitious guy," said Jack Hildner, former sports editor of he Pueblo Chieftain.

After a successful college career at the University of New Mexico, he was Dallas' 10th pick in the 1971 NFL draft. A longshot to make the team, Wallace became a Cowboy offensive lineman, joining such luminaries as Roger Staubach, Craig Morton, Mike Ditka, Duane Thomas and Dan Reeves.

He reported to training camp at 300 pounds, his high school playing weight, and although he turned in an impressive 4.9-second time in the 40-yard dash, the Cowboys ordered him to drop 45 pounds.

Wallace complied "because if the Dallas computer says you will play at 255, that's what you do."

He made the team and Dallas beat Miami in the Super Bowl to cap his rookie season.

Although on the roster, Wallace knew it would take years to become a starter for the talent-deep Cowboys. He yearned for a trade, but it didn't come.

The harshness of professional football began to sting him.

A clause in his contract called for a large bonus if he started at least half the regular season games.

Going into a season finale, he needed the start to collect the bonus. The man playing ahead of Wallace was hobbling on a bad leg, but the coaches started the other player, then inserted Wallace for the rest of the game. Wallace, of course, didn't get his bonus.

"Football is an extremely political business," he said. "I saw some of the best athletes in the world get cut. Egos, attitudes, the inability to fit into a system took them out."

For Wallace, the end came when he had to undergo spinal surgery. The Cowboys released him before his fourth season. His attorney talked to NFL teams in St. Louis, New Orleans and Miami, but Wallace wanted a lot of cash guaranteed before he risked running onto the field again.

No deal could be made. Football was ended, and Wallace's phone stopped ringing.

He finished his degree in English at New Mexico, then decided to go into business.

Sales have been his life since, although writing excites him. "The pen is a powerful instrument," he said.

Wallace also has thought about entering politics, but he says he has become so private a man that he usually discourages himself.

He never had a taste for the most obvious career, coaching, because it can be so cold a profession. Wallace said Landry refused to get close to players because he knew he would have to make decisions about their lives. Wallace couldn't see himself functioning that way.

Other than the big paydays, he said, he really doesn't miss the glitter of pro sports. But he remembers the fields of battle to this day.

"It's a weird feeling," to wake up and not hurt, he said.

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