He was sitting across the table from me at lunch.
A fast-food burger joint. On Colton Ave.
In the old days, when he played for Redlands High in the 1960s, this place probably never existed.
This NFL workhorse, who blocked for some ultra-strong Redlands High Terrier teams, got recruited to play at Colorado, was drafted by the Chicago Bears, then launched a successful pro career that ended in the United States Football League after about a decade.
Greg Horton, who died in 2015 at age 65, had plenty of cherished memories on the football field. He played in some big games. Went up against high school greats. Against some collegiate All-Americans, NFL All-Pro and Hall of Fame talent. Football insight was keen, endless.
As a Terrier at Redlands High, Greg was, perhaps, one of the biggest of their long list of football studs. The coaches there were legends – Frank Serrao, Greg’s coach, Paul Womack, both having been preceded by Ralph “Buck” Weaver, perhaps considered the father of Terrier football.
At lunch that day, I knew what Greg wanted. He had invested in a business, located a couple hundred feet from where we were eating. Naturally, he wanted it to succeed. Greg needed publicity. It was some kind of workout program, if I remember correctly.
Not my job, actually. There are business owners around Redlands who would give 12 of their toes for such publicity. Greg, by virtue of his NFL notoriety, his “homegrown” status, not to mention those many times he’d sat down for one-on-one interviews, was calling in a few favors.
I was walking a fine line on this one. It would’ve been impossible to give him exactly what he wanted. I was in sports, not news, or business.
He’d have preferred, I’m certain, for me to completely focus on his new enterprise – the specials, its purpose, investors, the nuts and bolts, everyone involved – as the focal point of the piece. Like I said, I wasn’t a business reporter.
Plus, I could just see plenty of other business owners that advertised in that paper. They’d be outraged by such favorable press on Horton’s new venture, insisting upon being interviewed about their own businesses. I had to be careful.
In this city, Greg had more than paid his dues. You’d think the hometown paper owed him one. Our publisher sounded against the idea. So did the advertising director. I didn’t even convene with the editor. Okay, at least I asked.
Professional standards abounded.
Greg stood at the head of the line of Redlands High football players – NFL, high-level collegiate play, NFL championship-level, connections, battered and bruised on field, taking on some of the sport’s greatest champions.
HORTON PAID HIS DUES
This guy was from Redlands.
He’d coached plenty of locals, headed up the city’s booster club, the Benchwarmers, provided an endless amount of support for almost anything the kids needed.
As an assistant line coach at the University of Redlands one year – mid-1980s – I can remember him going after a University of San Diego defender after a game. The USD kid had cheap-shotted one of the Bulldog players.
It was the kind of play Greg knew better than anyone. He knew all the lineman’s tricks – illegal high-low blocking techniques, going for an unguarded knee, hitting from behind, you name it – so when he saw that taking place in a NCAA Division 3 (non-scholarship) game, Greg took offense.
He went after the USD player, briefly, then turned to the injured Bulldog.
“Are you all right?”
Greg wasn’t exactly my biggest fan. He never turned me away for an interview, though. I just didn’t strike well with him, I think. In fact, he was highly critical when he showed up – among other parents, school officials, Terrier football players and coaches – at what appeared to be a public slap-down of current Redlands High coach Dave Perkins during the 1990 season.
While some parents were after Perkins’ job, Horton’s public tirade was directed at me. It was something like, “The guy in the newspaper” (me) “needs to remember this is about the kids.”
Greg seemed to scream those words, an emotional outburst.
Truth is, a parents’ group wanted Perkins gone. Fired. My presence at that meeting, however, curtailed any outward signs of outrage. I’m not certain if Greg was anti-Perkins and felt my presence nullified the meeting’s outcome.
In fact, I’m certain I was specifically invited there that night to keep things under wraps. No one has a desire to be quoted in the press when they’re doing something underhanded. Right?
Perkins, who had back-to-back 3-7 seasons in 1990 and 1991, held onto his job that night. My guess is that Greg was there to back Perkins. I was there simply to report.
Greg, for his part, probably never saw any of that while he wore a Terrier uniform in the 1960s. Womack, coach. No parents’ groups. Just a bunch of high school players lighting up Friday nights during the fall.
This may be controversial, but Greg may well be Redlands’ greatest Connection to the NFL world, at least as a player. Then again, it might be Brian Billick – who came along just a couple years after Horton – the man who coached the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl.
While Billick was developing his mind toward coaching at the highest of levels, Greg goes down as a weight room product who lifted himself to the heights of high school play, tops among collegiate programs and into the world of NFL play.
Part 2 next week.