PART 2 – GREG HORTON WAS A SUPERIOR REDLANDS FORCE

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

Greg Horton had been drafted by the Chicago Bears. It was 1974. Third round, 56th pick overall. Papa Bear himself, George Halas, supervised the selection of Horton, a third-round selection out of Colorado.

By 1976, Greg was a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Papa Bear had traded him there on April 2, 1974 for the Rams’ third round (Mike Fuller) and 10th round (Mike Julius) picks in 1975.

At L.A., Greg was teammates with Joe Namath, Ron Jaworski, Pat Haden, Lawrence McCutcheon, Heisman winner John Cappelletti, blocking against guys like Jack Reynolds, Isaiah Robertson and Jack Youngblood in practice.

Playing mostly special teams, Greg eventually took over for injured right guard Dennis Harrah midway through the 1977 season.

He played 63 NFL games, starting 34. Most of those came after he got traded to the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers midway through the 1978 season.

Greg was part of football lore.

Tampa Bay coach John McKay, who coached USC to four national championships over 16 seasons, watched the Bucs start off losing their first 26 games beginning in their first season, 1976. Little by little, though, McKay started building a strong defense.

JOhn McKay
John McKay, whose career was built on great success at USC, coached Redlands’ Greg Horton in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Photo provided by USC/Wikipedia.

QB Doug Williams, who would eventually lead Washington to a Super Bowl about a decade later, took snaps for the Bucs. Side note: Tampa’s offensive coordinator in those early years was none other than Joe Gibbs, the Redskins’ head coach when Williams QB’d them to the Super Bowl.

BUILDING BUCS’ OFFENSIVE LINE

Gibbs and McKay built Tampa’s offense from scratch. Its real strength might’ve been its offensive line.

Left tackle Dave Reavis had played for Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh – drafted in 1973 by the Steelers.

Center Steve Wilson, right guard Greg Roberts and right tackle Charlie Hannah were original Bucs. Good enough to stick around for the upgrades.

McKay and Gibbs built that left side – Williams’ blind side – with Reavis and Greg, who blocked blitzing linebackers and safeties up the middle, nose guards and defensive tackles on every snap.

Williams, incidentally, had gone down just 12 times that season. Twelve sacks over 16 games! Incredible. Onetime Trojan Ricky Bell was racking up over 1,000 yards behind that stud line, too.

It had to be one of football’s greatest ironies that Tampa Bay would host the Rams for the right to play in the 1980 Super Bowl. It would be played in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, of all places.

McKay, who probably figured to be the Rams’ coach at one point due to his proximity with USC, watched the likes of George Allen and Chuck Knox coach the Rams during his Trojan years. Ray Malavasi had taken over from Knox.

Bell, of course, was the ex-Trojan playing against the pro team from his former college home town. Also for his former college coach.

newRickyBell-1
Ricky Bell, runner-up to Tony Dorsett in the 1976 Heisman Trophy race, was picked No. 1 overall in the NFL draft by Tampa Bay. He was the man that Redlands product Greg Horton blocked for when both became Buccaneer teammates in 1978 and 1979. Photo by Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Then there was Greg, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 260-pounder who grew up in Redlands – Rams’ country – before eventually getting shipped to L.A. by Chicago in 1976. He never played for the Bears. Eventually, he was traded by the Rams two games into the 1978 season, Greg found a home in Tampa.

This was a “worst to first” ride, one of pro football’s biggest turnarounds.

When Greg arrived in Tampa, the line consisted of Garry Puetz, a 12th round pick by the Jets in 1973, with 1975 Miami first rounder Darryl Carlton occupying right tackle. By 1979, Puetz and Carlton were no longer around.

Greg started out by playing left guard, eventually shifted to right guard to accommodate injuries to Hannah, plus any rebuilding taking shape under Gibbs and McKay.

Any team’s best defense is a good offense. During that era of ball control, clock-killing, run-oriented offenses is what kept the other team’s attacks on the sideline. It’s exactly what McKay had in mind with the Reavis-Horton-Wilson-Hannah-Roberts corps blocking for Williams and Bell (1,263 yards).

The Bucs were no different than Earl Campbell’s Houston Oilers. Or Walter Payton’s early days in Chicago. Line play had been huge around the likes of O.J. Simpson in Buffalo, Franco Harris in Pittsburgh, not to mention Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris in Miami.

In Tampa Bay, Bell had been taken in the 1976 NFL draft ahead of Tony Dorsett, the Pittsburgh All-American selected by the Dallas Cowboys.

Defensively, onetime Oklahoma Sooner defensive end Lee Roy Selmon was named Associated Press MVP that season. Linebacker Richard Wood, another ex-Trojan that was originally drafted by the Jets, also played a key role on the Bucs’ defense.

BUCS’ PLAYOFF RUN

After a 10-6 regular season, it was Tampa Bay 24, Philadelphia 16 in the divisional playoff round – Bell bashing for 142 yards on 38 carries behind that Bucs’ line.

Suddenly, Tampa Bay, Bell, McKay, Greg, Wood & Co. had found themselves staring face to face with the Los Angeles Rams. The NFC championship was on the line.

From a 7-37 beginning to an 11-6 record heading into the NFC Championship, McKay had lifted the Bucs to pro football’s pinnacle.

Malavasi’s Rams finished 9-7, but stunned Dallas, 21-19, in the divisional round.

Their featured running back was UCLA product Wendell Tyler.

Vince Ferragamo had taken over as Rams’ QB from onetime USC shooter Pat Haden, who combined 24 interceptions with 16 TD passes.

Williams’ 24 picks and 18 TDs weren’t much better.

Each side would try and counter the other with ground games and staunch defense.

Surely, the Bucs’ defense would devour the Rams.

L.A. had a defense of its own – the Youngbloods, Reynolds, Fred Dryer, you name it.

The date was Jan. 6, 1980.

Both teams scored touchdowns.

Both were called back because of penalties.

It was a defensive slugfest.

Or an offensive bust.

The Rams’ defense stole the show, limiting the Bucs to a mere 177 total yards.

By contrast, L.A.’s Cullen Bryant ran for 106 yards. Tyler racked up 86 more. Ferragamo threw for 163 yards – no interceptions.

Williams gave way to backup Mike Rae, the pair combining for a total of 54 yards passing.

Rams’ placekicker Frank Corral hit field goals of 19, 21 and 23 yards.

Final score, Rams 9, Bucs 0.

After a dozen years of seeing the Packers, Colts, Vikings and Cowboys reach the Super Bowl, the Rams became the first NFC Western Division team to advance to the NFL’s title game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Part 3 next week.

PART 1 – GREG HORTON WAS A SUPERIOR REDLANDS FORCE

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

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.

GREG HORTON
An early shot. Redlands’ Greg Horton. Photo by Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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 might have 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.

09_Billick_PreviewPreseason_news
Brian Billick, a Redlands product whose eventual coaching career landed him at the height of NFL play, settled in as a pro football broadcaster when his days as Baltimore Ravens’ coach concluded in 2007. Photo by the Baltimore Ravens.

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.