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Former Cowboys rusher talks football, politics

Take it from the Dallas Cowboys’ first 1,000-yard rusher: Barack Obama should be on a clear path to the White House.

Calvin Hill has always been political-minded. The fact that he’s vocal in his support of “Obama for President” is not really a surprise.

Unless, of course ... you consider that Calvin’s wife, Janet, was Hillary Rodham’s suitemate at Wellesley College in the ’60s.

“We’re both supporting Barack,” Hill said from his Washington, D.C.-area home. “I first met him, informally, about 10 years ago when he was a community organizer in Chicago.”

Two decades before that, “Barry” Obama — as he was known during his days at Punahou prep school in Hawaii — was a teenaged fan of Calvin Hill and the World Football League Hawaiians.

(Hill, after leaving the Cowboys, played one year in the short-lived World League. The ’75 WFL season opened two days before Obama’s 14th birthday.)

Coincidentally, Calvin Hill was 14 when John Kennedy entered the White House. Calvin is still reminded of JFK’s magnetic personality in bringing young people into the process whenever he watches Obama campaign.

“He’s a real smart guy,” Hill said of Obama. “And he listens.”

These Old ’Boys Club entries are intended to be more than just football tales. Likewise, Calvin Hill is more than just a former NFL running back whose career spanned three decades (1969-81) with the Cowboys, Redskins and Browns. He’s a renaissance man.

His resume includes:

Being a Delta Kappa Epsilon frat brother of George W. Bush at Yale.

Being Baltimore Orioles’ VP/administration (’87-94) and hiring a young PR assistant named Theo Epstein, who is now a two-time world champion GM of the Boston Red Sox.

Serving seven years on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness during the Bill Clinton White House.

Attending the Wellesley College graduation ceremonies when Hillary Rodham gave her since-famous student commencement speech — Saturday, May 31, 1969.

Calvin was there that weekend on behalf of his future wife, a Wellesley mathematics major who had shared a dorm suite with the future First Lady and now presidential candidate.

He remembers being “kind of nervous” — because he was meeting Janet’s parents for the first time.

And ... oh, by the way ... he met Cowboys personnel man Gil Brandt at the Boston airport and signed his first NFL contract that same day.

So, pardon a young Calvin Hill if there were other things on his mind when Hillary stood and railed on The Establishment.

She espoused a need for “human reconstruction,” criticized the misuse of political power of the time in this country and even took a moment to mock Senator Edward M. Brooke’s commencement remarks.

“[Brooke] gave this sort of humdrum speech,” Hill recalled. “Then, Hillary stood and gave this sort of revolutionary speech. All the girls cheered. I thought it was kind of rude.”

Hill played six seasons for the Cowboys, coming out of Yale in ’69 as a first-round pick (24th overall) and hailed as the “next Jim Brown” almost immediately.

However, injuries always seemed to be a spike strip in Calvin’s path to NFL greatness. Yet — time and time and time again — he persevered.

After barely missing 1,000 yards in ’69, Hill became Dallas’ first 1,000-yard rusher in the next-to-last game of his fourth NFL season.

Think about it. It took the Tom Landry’s Cowboys seven years to reach a league championship game, 11 years to reach a Super Bowl ... and 13 years to produce a 1,000-yard rusher.

Hill, now 61, is a longtime consultant for the Cowboys. He works both ends of the spectrum — helping rookies adapt to the NFL and helping older players prepare for life after football.

And everything in between.

With the Cowboys, the former Ivy League star gained 1,000 yards rushing at a time when it was accomplished over a 14-game schedule — usually by only a handful of players each year.

Here’s a chronology of Hill’s 1K run with the Cowboys — twice:

Nov. 16, 1969 (Cowboys 41, Redskins 28): Hill took a comfortable lead over Bears’ great Gale Sayers into RFK. Hill gained 150 yards on 27 carries, but broke a bone in his foot and was forced to sit out the next two weeks.

“They finally figured out what was wrong with my foot and started shooting it [with painkiller],” Hill said. “I was able to play parts of the last three games but gained just over 100 yards.”

With five games to go, Hill needed to average only 40 yards to become the NFL’s first rookie 1,000-yard rusher. Instead, he ended up with 942.

And Sayers — with 1,032 — was the NFL’s lone 1,000-yard rusher that season. Oct. 25, 1970 (Cowboys 27, Chiefs 16) — Hill went to KC in a three-way battle (with MacArthur Lane of the Cardinals and Larry Brown of the Redskins) for the NFL rushing lead.

“Second play of the game, I did a cross-over block on [Chiefs linebacker] Willie Lanier, and he kneed me in the back,” Hill said. “I couldn’t play after that.”

This injury opened the door for Cowboys rookie Duane Thomas, a first-round draft pick from West Texas.

Landry to Hill: “Sit out a couple weeks, then come back.”

“So, I sat out two weeks,” recalled Hill. “Duane had two 100-yard games ... and when I came back, I didn’t play much.”

Hill finished the season with 577 yards.

Oct. 11, 1971 (Cowboys 20, Giants 13): This was the Cowboys’ final game at the Cotton Bowl — on a Monday night.

Hill tore his right ACL and missed the next seven games.

“It happened on the first play of the second half,” Hill said. “[Giants safety] Spider Lockhart used to like to ‘submarine.’ He wasn’t a very big guy ... and, at the last moment, he came up and submarined me. My leg was planted.”

Returning to the Cowboys lineup for the final three regular-season games and the playoffs, Hill tweaked the same knee on a short TD run in the NFC title game.

Calvin would play in the Cowboys’ Super Bowl VI victory over the Dolphins — but his legs were heavily wrapped and he wasn’t a starter.

Recalling his frustration, Hill said, “That ticked me off.” A month later, he underwent ACL surgery.

Dec. 9, 1972 (Cowboys 34, Redskins 24): The next day’s Star-Telegram reported: “Calvin Hill passed the 1,000-yard mark on Dallas’ second possession of the third quarter ...”

Team history was made. And Hill could breathe again.

It was a long road to 1K. But in this game, he also eclipsed the team’s single-season rushing record set by Don Perkins (945) in 1962.

More history: Hill and Walt Garrison became the first Cowboys running backs to top 100 yards apiece in the same game.

Hill took 1,010 yards into the regular-season finale — on a Monday night at Texas Stadium against the Giants — but came down with the flu and barely played. He was hospitalized and kept overnight for observation.

Calvin finished the season with 1,036 yards.

Dec. 9, 1973 (Cowboys 27, Redskins 7): Dallas scored 24 second-half points and inched ahead of Washington on tiebreaker points in a tight NFC East title chase. Hill gained 110 yards on 27 carries to put him at 1,095 — a team record.

“All the yards were tough,” Calvin told the Star-Telegram after the game.

But not nearly as tough as trying to get Landry to give him the football the next week. With the Cowboys playing at lowly St. Louis in the season finale, Hill needed only 50 yards to win the NFC rushing crown. (O.J. Simpson ran away with the NFL rushing title that year with a then-NFL record 2,003 yards.)

John Brockington of the Packers wound up his season at Chicago earlier in the day — with 1,144 yards — to take NFC rushing honors.

Getting limited playing time in the Cowboys’ 30-3 romp over the Cardinals, Hill managed only 47 yards and finished with 1,142.

“Coach Landry wasn’t interested in individual stats,” Hill recalled.

Epilogue


The others were Herschel Walker (1), Julius Jones (1) and Hill (2).But only one of these guys was first.

Which takes us back to the presidential race. Can Hillary Rodham Clinton become the first woman in the Oval Office? Or can Barack Obama break the race barrier?

Hill provides this educated view on the Democratic bid:

“Hillary is very, very smart. She’s very much a policy person,” Hill said. “[But] Barack is doing some of the same things that John Kennedy did for my generation. He has people excited about getting involved.”

Calvin Hill has spent a lifetime being involved — on the field and off.

Next week: Who were the Cowboys’ all-time best double-digit draft choices? You’ll recognize the names ... but may forget where some of them were drafted.

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