Friday, February 14, 2003
Flowers nearly hurdles world record time
By Mike Sielski
Special to ESPN.com
April 19, 1968 - Tennessee junior Richmond Flowers Jr. was three victories into an eight-race winning streak in the 120-yard high hurdles when he performed at the Pelican Relays in Baton Rouge, La.
Traditionally, all the competitors at the meet were African-American. Flowers was one of the meet's first white participants, but his performance was memorable for reasons beyond the color of his skin. Running against Southern University's Willie Davenport, a former paratrooper, Flowers won the race in 13.3 seconds. The time was a tenth of a second slower than the world record.
Unfortunately for Flowers, the victory proved to be the seminal moment of his track career. On June 2, he injured his right hamstring while doing sprints in Knoxville. The injury prevented him from competing in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where Davenport won the gold medal in the 120 highs.
Odds 'n' Ends
As a boy, Flowers' left ear was permanently disabled by the mumps.
Flowers' victory over Blaine Lindgren in 1965 marked only the sixth time he had competed in a race with 42-inch hurdles, three inches higher than standard high school hurdles.
During his senior year at Lanier High School, Flowers often parked his family's car on the school's track at night, the headlights on, so he could practice running the hurdles.
Alabama football coach Bear Bryant hired Billy Hardin, the former Olympic hurdler, to try to persuade Flowers to attend Alabama.
Flowers turned down scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Vanderbilt.
After Alabama's freshman team held Flowers to minimal yardage during the teams' 1965 matchup, someone put up a sign in the Crimson Tide's locker room that read: "Richmond Flowers - 2.2 inches per carry."
On Jan. 22, 1966, during an indoor meet in Kansas City, Flowers won the 60-yard dash in six seconds flat, 1/10 of a second off the world indoor record.
Later in his freshman year, Flowers made the cover of Sports Illustrated (March 14, 1966).
On March 16, 1968, Flowers tied the NCAA indoor record of 7.0 records in the 60-yard high hurdles held by Earl McCullouch of Southern California and Ervin Hall of Villanova.
On Apr. 20, 1968, one day after running his 13.3 in the 120-yard hurdles at the Pelican Relays, Flowers ran the 120 highs into a 12-mph headwind at the Dogwood Relays in Knoxville -- and still won in 14.0 seconds.
His 1968 streak of eight straight wins in the 120-yard hurdles ended on May 26 at the California Relays. He ran 13.4, finishing second to McCullouch (13.3).
In his three seasons for Tennessee's football team, he caught 105 passes for 1,015 yards.
While the pick of Flowers in the second round of the 1969 draft didn't work out for the Cowboys, their first-round choice did. He was running back Calvin Hill.
Flowers was a backup safety on the Cowboys team that lost Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts, 16-13, in January 1971.
He made six interceptions, all with the New York Giants, in his five-year NFL career. Four of his interceptions came in 1972.
In 1974, while still under contract with the Giants, he became the first NFL player to sign with the World Football League. He played in the league's inaugural season (1975) and then concentrated on law school.
When Flowers applied to law school in 1975, every school to which he applied rejected him except one -- Alabama. Unsolicited, Bear Bryant had written a letter of recommendation for him, saying he was "a winner."
Because the memory of his hamstring injury was so painful, Flowers did not watch the Olympics for more than 25 years.
A CBS television movie about the 1960s travails of Flowers Sr. and Jr. aired in 1989. Novelist Pat Conroy, author of The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, wrote the screenplay.
Richmond Flowers III, Flowers Jr.'s oldest son, was a standout wide receiver at Duke and Tennessee-Chattanooga before spending 2001 on the Cowboys' practice squad. Dallas cut him before the 2002 season and in November he signed with Washington as a practice squad player.
Younger son Bill, a wide receiver for Mississippi, caught 53 passes for 588 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore in 2002. As a freshman, he caught 28 passes for 315 yards and four TDs.
In March 2002, Flowers was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. That night the governor of the state acknowledged the contributions made by Richmond Sr., who received a standing ovation from the 1,100 people in attendance.