From wrestling god to football god
John "Bradshaw" Layfield grew up idolizing the Abilene Christian University football team. In an ACU tradition, following a home game those players would let young kids carry their helmets off the field for them. Layfield was always one of those thrilled, awestruck kids. Now, he's being honored alongside many the very players he admired as a child.
To highlight Abilene Christian University turning 100 years old, an all-century football team was elected, which has been the talk of the town and Texas media. Layfield was selected for the first-team offensive line. It marks a sweep of sorts for Layfield, who was also chosen for the Big Country all-time high school football team — the high school all-century equivalent for the area he called home growing up.
JBL was unaware of his selection until family spotted a story in the Dallas Morning News. It caught the former WWE Champion a bit off-guard, and it brought back a steady stream of memories — both cheerful and physically painful — from the "forgotten part of the past." WWE.com contacted JBL to get his immediate reaction shortly after he learned of the honor.
WWE.com: Did you see this coming?
JBL: No, this was quite a surprise. I had no idea a team was being named, so I'm pretty thrilled about it.
WWE.com: How did you find out?
JBL: My sister still lives out near Abilene, in the town of Sweetwater, where I grew up, and she just saw it in the newspaper. Apparently, the school itself just turned 100, so it's the all-century team, I think from 1905-2005.
WWE.com: How did it feel to learn of this distinction?
JBL: It was awesome. It's funny because I was born in Abilene; I was in Abilene until the first grade then I moved to Sweetwater and grew up in Sweetwater. Well, this was before you had ESPN and all the different sports sources on TV, so the only real college team I got to see was Abilene Christian. My dad took me to nearly all the home games; my dad was on the board at Abilene Christian. He was a graduate from there and took me to all the functions at ACU.
I remember carrying the helmets of the players. They'd hand them to little kids and let them carry them off the field when they were walking off the field at the end of the game. And I was always one of those kids who'd go out there and try to talk to the players. Now, I'm now on the same honorary team with them. I had a chance to go nearly anywhere out of high school. I could have gone to the University of Texas; it wasn't a smart move (to go to ACU) as far as business-wise, but it was where my heart was. I always wanted to go to Abilene Christian.
Around the basketball arena, they had these huge pictures of the All-American football players and I used to go look at that. My whole goal in life was to be in one of those pictures. And I was able to accomplish that by being an All-American. And then, to have this honor — I hadn't been there in 16 years, then to have this honor come around, it's pretty neat. And it's pretty neat because of the way I think about this school, not just about the honor itself, but because of my whole upbringing with this school and the fact that I knew every one of these players on this honorary team by name; some of them I never met in person, but I knew the history of the football team there.
WWE.com: You're now deeply involved in WWE, as well as your radio show, among other things. Did this bring back feelings of nostalgia and memories from back in those days?
JBL: Sure it did. I'm actually going back to my high school reunion in a couple of weeks, and I was going to go see an ACU football game for the first time since I left ACU, and that brought back a bunch of emotions. Then I got this honor, and it brought back a ton more memories. I have a radio show affiliate in Abilene, so I get some calls from Abilene nearly every week, so that kind of brings it back. But this honor brought back memories of playing. I think there was one other guy from my era on the team, and it's neat. It was almost a forgotten part of my past, but I'm really glad I'm starting to remember again.
I haven't played football in so long. I went straight from football into wrestling. So, I never had that withdrawal that a lot of guys have when they get finished playing a sport because I went straight into something else. And I was hurt my last few years. That's why I had to quit playing football — because of knee injuries — and it wasn't as enjoyable when I was trying to play pro football as when it was in college; I was hurt so much, and I was just trying to make the team and trying to play and trying to keep playing beyond when I probably should have.
So, this honor brought back the fun of playing again. I started remembering the practices, the fun we had. The thing about college football, it's not just the games. It's the practices, the dorms, it's so much more than just what you see on Saturday. And with this honor, that part of it came back to me and reminded me of just how much fun I absolutely had in college and why so many guys never mentally hang up their cleats; they always want to play just a few more plays.
WWE.com: In the time before you were hampered by injury, did you have a favorite moment or game that comes to mind?
JBL: Absolutely. We played Eastern New Mexico one time — I have a picture of it here at my house — it was homecoming, and I just had knee surgery and I was supposed to be out for the entire season, but it was my senior season and I didn't want to sit out. So, 16 days after knee surgery I played a football game probably ill-advised. It's probably why I have so many problems now. And I didn't play that well. It was against Alcorn State. But the next week, I took out every bit of frustration I had for having that knee surgery and not playing well the week before on that poor guy lined up against me.
People say they actually had a hard time getting the guy to suit up the next Monday. They said that I took that much out of him, that to this day, he can't stand my name being mentioned. I later heard (about the player's reaction) when I was playing pro football. I mean, I just destroyed him. I went out of my way to destroy him. I was so mad that I had already missed three games of my senior season, and this was my chance to really play football for the first time my senior year, and I think I took every bit of it out on him. That's what I remember thinking back on those days. That was fun being able to go (up to the line of scrimmage) and tell an opposing player, "We going to run the football or we're going to pass the football, and there's nothing you can do about it! You'll never get to the quarterback!" That was a fun time.
Another strong memory is in my senior year, when I played the last two games on a broken leg. I missed three games with a knee injury, and I broke my leg in the ninth game. We were playing Texas A&I, we were playing for the conference championship, and we were down on the goal line, and I caught a helmet right above my ankle and it broke my leg. I came over to the sidelines — and that's when football coaches didn't have a lot of sympathy for injuries — and Coach Bob Shipley, who's a dear friend of mine, came over and said, "What's wrong with him?" The answer, "He broke his leg." So Bob said, "How long is he going to be out?" And the doctor looked at him like he was crazy, and I said, "a couple of plays." I turned to the doc and said, "What am I going to do, break my leg again?"
So, the doctor taped it up so that I couldn't move it, and I played the rest of the game, walked on crutches all week, and then decided that since I had spent four years with these guys, well, we have one game left and I really want to play that game with them. So, I put my pads on the bus, suited up and I played about three quarters until my leg was almost immobile at the end of that time. I just couldn't play any longer. But I'll always remember that, walking into the stadium on crutches and playing a game.
WWE.com: How did that season end?
JBL: We came in second. I wish I had a happier ending for you. It's a storybook set-up, but it wasn't a storybook ending.
WWE.com: How would you compare this honor with the honor of being the longest-reigning WWE Champion in the past 10 years?
JBL: It's two things that I wanted my whole life. I grew up wanting to be a wrestler. I grew up wanting to be a football player at Abilene Christian. I wanted to play pro football, which I got to play for about three years. I didn't accomplish that goal as much as I wanted to, but I used to watch wrestling with my grandfather growing up. I remember Bruiser Brody bringing a trash can in one time when he was doing an interview, saying he was going to stuff his opponent in it. I vividly remember Fritz Von Erich. It was great time watching that stuff with my grandfather. That's how I got interested in wrestling.
WWE.com: Do you expect to be honored in this same fashion by WWE when your career is over? The WWE Hall of Fame, perhaps?
JBL: Of course. I am a wrestling god, after all. And I did hold the WWE Championship longer than anybody else over the past 10 years. It'll be great to be put in the Hall with the likes of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and "Cowboy" Bob Orton. Those guys are phenomenal. I hold them in such a high esteem.
WWE.com: Talk a bit about your pro football career. Some of the WWE fans might not know you made it to the NFL's Los Angeles Raiders.
JBL: I was with the Raiders off and on. I had the chance to stay, but I decided to go to the World League of American Football, to play a couple years hoping to come back. The problem was, I got hurt down in the World League and was never able to come back to the NFL. I got some offers. The Bears offered. The Raiders made kind of a half-hearted offer, but it was never the same due to knee injuries and stuff. I was never going to be a factor anymore. If I hung around, it would have been as a really bit player, and I just didn't want to do that.
WWE.com: How does being received by a football crowd compare to the energy at a big WWE event?
JBL: There's no comparison. WWE is so much more, it's off the hook, what we do. Football crowds are great, in fact, they're awesome. But you're one of 11 players on the field at a time and one of 50 players on the sideline, so the energy's not directed all at you. The quarterback and running backs get a pretty good ovation when they come out, but when you're an offensive lineman, you're one of many workhorses. No matter how valuable you are, it's pretty much unnamed. So there's no comparison. The energy level in a college football game is phenomenal — in a pro football game is phenomenal — but there's nothing at all that compares to our WWE fans.
WWE.com: Will there be a ceremony for this All-Century team?
JBL: I just found out about it, so I don't know. It would be nice if there was. It would be nice to get all those guys together who are still alive. I'm one of the youngest players on the team. Most of them are from when ACU was in it's heyday in the '60s and '70s. But it would be fun to be able to get together with those guys because it's the same thing — I used to go as a kid and idolize (these All-Century players), and now to be on the same honorary football team, it's a little bit overwhelming. I'm not sure if I deserve it, but I'm certainly honored that they gave it to me.
Click here for photos from JBL's football career.
ACU Team of the Century
QB - Jim Lindsey, 1967-70
RB - Wilbert Montgomery, 1973-76; V.T. Smith, 1946-48
WR - Johnny Perkins, 1974-76; Cle Montgomery, 1974-77; Ronnie Vinson, 1969-71
TE - Robert McLeod, 1957-60
OL - Dan Remsberg, 1981-84; Grant Feasel, 1979-82; Greg Feasel, 1977-79; Wayne Walton, 1967-70; Wally Bullington, 1949-52; John Layfield, 1986-89
DL - James Henderson, 1995-98; Junior Filikitonga, 1996-97; Bill Clayton, 1986-89; Larry Cox, 1962-65
LB - Chip Bennett, 1966-68; Bernard Erickson, 1964-66; Ray Nunez, 1974-77
DB - Chuck Sitton, 1974-77; Danieal Manning, 2003-present; Mark Wilson, 1980-83; Mark Jackson, 1980-83
Coach - Garvin Beauchamp, 1950-55; Wally Bullington, 1968-76
PK - Eben Nelson, 2001-04
P - Leondus Fry, 1953-56
RS - Danieal Manning, 2003-present
Utility - Theo Powell, 1924-27; Clint Longley, 1971-73
QB - Ted Sitton
RB - Kelly Kent, Mike Love, Dennis Hagaman, Jimmy Hirth
WR - Arthur Culpepper, Pat Holder
TE - Greg Stirman
OL - Keith Wagner, Don Harrison, Bob Keyes, Les Wheeler, Robert Carruthers
DL - Victor Randolph, Kenny Davidson, Chip Martin, Mike Capshaw
LB - Ryan Boozer, Jay Jones, Mike Funderburg
DB - Victor Burke, Justin Lucas, Glenn Labhart, Travis Horne
PK - Ove Johansson
P - Johnny Perkins
RS - V.T. Smith
Utility - Alton Green, E.J. Moore