Jerry Sherk Keeps on Helping

Browns fans will remember Jerry Sherk as a player who did everything to try and help his team win - so it will come as no surprise that he has spent his life after football helping others.

Browns fans will remember Jerry Sherk as a player who did everything to try and help his team win - so it will come as no surprise that he has spent his life after football helping others.

Sherk got a masters degree in counseling psychology and has spent the past decade developing youth and employee oriented programs. He often uses sports and his own career as a model to teach students how to reach their goals.

"Once in a while, I'll bring in some old films and show them and the kids will say, 'You're that guy?'" Sherk said from his home near San Diego. "I do a lot of counseling work for the state of California and a good way to get a message across is to show how preparation in sports can help you achieve goals in academics."

In addition, Sherk has served as president of the San Diego chapter of the NFL Players Association and under his leadership the group increased membership and attendance by more than 300 percent. Naturally, he made sure the group has been very involved in youth assistance in the area.

Sherk was quite an achiever in a Browns uniform from 1970 through 1981. He played in four consecutive Pro Bowl games (1974-77), was voted the NFL's top defensive lineman in 1976 and had a career-high 12 sacks in 1979. His 69 career sacks are second only to Clay Matthews (76.5) in team history.

"I miss the game less and less, but as a player it gets in your blood," Sherk said. "I don't get to see many Browns games on TV out here in California, but I still follow them. The Browns will always be my favorite team. It was so great to be part of the Browns because everywhere you turned there was tradition and history."

When Cleveland was about to get its team back in 1999, Sherk wrote several articles for a website (www.sportsnote.com) and in one poignant piece fondly recalled some of his former defensive mates:

"Walter Johnson was a great player. He and I had skills that complimented each other. Walter would kill people with his strength and explosion, and I could come around the back door and hurt the other teams with my speed.

"Jack Gregory was a favorite too. He was especially effective running stunts on pass rush (although he hated them). Jack was a tremendous talent. He had a personality conflict with coach Nick Skorich and got traded to the Giants. It was there he made first team All Pro as a roving monster man.

"Lyle Alzado's career (and death) was well publicized. 'Zadoes,' as he liked to be called, was my roommate in my last training camp. Lyle was a troubled man. His personality would sway this way and that, from being kind to being hateful, even to the best of his friends. He just couldn't help himself. I was really happy to see him succeed with the Raiders, and win the Super Bowl. His death was tragic.

"Turkey Joe Jones was a pure talent. He was about 6-foot-8 and he ran about a 4.5 or 4.6 in the 40-yard dash At times he was a great pass rusher, at other times he didn't live up to his great potential. Joe was a kind hearted person, though. You couldn't help but really like him. Mack Mitchell also had a great deal of talent, but it didn't seem that he really liked football that much. Mack was also a terrific guy.

"As far as the linebackers ... Jim Houston and Dale Lindsey were wearing out by the time I got to Cleveland. They both had been a force in their time. John Garlington and Billy Andrews were good solid journeyman linebackers. They were smart and they worked hard. Charlie Hall, who played outside linebacker for years wasn't a pro bowler, but he was very good, and extremely steady.

"We had other defensive ends who were good but were unheralded. Nick Roman and Bob Briggs come to mind. Later on, Dick Ambrose (as well as Bob Babich) did an outstanding job at linebacker. Clay Matthews became a perennial All Pro. Clarence Scott was a great defensive back. We had some good years on defense and some bad ones. The main reason that the team didn't do better through the 70's was the fact that we had to play those darn Steelers, and they were just better overall. Look at the Hall.

Beating Pittsburgh was always important to Sherk, who looks at football and his career with a unique perspective. His most memorable moments might surprise you:

"I guess just the overall emotional experience is what I remember the most," he said. "Unfortunately we didn't get to any championship games (Cleveland was 0-3 in the playoffs during his career), but beating Pittsburgh at any time was always a thrill.

"My most vivid memories though are coming out of that tunnel and hearing all the fans roar. That, and something they never show on television ... the break between quarters. I remember walking from one end of the field to the other and looking up at all the people in the stands and thinking, 'Hey, that is really interesting that all these people care. I have a very interesting job. My mind would take a little break from the game, I would think about family and I would think about what 1 was going to do after football.

Those thoughts turned into his developing Mentor America, the flagship of his counseling efforts.

Sherk's first NFL game after being drafted in the second round out of Oklahoma State was also the first Monday Night Football Game ever, against Joe Namath and the New York jets in 1970. As a raw rookie, he made a few mistakes and became the first player criticized in harsh tones by Howard Cosell. Sherk admits to using that experience as motivation to succeed.

"It was part of my analytical self to figure out what would work on the field," said Sherk, a quiet and thoughtful person by nature. "I quickly realized I would have to be 'the other guy' out there to be successful."

That "other guy" was a fearless pass rusher who would claw, kick and pound his way to the quarterback - delivering painfully aggressive blows and taking them, too.

"A defensive lineman has to be unbelievably aggressive all the time," Sherk said. "Once I got that figured out, I was OK, then it was about channeling intensity so that I could be consistently aggressive. There was a conflict between my internal world and the temperamental world of football. I had to turn one on and turn the other off. I learned to work myself into a frenzy for a few hours on the field"

Sherk met his greatest challenge off the field when he got a terrible staph infection in his knee that doctors termed life-threatening.

He had recovered from an injury to the knee the previous year to lead the league with 12 sacks in 11 games when he suffered a rug burn on his right arm caused by the artificial turf during a 24-19 win at Philadelphia on Nov. 4,1979. The next day after practice, Sherk said his knee "felt like it was on fire" as he drove home. He crawled into the house and called Bill Tessendorf, the team's assistant trainer. Tessendorf took Sherk to Cleveland Clinic.

"Apparently, the staph had gotten into my system when I scraped my elbow," Sherk said. "An infection goes to the weakest part of your body, and there was something in the middle of my knee that attracted it. They operated, and to hear it from a surgical assistant, my knee exploded when the surgeon put a scalpel to it. There was so much pressure from the infection."

Sherk's high fever did not go down after the operation and doctors were worried that they might have to amputate the leg until figuring out that the fever was an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. Still, Sherk lost 40 pounds in 30 days - a time that he calls the most miserable in his life.

"I have good days and bad days with the knee now", Sherk said. "It's arthritic, but I'm used to it. When the knee lets me, I get out and do things. When it acts up, there's not much I can do.

 


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