Mike Reid went from game plans to song sheets

Dozens have won the Outland Trophy, presented annually to college football’s outstanding interior lineman.

Hundreds have won Grammys.

Only Mike Reid has won both.

Forty years ago, as a senior defensive tackle at Penn State, Reid won the Outland Trophy. He won his Grammy 15 years later for penning the country music song of the year.


In between, Reid walked away from a promising NFL career, bolting the Cincinnati Bengals after only five seasons to pursue his musical muse.

Friends and former teammates tell him that, had he stayed, he might have wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Which fazes him not at all.

“I was burned out on the game,” Reid, 62, says from his home outside Nashville. “I didn’t play that long, but I got to the place where it just didn’t mean anything to me anymore.


“I just knew I was done -- there was no question -- and I never had a moment’s regret. I never thought, ‘Yeah, I screwed up.’ ”

Who has the time?

A piano player from age 6 and a music major at Penn State, where the Nittany Lions were 22-0 in his last two seasons, Reid has co-written more than 20 chart-topping country hits.

Artists as diverse as Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Wynonna and Anita Baker have recorded his tunes. Twelve of Reid’s songs were turned into No. 1 hits by Ronnie Milsap, including the Grammy-winning “Stranger in My House,” and his “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” a hit for Bonnie Raitt, has become a pop standard.

Reid, a College Football Hall of Famer and two-time Pro Bowl pick, is enshrined in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In 2005, when Reid was inducted at a ceremony in Nashville, fellow songwriter Don Schlitz noted Reid’s recent forays into opera, classical and musical theater and suggested, “He’s the most complete writer in our field. He competes only with himself.”

Quips the self-deprecating Reid, “I was absolutely the greatest songwriter the NFL ever produced.”

Reid, winner of the Maxwell Award as college football’s player of the year and fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1969, was the seventh player taken in the 1970 NFL draft.


A fearsome pass rusher, he was a first-team All-Pro in 1972 and made the Pro Bowl in ’72 and ’73.

Years later, longtime Penn State Coach Joe Paterno would tell Sports Illustrated, “Of all the great players I’ve had here, Mike Reid remains near the top.”

He was only 27 when he retired in 1974.

“I never felt any fear about it,” Reid says. “My problem is, I’ve always loved the mythic component of things, and no place more than in sports. It was about more than just the game; it was about testing one’s self and observing one’s strengths and weaknesses in the midst of these mini-crises.

“And the more the natural world intruded in on all that, the less interested I became for some reason.”

Turning to music, Reid says he had to fight the perception that he was only a football player indulging a hobby.

“There may have been some novelty that this gorilla could play,” says the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Reid, who performed in coffeehouses and other similarly cozy venues for five years after leaving the NFL. “You know, ‘The guy looks like he ought to be a piano mover rather than a piano player.’

“There was that, but at these little joints that I played in, I started developing a following. And I think people are only curious one time. If they keep coming after that, it’s because they’re getting something out of it that they like.”


In Nashville, Reid says, “nobody records a song because you used to be a football player. These artists aren’t going to risk everything. The song either works or it doesn’t.”

Enough of Reid’s songs have worked that the happily married father of two rarely ponders his athletic past.

“I’ll give you some perspective on just how distant it is,” he says, laughing. “I was the seventh kid drafted in the first round in 1970 and I signed for $22,000. So, there’s your perspective.”

In his final season, Reid notes, he was paid about five times that much, “but it’s not like I walked away from a life-transforming amount of money.”

Being a songwriter in Nashville, he says, is a “wonderful life,” but over the last 14 years he has chased his dream of writing a Broadway musical.

He and lyricist Sarah Schlesinger have collaborated on several pieces, including an opera about football titled “Different Fields,” but thus far nothing that has been produced on Broadway.

Still, Schlesinger says her ex-jock writing partner possesses a “huge crossover talent into this other area, which is really very unusual. There are lots of pop songwriters who have tried to do theater, but he has a real instinct for it.”

More, certainly, than most former NFL defensive tackles.