Every now and then, the old instinct will surface. One of the most hyper NFL players in history has found golf in retirement, and the looney who once painted his face before games -- and developed post-sack dances so elaborate that NFL officials hid their chuckles while fining him -- almost always behaves himself. Except, well….
“I usually act the way you’re supposed to,” John Randle said. “But in a real subtle way, I do find ways to talk trash. Say I’m playing somebody and they have a lower score than me. I’ll wait for them to get just a little upset with their shot.
“Then, all of a sudden I’ll say, ‘Did you hear that?’
“'I did. I just heard the door opening up for me.’
“And they’ll get all nervous. That works.”
Randle will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend because he changed the way defensive tackles play the game. Rather than limit himself as an old-school run-stopper, Randle used quickness and wiles to collect more sacks than anyone in the league between 1991-2002.
Those sentences only begin to describe the character that was -- and, presumably, still is -- John Randle. His manic personality when he was a player, on and off the field, makes it nearly impossible to envision him on the golf course now. The stories are now part of NFL canon. He read media guides to find personal information with which to taunt opponents. He provided NFL Films with some of its most lively B-roll. And yes, he even practiced his pass rush moves on unsuspecting old ladies minding their own business in the market.
“Yes, that happened quite a bit,” Randle said. “I’d go to a grocery store to pick up some cheese or something. There would be people randomly walking down aisles. Once, I happened to come up to a lady with a cart and just decided to do a swim move past the cart. I kept walking, but I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was pretty startled. She wasn’t sure if she needed to call somebody for help or what she should do.”
Indeed, she was speechless -- much like the football opponents who weren’t prepared for Randle’s constant verbal barrages about their mothers or their pet beagles or their anthropology degree in college. Sometimes, an offensive lineman would try to return fire.
“I loved it when that happened because usually that got the quarterback involved and ruined the play,” Randle said. “Someone would try to talk trash to you. Then the quarterback would say, ‘Be quiet,’ so he could call signals or whatever. Then the next thing you know, everybody’s telling each other to shut up and they had to call a time out. I’d just walk away and watch the mess I caused. I loved doing that.”
I covered Randle for his final two seasons in Minnesota and can attest that he was one of those people who literally could never stand still. We used to think he would blow through the Vikings’ locker room just to avoid interview requests. In reality, he was just nervously bustling through the building until it was time for practice. I’d see him toss something in his locker, slam through a pair of double doors, turn around, slam back through them and grab the same something and then continue on his way.
He was really, really hyper. So it blows my mind to think of Randle playing golf three or four times a week, as he says he does during the Minnesota summer. He is a 10-handicap.
“It’s a game that I have to say I love,” Randle said. “It’s a game of patience, a game of slowing down your swing and relaxing and enjoying the day.”
Huh? John Randle relaxing and enjoying the day? Come on.
“You can’t go out there thinking you are going to be the quickest or the strongest,” he added, “because your game will be in the tank. I love getting out there and taking my time and looking at the hole.”
OK, now I think he’s pulling our leg.
“It’s a graceful game. It’s a peaceful game. When I first started going out there, I was going nuts. I would shoot a 110 and be thinking, ‘I can’t figure this out.’ But athletes can adjust so easily. You would think that wouldn’t be the case for a guy that is high strung, has that burst of energy all the time. But I learned to control my energy.”
So there you have it. John Randle will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame not long after joining the Hall of Chillax. Well done.