Part 3 – GREG HORTON WAS A SUPERIOR REDLANDS FORCE

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.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, visits FedEx Field, where the Redskins Salute, the Washington Redskins’ Official Military Appreciation Club, hosts a Military Day for military service members and their families, Dec. 7, 2015. This year's military recognition was in conjunction with the Redskins' Monday Night Football game with the Dallas Cowboys. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Chuck Burden/Released)
Doug Williams, whose early career in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was supported by the blocking of Redlands’ Greg Horton. The pair came close to winning the 1979 NFC Championship in a game against the Los Angeles Rams, who won, 9-0. Photo by  U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chuck Burden of the Chief of Staff of the Army
derivative: Diddykong1130

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.

Greg Horton II
Redlands’ Greg Horton had a nickname — “Gunns.” Photo provided by Horton’s family.

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.

Part 2 – ROYAL, REGAL AND REDLANDS CONNECTIONS

To get the full story, read Part 1 here. 

A year or so after that volleyball banquet, I wrote an article about Redlands High’s boys soccer team. At the time, the Terriers were among the most successful soccer side in Southern California. Even on their own campus, they were more significant than any other team.

It was no contest.

Back-to-back CIF championships, five trips to the CIF semifinals and a record run of 23 straight seasons of playoff appearances had left a high standard unmatched by any other program on that campus, before or since.

Every kid that made varsity soccer teams at Redlands during that era was cutting edge. Cream of the crop. Best this city had to offer. Kids cut from those teams would have made teams at other schools very strong.

That’s how strong Redlands was in those years.

LUDIKHUIZE’S FIST PUMP SIGNALS

TERRIER GREATNESS

My by-line appeared about a soccer playoff preview for their match in Orange County. Among other facts listed were the team’s top three scoring attackers. Jeannie Ludikhuize, mother of Chris Ludikhuize, read that day’s edition and called my publisher to lobby a complaint.

She was peeved that her son’s name had been left out. He was fourth in scoring. It must have been intentional, she felt. Or maybe it was that the team’s coach, Tony Murtaugh, failed to report this information. Neither of which was accurate.

Toebe Bush, our publisher, asked me to call Jeannie.

“Jeannie,” I asked her, “what grade is your son in right now?”

Chris was a senior. Time was running out on his high school career. In fact, this would be his final match. Jeannie was, apparently, not enjoying those moments as fully as she could have.

“All I know,” I told her, “is that if I had a son on a team like this, I’d take my lawn chair, plant it in some good location, watch the game and watch every move my son made – and enjoy everything. Maybe even take some pictures.

“Savor each moment,” I said.

No one was leaving Chris out intentionally. “Forget what’s written in the newspaper, or what’s not written. Just enjoy your son.”

Jeannie, in fact, did calm down and recognized that her son didn’t necessarily need media recognition. Parents want their children’s achievements recorded. You know, for their scrapbook. For the scholarship opportunities. Good press never hurts. Her son was a good player, regardless.

By the way, in Chris’ final high school match, he couldn’t have played better. He saved a remarkable scoring attack by Anaheim Esperanza High, taking a shot that whizzed past a drawn-out Redlands goalkeeper, clearing the ball just off the line, saving a sure-fire goal. In the rain. Chris shot a triumphant fist into the air in jubilation.

That fist pump, to me, signifies that Redlands has long made its mark in all sports, at every level, creating A Redlands Connection that can never be stripped away. One of Chris’ teammates, by the way, was Landon Donovan.

Redlands ended up losing that semifinals match.

Chris represents hundreds of Redlands sports products that will not be in any of these blog posts – good but not good enough. These blog posts are, in a sense, dedicated to them. Thanks to Chris’ mom, Jeannie, it’s a reflection of a splendid athlete, pushy parent, a professional writer and limited newspaper space.

REDLANDS CONNECTION ROUNDUP

There are at least three Redlands products that share a total of four Super Bowl rings.

A three-time Indianapolis 500 champion actually learned to drive in Redlands.

Soccer’s World Cup has connections to Redlands in both men’s and women’s lore.

There’s a World Series ring in there, 1984.

The man who personally thwarted Arnold Palmer’s chance to complete golf’s Grand Slam in 1970 later moved back to the area, thus connecting Redlands to the sport’s royalty.

Olympic gold medalist Misty May, a superstar at Long Beach State and eventual beach volleyball megastar, led her college to a national volleyball championship. The legendary setter graduated, replaced by Redlands’ Keri Nishimoto, who had a few notable achievements on her own athletic ledger.

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Redlands setter Keri Nishimoto took over for legendary Misty May at Long Beach State. Photo credit: Cara Garcia

Those are the people we’re after.

This is a bond between Redlands and the major sports world beyond. And what a world it has been! And what bonds they have built up!

Redlands has been connected to the likes of coaching and managing legends such as Lombardi, Landry, Jerry Tarkanian, Tony LaRussa, John McKay, George “Papa Bear” Halas, Abe Saperstein, Tommy Lasorda, very nearly John Wooden and Knute Rockne and, quite possibly, Connie Mack.

For instance, did John Wooden recruit Redlands’ Danny Wolthers to play at UCLA in 1961?

That’s a breathless collection in this connection.

JOHN WOODEN UCLA
Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden may have tried to recruit Redlands’ Danny Wolthers to play in Westwood in 1961. Whatever the story, Wolthers chose to play at Cal-Berkeley. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello/ALLSPORT

Redlanders were teammates of Bart Starr, Carlton Fisk, Gaylord Perry, Misty May, Joe Namath, Orel Hershiser, Kristine Lilly, Darrell Waltrip, Fernando Valenzuela, Jennie Finch, Mark Spitz, Charles Paddock, race car dynamo Jimmie Johnson, David Beckham, Cy Young Award winners, baseball Rookies of the Year, Heisman Trophy winners, World Cup heroes, No. 1 draft choices and various Hall of Famers from different sports.

Jennie_Finch_vs._China
Jennie Finch, a teammate of Redlands East Valley’s Ally Von Liechtenstein at Arizona State, is shown pitching against China in 2008. Photo by C5813

(Photo source.)

It’s a connection to sports’ very best.

Strong and historical opposition to Redlands connections has come from the likes of Bobby Jones, Amanda Beard, Ronnie Lott, Richard Petty, George Allen, Spitz, Arnold Palmer, Carl Lewis, Jack Nicklaus, plus an endless supply of baseball, basketball and football all-stars, golf and tennis legends.

In some cases, Redlanders came out on top. In many cases, they lost out to the greats.

For over a decade, Redlands caught an up-close glance of football All-Pros, NFL Hall of Fame players, MVP types, Super Bowl and NFL championships and legendary football players, coaches and executives when the Los Angeles Rams trained at the local university.

Beginning in 1985, the Redlands Bicycle Classic began a connection to a sport that led to the appearance of national and international champions, Tour de France competitors and a link to a world that continues to connect.

Redlands has been connected to Super Bowls, World Cups, World Series, Olympics, Indianapolis 500s, Kentucky Derbys, baseball division winners, NFC championship contenders, Daytona, national collegiate championships, college bowl games, NASCAR at Daytona and Talladega, major tennis and golf championships, not to mention one of the world’s greatest showtime basketball teams, the Harlem Globetrotters – and the World Series.

Bill Buster owned a five-point share in Captain Bodgit, the colt that ran a close second to Silver Charm in the 1997 Kentucky Derby.

Those are the people these blogs are about. Connections from Redlands to the outside world of sports success at the highest possible level. It doesn’t make sense that such a smallish community has become so prominent in virtually every major sport in the USA – and beyond.

It, thus, becomes A Redlands Connection.