Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
For Greg Horton, who blocked familiar foes on the Rams’ defensive line, that 1979 NFC 9-0 championship loss to the Rams was his final game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A contract dispute, a hold-out, apparently getting cut, all conspired to lead Greg back to the west coast.
Bucs’ coach John McKay, it seems, had fallen in love with University of Wisconsin guard Ray Snell, considered to be a fast player at that position. Between Greg’s hold-out and Snell’s promising prospective, there was a quick switch at left guard made between the 1979 and 1980 seasons.
Greg was gone – back to L.A., in fact, where he played two games with the Rams before getting cut.
Tampa’s offense went downhill in that 1980 season, finishing 5-10-1.
Tampa Bay’s Doug Williams’s play at QB improved in 1980. Who knows how well the Bucs would’ve fared if they’d have kept Greg on their line? A dozen sacks? In 16 games?
Incidentally, that wasn’t an NFL record. But it was close.
Four years before the Bucs protected Williams so well, the St. Louis Cardinals blocked a little better for their QB, Jim Hart. They surrendered seven sacks with a line that consisted of Dan Dierdorff and Conrad Dobler.
Unlike today’s NFL game, where QBs are throwing for yardage far beyond that in Greg’s NFL days. Defenses were built to stop running games, not rush QBs. Numbers like the Cardinals and Buccaneers would be off the charts in today’s game.
As for Greg’s replacement?
Snell, taken as the 22nd overall pick in the 1980 NFL draft, spent five seasons blocking for Williams, at times alternating with lineman George Yarno bringing in plays from the sideline.
Greg, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound blocker, re-appeared in the United States Football League where he spent 1982 and 1983 with the Boston Breakers. He blocked for the highly underachieving Marcus DuPree (Oklahoma) in that summer league.
It was Week 10 – Saturday night, May 7, 1983 – when the Breakers showed up at the L.A. Coliseum to play the Express. L.A. beat Greg’s team again, 23-20. A little over 16,000 showed up in that massive place to watch.
I’d been granted a field pass, something that never would’ve happened in an NFL game. Greg was gracious enough to visit with me during the game – and after.
Greg had a few games left in the tank, but his pro career was nearing an end.
So, for that matter, was the USFL.
FROM NFL BACK TO HOMETOWN
Greg, born in San Bernardino in 1951, didn’t leave all his good works on the football field. He returned to Redlands, working businesses, growing up his family – his wife, Shirley, and two daughters – and participated in coaching and went heavily into the city’s legendary high school booster club, The Benchwarmers.
Greg blocked against the likes of Alan Page and Carl Eller, Harry Carson and Randy White, plus “Too Tall” Jones – the player taken No. 1 overall in the same 1974 draft when Greg was plucked by the Bears.
He never played a down for the Bears, who were in transition from the Hall of Fame seasons from middle linebacker Dick Butkus and running back Gale Sayers. Gary Huff QB’d that Bears’ team – 4-10 under coach Abe Gibron in 1974. One year later, the Bears made a nice pick in the draft, picking up Walter Payton.
That second season, 1975, was coached by Jack Pardee – another 4-10 record – with no real future in sight. Payton had a blocking corps of Jeff Sevy, Mark Nordquist, Dan Pfeiffer, Noah Jackson and Lionel Antoine.
The Bears had some success from various state colleges: Butkus from Illinois. Sayers from Kansas. Horton from Colorado didn’t turn out to be a fit.
By Greg’s third season, he was in L.A., playing backup on a Rams’ offensive line that included four No. 1 picks – Dennis Harrah, Tom Mack and Doug France, plus John Williams (Baltimore) – surrounding center Rich Saul.
That line was good enough that Horton was expendable, traded to Tampa midway into that 1978 rebuilding season.
The Rams were memorable during that 1970s run – playoffs each season under Chuck Knox (54-15 between 1973-77). Except for that little spurt when Greg replaced injured Dennis Harrah, it wasn’t until his trade to Tampa that his career got interesting. Twenty-eight of his 34 career starts came in Tampa.
A curious note, an extra Redlands “connection” was this: On Sept. 9, 1979, Tampa Bay beat the Baltimore Colts, 29-26, in a Buccaneers’ home game. Standing on the opposing sideline was Brian DeRoo, another ex-Terrier like Greg.
“It was the only time,” said DeRoo, “we ever faced each other in a game. Early in the game, though, Greg got thrown out for pushing a referee. I think it was after one play.”
Also in that game, DeRoo caught three passes for 81 yards. One of those was a 67-yard bomb from Colts’ QB Greg Landry – a play that was highlighted one night later on ABC-TV’s Monday Night Football, narrated by Howard Cosell.
‘GUNNS’ DURING HIS BUFF DAYS
During his college years at Colorado – playing in the Big Eight Conference for the Buffaloes, Eddie Crowder head coach – Greg was a three-year starter for a team that finished 23-12 between 1971 and 1973. Future Oakland/Los Angeles Raider legend Cliff Branch was a Buffalo teammate.
On New Year’s Eve 1971, the seventh-ranked Buffaloes stopped No. 15 Houston, 29-17, in the Bluebonnet Bowl. A year later, the 13th-ranked Buffs lost the Gator Bowl to No. 6 Auburn.
As for the Big Eight, Oklahoma and Nebraska were the dominant teams.
While the Buffaloes dreamed of unsettling the legendary Sooners and Cornhuskers, Colorado might have been content to try and oust those schools from their top spots.
Colorado’s only two losses in a 10-2 season (1971) came against the No. 2 Sooners, 45-17, and No. 1 Nebraska, 31-7. Greg, a sophomore, blocked against the likes of Oklahoma’s Lucious Selmon, whose brother, Lee Roy, would be a future NFL teammate in Tampa.
Yes, future Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers was on the field against Colorado in Nebraska’s victory over the ninth-ranked Buffs. The Huskers, 13-0 overall, wound up as national champions.
Fast forward a few decades. Past that 1974 NFL draft. Past his two non-playing seasons in Chicago. Past his initial years with the Rams. Past the main portion of his career in Tampa Bay. Past those two games in his Rams’ return, plus the USFL.
As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I sat across from Greg at the lunch table in that Redlands burger joint. His hopes to launch a local business into orbit was on his mind.
His didn’t want to talk football.
Greg wanted to talk big plans.
He didn’t want to rerun his football career.
Greg wanted to attract clients.
All that football background – playing against a Heisman winner, college football’s top-ranked teams, NFL Hall of Famers, All-Pros, drafted by legendary George Halas, playing for legendary coach John McKay, nearly reaching the Super Bowl with a remarkable worst-to-first team – seemed like a distant memory.
Greg had a business to organize.
“When will this story run?” he asked.
I was Sports Editor, so I had the answer.
“Soon as I write it up.”
My hope was that the article came out all right.