A Conversation With John Wooten

John Wooten may not ring a bell to all current CU fans. But Wooten is one of the all-time great Buffalo football players, and one who accomplished a great deal after he graduated from CU, including as a blocker for Jim Brown. Wooten was inducted into the CU Athletics Hall of Fame last week. BSN spoke with him about his experience in the NFL, and about what it was like to be one of just seven black students on campus in Boulder back in late-1950s.

John Wooten was an all-American guard at Colorado in 1958, and went on to play nine years in the NFL, mostly with the Cleveland Browns. He later worked in NFL administration with the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, and in 1991 pioneered a development program for NFL players focused on education, post-career development and financial planning. He also spent the past several years as a scout for the Baltimore Ravens.

Along with teammate Frank Clarke, Wooten was the one of the first two African-American football players at Colorado when he came in 1955. Today he is retired and lives in Arlington, Texas.

Wooten, along with six others, was inducted into the CU Athletics Hall of Fame last week, and was introduced at the halftime of Saturday's Colorado-Texas football game.

The following is an interview Wooten gave the Buffalo Sports News in recent months.

Buffalo Sports News: Tell me about how you came to Colorado?
John Wooten:
I don't know if I can remember that far back. (laughs). I had played high school ball down in Carlsbad, N.M. On our team was a kid named Butch Anderson, and his dad was a district judge down there who had gone to Colorado.

Judge Anderson called the University of Colorado and told them about me. Hugh Davidson was the freshman coach at Colorado. They sent him down to recruit and sort of check me out.

I was a single-parent kid. And my mom really liked Hugh Davidson. The other recruiting people didn't sway her as much as he did. Being the mama's boy that I am, I followed her lead. And that's how I went there.

BSN: It seems like that hasn't changed; as a recruiter, you've got to get in good with mom.
They still call the shots in most homes. There's something about mothers having the intuition and knowing people when they come in your living room.

BSN: Do you look back on your time at Colorado as a positive thing?
It's a great thing. I was talking to a couple of people from Colorado a few days ago. When I went to Colorado there were only seven black kids in the whole school, period. There were four guys and three girls. Other than Frank Clarke and myself, everyone else was from Denver. So they could run back down to Denver on the weekends. Whereas Frank was from Wisconsin and I was from New Mexico.

But the best thing is as I look back at Colorado is the great relationships I formed with Boyd Dowler, Eddie Dove, Bob Stransky, Howard Cook. And Bob Salerno – he and I were roommates.

It was just a magnificent way of developing in my life, and one that taught me that people are just really people. This is something that I carry with me to this day. I still believe it. That's why I look back so fondly at Colorado and my experience there. It was just so enjoyable. And, of course, we won a few games — that helps.

I was saying to a friend out there, I was a little taken back by these kids transferring out of there this spring. (Eight players transferred from CU since the end of the 2003 season, five black, three white, for various reasons). It bothered me. Listening to a couple talk shows, they were saying it was OK because there weren't that many blacks in Boulder. And I just don't accept that.

Whatever the reasons the kids transferred, I don't know those reasons, but I certainly don't accept it on a premise that it was because of lack of blacks at Colorado. If it is, then I really feel sorry for the guys that transferred. If you are pinning your life now on whether this is black or this is white, then there's a lot of trouble in this world for you.

Anytime you're going to build what you do or what you don't do on race, that's not a good way.

BSN: What are you doing these days?
I'm officially retired. I had my run as a player in the NFL. I was able to get a great life working in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys for 16 years, one year in the league office where I set up the program that you hear them talking about now — player development and player programs.

BSN: What is that?
That has to do with the NFL teams working with the players on continuing education, going back to get their degrees. That's one aspect of it. Another is what we call family assistance.

So many of the young athletes are coming from economic situations that are below the economic schedule of a lot of families in our country. Therefore these families are needing the help of the player. And these people are pulling on these athletes like crazy and it creates problems for them.

The other aspect is the internship where the athlete is preparing for what he's going to do when he leaves the game. And then the fourth aspect is financial managing, where you're helping him to plan out his investments.

That's what the player programs are about. We put that together in 1991.

I went to the Philadelphia Eagles after that. I left the Eagles and went to the Baltimore Ravens in 1998. I stayed there until August 2003, and I told them I'd had enough. I told them I was going back to Texas and just look out the window. And that's what I'm doing.

BSN: You blocked for Jim Brown in Cleveland. Is he the greatest running back of all time?
There's nobody close. I've looked at all of them, fortunately. The O.J.s the Paytons, the Sanders — they don't compare to him. When you look at athletic ability, power, speed. Some of them are faster, but what they didn't have that he has is the power. That's what made him different.

When you compare his record, he played nine years and gained (12,312 yards) playing 12- to 14-game schedules. He played five years at 12, four years at 14. He never played a 16-game schedule.

You look at his 5.2-yards per carry. That means that every two times he touches the football he gets a first down. Nobody else is close to that.

BSN: What are the biggest differences between football players of your era and the ones who play now?
The guys today are so much bigger. Today, they wouldn't even consider me at my size (265 pounds). Denver may have one or two 280-pound guys. If any team would, they would. But if you're not 300-310 anymore, teams don't even look at you.

The last (NFL) combine I went to was in 2003, and there was not one offensive lineman under 310. Not one.

But most of these guys today can't run. They push and shove and wrestle. They throw you down and that sort of stuff.

BSN: What does it mean to you to be inducted into the CU Hall of Fame?
This is one of the great honors to me. It's always great when you're honored at home. When you're honored at home, and I call Colorado home, when you're honored by your own people, and they are saying, ‘Hey, we like the job you did, and we want to honor you and reward you and show you our respect,' then it's more meaningful.

If you go out and conquer the world, but you aren't honored at home, then you haven't achieved what you wanted to achieve.

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