Monday, February 1, 2016

Five Men I Wish I Could Have Interviewed

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Tonight Super Bowl 50 will have its hype machine in full-tilt with the Annual Super Bowl Media Day in prime-time. This big event got me thinking recently about an article written in 1999 by the late Stanley Grosshandler (author of the 1968 football book "The Mighty Ones ") titled “Five Men I Wish I Could Have Interviewed.”  In the three page article he went through the reasons why he choose the five men he selected: Charlie Berry (because he played both Major League Baseball and in the NFL); Hugo Bezdek (because he might have been the most unusual character in NFL history); Norm Standlee, Ray Nolting and John Wiethe (Grosshandler played at University of Cincinnati while Nolting and Wiethe were on the coaching staff, as well as Standlee, who played for the 1941 Bears then served in World War II before playing seven years with the 49ers). After finishing the article I got to thinking about who would be on my list of the top five people I wish I could have interviewed. Boy, was it tough to narrow it down to just five.
Joe F. Carr. Colorization by John Turney
     First and foremost, I would’ve wanted to sit down and talk with Joe F. Carr, the former NFL President from 1921-1939, who guided the NFL through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. I think I would have too many questions to ask. Topics such as- what was like being elected President in 1921; the Pottsville Controversy of 1925; the Red Grange Rule- of having no college player enter the NFL until his class had graduated; what was like to sit in Owners meetings with George Halas and George Preston Marshall, as well as Hall of Fame owners Art Rooney, Bert Bell, Tim Mara, and Charlie Bidwill; as well as asking him about his time traveling with the Columbus Panhandles.  
Red Grange. Colorization by John Turney
     Red Grange was a no brainer. Who wouldn’t want to talk to one of the greatest sporting stars of the Roaring Twenties. I’d definitely ask him about his relationship with C.C. Pyle his agent; what was the 1925-1926 barnstorming tour like; as well as what it was like meeting celebrities on that tour such as Babe Ruth, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Luther Burbank, and President Calvin Coolidge. I would also ask him what it was like doing early radio and television for the Chicago Bears.
Unitas with Steelers. Colorization by John Turney
    Johnny Unitas is one of my favorite players that I never got to see play live (wasn’t born until 1970), so I would definitely want to chat with him about his lengthy career. I could ask him about being cut by the Steelers in 1956; playing semi-pro football in his hometown of Pittsburgh for the Bloomfield Rams for six dollars a game; to making the Colts a household name by winning the “Greatest Game Ever Played” (also known as the 1958 NFL Championship Game); to his unique throwing motion; to his last year playing with the San Diego Chargers in 1973. I could also ask him about his famous crew-cut haircut, since he’s the reason I wear my hair in that style.
Brian Piccolo. Colorization by PFJ
     My fourth choice would be Brian Piccolo. It would be so cool to sit down and talk to the man, who despite dying at 26, influenced a generation of football fans and inspired one of the greatest sports movies of all-time- Brian’s Song. But the real reason to interview him would be to get to know him as a person. Most fans just know of the film. But what was Piccolo really like. I know he didn’t look anything like James Caan, so I would want to spend my time talking to him about his life and his philosophy of living, because he showed the world you can battle to the very end and still be a winner.
Bill Walsh. Credit:  Nils M. Solsvik Jr.
     My fifth and last choice was a tough one. But I narrowed it down to a few options. I thought about Pete Rozelle, Jim Thorpe, Don Hutson, Art Donovan and Bronko Nagurski. But I went with Bill Walsh. I choose Walsh for several reasons. One, the 49ers are my favorite team and I grew up watching them win three Super Bowls under the “Genius.” Two, because I love the passing game, so to be able to talk with Walsh about the West Coast Offense would be priceless. Third, to also talk about great players like Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Fred Dean, Jerry Rice and Steve Young would be pretty incredible.

This is my list.
  1. Joe F. Carr (Former NFL President and Hall of Famer, 1921-1939)
  2. Red Grange (Hall of Fame running back, 1925-1927, 1929-1934)
  3. Johnny Unitas (Hall of Fame quarterback, 1957-1973)
  4. Brian Piccolo (Chicago Bears running back, 1966-1969)
  5. Bill Walsh (Hall of Fame head coach, 1979-1988)
     Well, there are my five men I wish I could have interviewed. Four of the five men I choose are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I guess I went with a bunch of NFL heavyweights. Take some time to think about it while you watch the over 5,000 media members ask questions tonight. Who would be on your list of five???


  1. Tough one, if I thought longer the list might change but how about Don Hutson (just the best), Clark Shaunnessey (all those wacky schemes), Bobby Layne (likely over a beer), Pete Rowell and Paul Brown.

  2. Oh my what a list! Mine would be (in no particular order):

    1. Don Coryell
    2. Paul Brown
    3. Vince Lombardi
    4. Bill Walsh
    5. Tom Landry

    I think these five shaped the game as you see it today (in particular the last two).

    Good read!