For someone who has lived in such a self-effacing manner, Dick Schafrath has carved out a very interesting life for himself.
He's come a long way since being raised on a dairy farm in Wooster, Ohio. Far more self motivated than he gives himself credit for, Schafrath is one of those lucky individuals who has seen it all and, for the most part, done it all.
From outstanding college football player at Ohio State University to All-Pro football player with the Cleveland Browns to Ohio state senator to college graduate at the age of 69 (with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sports and Leisure Studies) to published author, Schafrath keeps knocking down doors. And he's not done.
It all started when he succeeded the legendary Lou Groza at offensive left tackle for the Browns in 1960. His subsequent exploits have caused many fans to proclaim him the greatest left tackle the team has ever had.
Old-time photos, which show Schafrath shepherding the way for Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, are mute testimony to Schafrath's greatness as an offensive lineman. It was not uncommon to see Schafrath's No., 77 well downfield.
The classic overachiever was named to six consecutive Pro Bowls and achieved All-Pro status on three other occasions.
Later in life, Schafrath canoed nearly 80 miles across Lake Erie, wrestled a bear and ran nearly 70 miles from the old Cleveland Stadium to his high school stadium in Wooster. He pushed himself at every opportunity. It defined his life. No obstacle was too difficult for him.
Not even the political arena, where the father of seven and grandfather of 14 served as a four-term state senator (he served 17 years) before term limits slammed that door or else, he'd probably still be serving his constituency.
No barrier was too high for Schafrath. His reach always exceeded his grasp. He feared nothing and relished all challenges. Going back to college, where he admittedly was a dismal academic failure the first time around, is just the latest of his accomplishments.
Now 70, living in Mansfield and sounding as robust as a man half his age, Schafrath continues to seek new horizons. He's still adding to his life's experiences, working for Professional Supply, Inc, a Fremont, Ohio-based company that deals with energy efficiency in industry.
The Orange & Brown Report recently caught up with the fascinating Schafrath, whose authobiography Heart of a Mule (Gray & Co.), was published last year.
Q: You certainly don't sound like you're 70. The guess is you don't feel like you're 70.
A: Sometimes, I do. My grandkids call me the bionic man. I'm a survivor cancer twice. I have a pacemaker in my heart. I'm one of the first dozen people to get it wireless. There's a monitoring board in my bedroom. That thing has gone off about 50 times and saved my life. They didn't think I'd live too long about five years ago when this first occurred. But each year, there's better research and more technology. Who knows? With this thing, I told my grandkids, they put me in casket, you better watch it. I might jump out of that casket. I don't know how long I'll last. I could keep on going forever. That's up to the Lord. When He wants me, I'm ready.
Q: What was your most recent college experience like?
A: I'm just now smart. It took me a while to learn you've got to get a college degree to do anything. I never graduated from Ohio State, so I went back. I was up with (football coach Jim) Tressel and the Buckeyes and he said he noticed I never graduated. So I'm the first Buckeye to be more than 15 years (away from school) and go back. Mine was 48 years. (Tressel) got me back under scholarship. You've got to have 45 hours or less to graduate and you've got to have a 2.00 (grade-point average). Well, I had 46 hours and a 1.99 because I was the worst student in the world. Until I went back this time, I didn't know an A was part of the alphabet.
I had a wonderful time. I was the only student among 50,000 who does not do the Internet or the computer, but everybody hung in there and helped. One young lady who was 18, asked me, "Mr. Schafrath, are you some kind of big deal?" And I said. "What do you mean? I don't think I'm a big deal." She said, "Well, my great grandfather wants your autograph."
I had a lot of fun. I told Tressel that since I'm under scholarship, I should get a chance to play. We had a lot of conversation. I was always badgering him since I was back on scholarship and I still had not played my freshman year, I still had a year of eligibility.
Q: Let's reminisce. Let's go back to your earlier days at Ohio State. As I recall, you were a two-way player.
A: Everybody played both ways. You couldn't come out and go back in the game in the same quarter. So you were on offense and defense. About everybody who played for Woody (Hayes) was a fullback except the quarterback.
Q: You played offensive tackle and defensive end.
A: I played tackle, guard and end on offense and defense.
Q: Did the Browns draft you as a defensive end of offensive tackle?
A: I don't know what they drafted me as. Paul Brown, when he got me, thought I was a little bigger. I was (6-3) 210 (pounds). Nobody lifted weights then. Nobody took salt tablets and there was no drinking water. . . . I was the first NFL player to lift weights with the Browns. My second year, I went to 270. I don't think Paul really wanted me to because he was afraid it would slow me down. I proved him wrong.
Q: I've heard tell that when Brown saw how thin you were at your first training camp, your chances of making the team went down considerably because he didn't think you were big enough to make the team and contribute. Is that true?
A: Yeah. He thought maybe I could be a center. Just maybe. I did surprise him after I was drafted. I came in for the weigh-in and I weighed 235. He didn't understand. He said, "My God, how did you get that big?" He's feeling around. Under my T-shirt, I had suspenders on and a 20-pound iron jock strap. Made him smile. He said, "Anybody who goes to those extremes, I'm going to give you a chance. But you've got to get that weight up."
Q: What did he make you do?
A: He didn't make me do anything. He said to just get that weight up. So I got into eating contests all over the state. Then I decided through the contacts I had that weightlifting would help me with eating.
Q: And the rest is history. You played 176 games. Missed one game in the 1966 season. Is that the only game you missed in your career?
A: I had an ankle that was sprained the week before and I didn't feel I could run well enough to help unless there was an emergency. Nobody looked for statistics (back then). We just looked to win.
Q: You succeeded a guy named Groza, an institution, an icon. How much pressure was there to do something like that?
A: When I came to the Browns, team was everything. Groza and Mike McCormack (the offensive tackle on the right side) took me aside and adopted me and helped me every way possible. I could never say enough for those two guys and they're in the Hall of Fame. Also, in that first huddle, there were nine guys who are in the Hall of Fame today. So that's pretty inspiring and a lot to look up to.
Q: What was the best piece of advice they gave you?
A: Don't get hurt. They taught me how to be aggressive, how to roll when you went down. Tuck yourself in. Paul Brown worked a lot on basics like that. How to step, how to keep the feet moving fast, keep them apart, don't trip, the little basic things. They really helped me a lot because I can think of a lot of situations that split second I just pulled that leg in or that arm in when I was going down and it could have been a lot different.
Q: You blocked for two Hall of Fame running backs. How important was that in your development?
A: Well, I had three: Bobby Mitchell, Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly. Most of them, all you had to do was run downfield. And I was a downfield blocker. If you can get through the (defensive) line, the backs should, too. That was (former Browns coach) Blanton Collier's philosophy. You brush block and sprint – we called it sprint blocking – and get downfield and make your second block and make a third if the back was still running. Most of the time with Jim Brown, you just raced to the goal line, turned around and shook his hand. He's coming.
Q: Jim Brown is an ardent supporter of Dick Schafrath and with Gene Hickerson about to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Jim is turning his attention now to try to get you into the Hall of Fame. Has that ever entered your thoughts?
A: No it hasn't. I would be the most surprised guy in the world if I was ever in there. I was not that talented. Everything I did was probably overachieving. I think anybody along our offensive line was qualified to be a Hall of Famer. I'm so proud of Gene going in. . . . It's a shame they waited 30 years to put him in. I'm still shaken up over that. I know it's politics. I know you've got to work for the PR firm and so forth. His teammates knew he was a Hall of Famer. It's nice to know Jim Brown believes that, too.
Q: Take a look at Dick Schafrath's body of work. He's got six straight Pro Bowls; he's a three-time All-Pro. That's nothing to sneeze at. Somebody must have thought something of you.
A: You can probably tell, I love the Lord. I don't look at stats. I don't look at press clippings. I played the hardest I could play and if that was good enough, so be it. I give all the credit to my teammates and, of course, the Lord for creating me. I give Him all the glory. I have no personal agenda. It would probably nice for my family, but not for me.
Q: Do you follow the game at all today?
A: Not very much. I love high school. I've been down with the Buckeyes the last six years. I've always supported the team. I write an inspirational speech for every game.
Q: Were you a Browns fans growing up in Wooster?
A: I was baseball fan. We didn't have a radio or a TV in our house. So I never saw a football game until I played in one in high school. I was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds coming out of high school and that's where I was going. I was so excited. I liked playing football, but I didn't want to go to college.
Mom and dad only went to the eighth grade. It was an Amish kind of community with one-room schools. That's the way I went to school. When I was done with the eighth grade, I thought I was done. But (his parents) talked me into going to high school. Then after I was picked (by the Reds), I was going to go to training camp.
Then Woody Hayes came in the driveway. I didn't know him. My family didn't know him. He came one Sunday and we got in the car with him. Mom and dad and my brothers and sisters went to church. He asked if he could join us and said his name was Woody Hayes. That was the first time we ever heard or saw him.
We came back and he cooked lunch with mom with an apron on and went down and talked to dad about the barn and all the animals. He never said a word to me. He kissed mom goodbye and went back. I came in the house about an hour later and said, "Mom, I'm not very impressed with Woody Hayes and Ohio State and she said, "I'll you what, son, you're going to Ohio State."
That's why my grades were so bad. I kept calling (home) about baseball and said, "I'll be out of here soon." I'd fail a course and Woody would make me move into his house and tutor me and I'd get my grade back. That went on for a year and a half and I finally gave up and stayed.