Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rick Cleveland: Frazier turned misfortune into fortune

Super Bowl XX was memorable for many reasons, including that Refrigerator Perry, an overweight defensive tackle, was allowed to score a meaningless late touchdown instead of the late, great Walter Payton, who was playing in his only Super Bowl.

Coach Marino Casem and Leslie Frazier
Someday, this Mississippian might forgive Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka for that decision. Not this day. Not this year. Probably not this lifetime.

But Super Bowl XX, in which the Chicago Bears shattered the New England Patriots 46-10, was memorable for another puzzling call that involved another Mississippian. Last week, on the day Leslie Frazier entered the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, he remembered the call.

First, some background: Frazier, a soft-spoken gentleman from Columbus and Alcorn State, was a star cornerback on what many consider the best defense in football history. Buddy Ryan's famous “46 defense” depended on his cornerbacks' ability to cover the opponents' wide receivers man-to-man without help from safeties or linebackers. Ryan's corners were on an island. They got no help. Frazier needed none.

He had led the Bears that season with six interceptions. After being an undrafted free agent out of Alcorn, he was becoming an NFL superstar in his fifth year. He was in the last year of his contract. He was about to make some real money.

Back to the fateful play: The Bears were making short work of the out-manned Patriots. Midway through the second quarter the only question was not about who would win but whether the Patriots quarterbacks would survive. It was ugly

The Bears led the Patriots 20-3. The rout was on. The Bears had just forced another Patriots punt. And then, inexplicably – and to Ryan's everlasting chagrin – the Bears called for a reverse on the punt return.

Special teams coach Steve Kazor called it. Ditka signed off on it. The play called for the regular punt returner, Keith Ortega, to reverse the ball to Frazier. It was a complete and utter disaster. First, Ortega called for a fair catch, which he wasn't supposed to do. Then, Ortega took off running to his right and handed the ball to Frazier running the other way.

“We had practiced the play every week all season long,” Frazier said. “I kept telling the coaches, if you ever call it, I'm gonna score. I was so excited they had finally called it.”

The Patriots were not fooled. There was little running room. When Frazier planted his left leg to cut up field, his left knee just pretty much exploded. He went down, the ball came out and the Patriots recovered.

Frazier stayed down for a long time while trainers worked on his knee. Teammates Mike Singleterry and Gary Fencik knelt beside him and tried to encourage him.

On the sidelines, Buddy Ryan fumed. “I damned near killed the special teams coach,” he later said.

Frazier said that every time he sees Kazor, Kazor apologizes for the call.

“Don't apologize to me,” Frazier says he tells him. “I wanted you to call it.”

The team doctor warned Frazier he believed Frazier had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

“I just didn't believe it,” Frazier said. “I thought I would be back in that game. I had no idea it was that bad.”

It wasn't just bad. It was career-ending. It wouldn't be now. It was in 1986.

Frazier had surgery the next week. He rehabbed it for 18 months, tried to come back but just couldn't pass the physical.

He was 27 years old, out of a job.

Said Frazier, “God had a different plan for me.”

Frazier had never thought about coaching before, but little Trinity College, an NAIA school near Chicago, was launching a football program and offered the head coaching job to Frazier. He took it and spent nine successful seasons there, winning two league championships. From there, he moved to the University of Illinois as an assistant coach and then into the NFL ranks.

He has coached in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Indianapolis (he was the assistant head coach when the 2006 Colts beat the Bears in the Super Bowl), Minnesota (where he was for three seasons the head coach), Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Now, he's the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, still using, he says, the lessons he learned when he played for the legendary Marino Casem at Alcorn.

Casem, 83, was in Jackson for Frazier's induction into the MSHOF. No, Casem said, he has not been surprised by Frazier's success in the NFL

Of Frazier, Casem said, “He's smart, he's hard-working, he's just a solid guy.”

And he is now, as is Casem, a Hall of Famer.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is


Anon-E-Mouse said...

Meaningless touchdown? Perhaps by score, but he Frig had been used throughout the season o score td's. It was ge icing on the cake of a dream seaon.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great guy. Thanks for posting something positive.

Anonymous said...

when ditka showed up in NOLA to coach the saints in 1999, all the fans already disliked him because he handed the ball off to that circus act, refrigerator perry, rather than water payton. saints fans never forgave that one.

Anonymous said...

4:29 IS DEAD ON.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

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In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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