Gastineau Is Ringing In a New Career
Mark Gastineau made a name for himself as part of the New York Jets “Sack Exchange.” Now he wants to exchange his football gear for a job with sock.
The former defensive end who would unleash a taunting victory dance after he flattened a quarterback wants to be a professional boxer.
Gastineau, 33 years old and two years away from the NFL, is serious. He has a $6,000 regulation ring in his backyard, a garage full of training equipment, works out seven days a week and, in a few months, hopes to have his first fight.
“The approach I’m taking toward this is I want to do it but I want to earn the respect and pay the respect to the sport,” Gastineau said recently.
“Unless you spend a year or so at it, you can’t become a boxer. I want to learn the fundamentals and get myself acclimated to the ring and the atmosphere of boxing. It’s a whole new world.”
Jimmy Glenn, a former cornerman for Floyd Patterson, has been working with Gastineau for the last four months after leaving his Times Square gym in New York.
“I think Mark has a chance. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here,” said the 59-year-old Glenn, who has been training fighters for 36 years. “Mark has a good mind and he can learn. He’s very strong. We just got to get him to distribute the strength that he’s got and he’ll be all right.”
The 6-foot-5 Gastineau said he’s in “the best shape of my life” and his weight has dropped from 275 to 250 pounds.
He began sparring in April, has financial backing from a Vancouver businessman and hopes to have his first heavyweight fight in the next few months.
“I want to get a small fight first. It won’t be (Mike) Tyson or (George) Foreman,” Gastineau said. “I don’t want to fight anybody in particular, just someone with the same level of experience as me.
“I’m very serious about this. I don’t want to be made a fool. I want people to watch me and say, ‘Hey, he’s better than I thought he would be!’ But I know people are going to laugh when they hear about this. People around the country are basically going to think it’s a joke. They’re going to think it’s a publicity stunt. It’s not.
“I’ve put myself on the line by saying I’m going to become a boxer and I’ve put hours and hours and hours of work into this. I’m not doing this for money. If I needed money, I never would have quit football.
“My first fight will be for nothing at all, like $5,000. It’s a challenge. I want to go as far as I can possibly go.”
The last NFL player to try boxing was Dallas defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones, who won all six of his fights in 1978 before returning to the Cowboys.
Gastineau said he almost made the switch during the NFL strike in 1982.
“I went and saw Jimmy at his gym and got the basic fundamentals down during the strike and made plans to fight if the strike lasted any longer,” he said. “We had some backers together and they were going to match my football contract. Right about the time the papers were ready to sign, the strike ended and I went back to football.”
Gastineau, who grew up in the small eastern Arizona town of Springerville, said his only previous boxing experience is several fistfights through the years. He won all of them.
“I haven’t fought a lot. I’m pretty reserved,” he said. “But when someone hits me, I get very aggressive. It’s just like football.”
In 1979, Gastineau was the Jets’ second-round draft choice as an All-American senior defensive tackle and end from Oklahoma’s East Central College.
He was a five-time Pro Bowler in the NFL, had 107 1/2 sacks in his career and was known for his flamboyant sack dance over fallen quarterbacks.
In October 1988, however, Gastineau walked away from football and suddenly retired to take care of his then-fiancee, Danish actress Brigitte Nielsen, who feared she had cancer of the cervix.
Doctors determined through a biopsy that Nielsen only had dysplasia and she underwent cryosurgery later that month.
Nielsen, who had a miscarriage in the summer of 1988, gave birth to Gastineau’s son, Marcus, four months ago. The couple broke up in April and Nielsen has moved to Europe to resume her acting career.
“People said I was crazy for giving up football. I did it for her and I don’t have any remorse for doing that for somebody you love,” Gastineau said.
If boxing doesn’t work out, Gastineau said he would entertain offers to return to the NFL, but would only play for “either the Jets or the Phoenix Cardinals.”
He met with Cardinal officials last year but his $950,000 salary was a stumbling block along with his ponytail and his demand to get uniform No. 99.
“There were eight teams interested in me last year, but my head wasn’t into it. I didn’t go for any tryouts,” Gastineau said. “This year, I feel hungry like a rookie. I’d cut my hair. I wouldn’t care if they gave me number double-X. I’d go out there without a number.
“Football is fun. I miss it. In the shape I’m in, I think I can fly around most offensive tackles right now. But I want to give boxing a shot. Why? I feel I have a lot of talent and I like the fact that in boxing, you’re out there by yourself and the dedication you put in is the result you’re going to get out of it.
“In football, you can be busting your butt and some teammates will take it easy and you’ll have breakdowns on the field and you lose. This is something where you can control your own destiny.”