On Mark May’s wall at home hangs a picture of the 1980 All-America team, successful then on the football field, distinguished now by more than sports alone.
The 1980s -- decade of Ronald Reagan, the “Me Generation,” and the graying of the Baby Boomers -- began with these 22 bearing the standard of excellence in college football. The decade closes with most of them carrying a similar banner -- in football, business, medicine and other fields.
“I look at that picture every year before I go to training camp and count to see who’s still playing, to find out who’s going to be the last one to go down,” said May, Washington Redskins All-Pro and winner of the 1980 Outland Trophy as the nation’s outstanding lineman.
“So far, I’m still hanging in there.”
Of those 22 Associated Press All-Americans, 20 played in the NFL, and 13 are still active. Eight of them were All-Pro, and three -- Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary and Kenny Easley -- accounted for six NFL defensive MVP awards in the last eight years. Still others, like Herschel Walker, Ronnie Lott and Anthony Carter, have become well-known stars.
“Sometimes I just sit in my room and see a picture from then, and it all comes back,” Singletary said. “That was a real special time for me.”
Even for those who did not go on to great stardom, being an All-American had its rewards.
“I do think back on it, with a sense of pride for what we accomplished,” said Frank Ditta, a Baylor teammate of Singletary but never a pro. “I don’t dwell on it, but I try to carry that sense of pride in what I do into my business life.”
Ditta has turned his athletic background into a business. Living in Dallas, he now helps retiring professional athletes make the transition to the real world, something he had to do sooner than most of his clients.
Besides Ditta, who was cut by the Bears before he ever played a game, only one other 1980 All-American never played in the NFL, and he may be one of the most successful of the group. Randy Schleusener, a guard from Nebraska, is in his final year of residency in Dallas to become an orthopedist. After that, he plans to take a one-year fellowship in spinal surgery.
“It was a good experience, a lot of fun,” said Schleusener, who was an Academic All-American as well. “But this time of year, with the camps starting and the hot weather, I don’t miss a bit of it.”
Schleusener was drafted in the ninth round by the Cleveland Browns in 1981 and cut before the season.
“I was a good football player, but not a great one,” he said. He said he became famous at Nebraska for recovering an Oklahoma fumble the year before and scoring a touchdown, and that may have got him on the All-America team.
The 13 1980 All-Americans still playing in the NFL are May and:
-- Taylor, an All-Pro linebacker out of North Carolina, winner of three NFL defensive MVP’s with the New York Giants.
-- Singletary, linebacker, Baylor, Chicago Bears, winner of two NFL defensive MVP’s, All-Pro.
-- Walker, running back, Georgia, Dallas Cowboys, then only a freshman and a Heisman trophy winner two years later, All-Pro.
-- Lott, defensive back, Southern Cal, San Francisco 49ers, All-Pro.
-- Carter, wide receiver, Michigan, Minnesota Vikings, All-Pro.
-- Keith Van Horne, tackle, Southern Cal, Bears, Outland Trophy runnerup to May.
-- John Scully, center, Notre Dame, Atlanta Falcons.
-- Mark Herrmann, quarterback, Purdue, Los Angeles Rams.
-- Hugh Green, defensive end, Pittsburgh, Miami Dolphins, All-Pro.
-- Kenneth Sims, defensive tackle, Texas, New England Patriots.
-- E.J. Junior, linebacker, Alabama, Dolphins, Pro-Bowler.
-- David Little, linebacker, Florida, Pittsburgh Steelers.
“When you’re married to something like football, it’s kind of hard to divorce yourself from it,” Lott said. "... How many times do you walk into somewhere and you feel like Cinderella?”
Retired from NFL careers are All-Pro Easley, a defensive back out of UCLA who played with the Seattle Seahawks; 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers from South Carolina, holder of the New Orleans Saints’ rushing records for a single game, season and career; Leonard Mitchell, a defensive lineman from Houston, converted to offense by the Philadelphia Eagles; Dave Young, journeyman tight end out of Purdue; Ken Margerum, a wide receiver out of Stanford who played in the NFL with Chicago and San Francisco, and John Simmons, a defensive back out of Southern Methodist who spent seven years with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The remaining All-American, Notre Dame defensive end Scott Zettek, played briefly for the Chicago Bears in 1981 before he was injured. He never came back and never looked back.
“Notre Dame people are just a little different breed,” he said. “You get an All-American out of, say, Nevada-Las Vegas, and there might be nothing else in store for him but tending bar if he’s not a football player. I knew I could be doing 100 other things.”
Zettek was injured before his only NFL season was half over, and he had no interest in returning after his experience at Notre Dame.
“Notre Dame spoils you a little,” Zettek said. “If it’s anything other than Notre Dame, it’s something less. You got the feeling at the Bears that it was more of a job. That never really made me happy.”
Zettek graduated from Notre Dame in 1981 with a degree in psychology and got a masters in business administration in 1985. Now, he’s a regional sales general manager for Pepsi Cola in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Success runs in his family. Zettek’s father is in his fifth term as mayor of Elk Grove Village, Ill., a Chicago suburb of 40,000.
“He only won the last election by a 3-1 margin,” Zettek said. “That’s his smallest margin of victory, but of course, he ran unopposed twice.”
Mitchell is one of the few downbeat stories among the 1980 All-Americans. After playing the last two seasons in Atlanta, he was unable to find a team this year, but he would like to continue playing. He sat out a 30-day suspension last year for drugs and now says he’s clean. “I want to go back into the league and redeem myself from my illness,” Mitchell said by telphone from his home in Houston. “But, right now, life must go on.”