If Carl Hairston decides to return for a 15th NFL season in 1990, it will be for the same reason he played the first 14.
“I enjoy competition,” says the Cleveland Browns’ 37-year-old defensive lineman. “Age is not a factor for me. It’s a matter of competing and enjoying the game.”
Hairston fully expects to be back next year, although he says he’ll wait until the offseason to make a final decision. For now, his attention is focused on the Browns’ Jan. 6 playoff game against the Buffalo Bills.
Hairston said the 16-game regular season didn’t wear him out because defensive line coach John Teerlinck developed a rotation aimed at keeping his players fresh.
Late in the year, Hairston was being used almost exclusively on passing downs, while Chris Pike replaced him on earlier downs.
“John does a good job of keeping everybody rested, and that’s a big key for us,” Hairston said. “We’ve got guys who can play every position on the line, so that’s a big plus for this defensive line. The guys that have come off the bench have been a big help.”
In spite of his age, Hairston ranked third on the team with 6 1-2 quarterback sacks this season; Michael Dean Perry and Bubba Baker each had seven.
As a team, the Browns recorded 45 sacks, breaking the club record of 44 set in 1967 and matched in 1985.
Teerlinck had made the record a goal for his defensive linemen this year, and they got it by sacking Houston’s Warren Moon five times in Saturday’s 24-20 win at the Astrodome, clinching the AFC Central Division title.
“That record has stood for a long time, so now our name will go on the record books. That was very exciting for us,” Hairston said.
Hairston has missed only three games because of injury during his 14 years, an achievement that once prompted Baker to quip that Hairston “will be the first player to earn a Pro Bowl check and Social Security check in the same year.”
In addition to his presence on the field, Hairston has a quiet, workmanlike approach to practice that makes him a leader by example in the clubhouse.
He gets an extra notch of respect because he played in Super Bowl XV with the Eagles after the 1980 season. Oakland, which edged the Browns in a playoff game that season, beat Philadelphia 27-10 for the championship.
“I think we’ve got more talent here than we had in Philadelphia that year, on offense and defense,” Hairston said.
Still, he’s leaving nothing to chance. Warnings of fines from the league office notwithstanding, he’s planning on sticking with the gaudy orange shoes that he and more than a half-dozen teammates wore as good-luck charms in the win at Houston.
“I’m not going to change my shoes. I’m going to stay with my orange ones,” Hairston said.
Coach Bud Carson said he has no objections to the orange shoes, which were first worn a few weeks ago by receiver Webster Slaughter and tailback Eric Metcalf, two of the faster Browns. Calling attention to Hairston’s footwork, though, might not be the best idea, Carson indicated.
“That’s carrying it a little too far,” he said with a laugh.