Dave Elmendorf will watch Sunday’s Super Bowl between New England and Atlanta with a great deal of interest and respect for players on both teams.
He knows how special it is to get there and how difficult that journey can be.
Elmendorf played nine seasons as a safety for the Los Angeles Rams before finally reaching the 1980 Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though the Steelers pulled off a 31-19 win for their fourth Super Bowl championship in six years, Elmendorf loved the experience.
“Pittsburgh was a dynasty back then,” Elmendorf said. “But it was still the most fun game I ever played in because of the difficulty in getting there. No one knew it more than the Rams because we won our division seven years in a row and finally made it to the Super Bowl.”
It was the last NFL game for the former Texas A&M football and baseball star.
On Feb. 21, Elmendorf will be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in 1996, and is looking forward to getting back to Waco for his big night.
“I haven’t been to the Hall of Fame since the high school induction, but it will be great to get back up there to see it,” Elmendorf said. “I was recently inducted into the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame, so I have a lot of reasons to get there.”
Since 1989, Elmendorf has been been part of the play-by-play radio team for Texas A&M football broadcasts with Dave South. It’s his way of staying close to his alma mater and the game he loves.
“Since I was a professional football player, that gives me some credibility about knowing the game,” Elmendorf said. “It’s great to be able to talk about A&M football and share my thoughts with the fans. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Since his father was a Texas A&M graduate, Elmendorf grew up an Aggies fan. He was also a fan of the Houston Oilers back when they played in the American Football League in the 1960s with guys like George Blanda, Billy Cannon and Elvin Bethea.
“I was a huge Oilers fan, and for Christmas one year my dad gave me a season ticket,” Elmendorf said. “So I got one seat in the end zone (at Rice Stadium), and I sat there and watched every game.”
Elmendorf was an early fan of the Houston Colt .45s before they became the Astros, but his favorite player was New York Yankees star Mickey Mantle.
“Mickey Mantle was the best centerfielder who ever played, and I still believe that,” Elmendorf said. “So when I was later drafted by the Yankees, it was quite a thrill.”
During his high school years at Houston Westbury, Elemendorf played centerfield for the baseball team and starred for the football team at running back, receiver and safety.
Elmendorf was drafted by the Atlanta Braves out of high school, but his father insisted on him getting a college education, leading to his decision to accept a scholarship to Texas A&M in 1967.
“My dad was one of the smartest men I knew, and he wanted me to go to college,” Elmendorf said. “The Braves would have had to go far outside with their bonus to change his mind. It wasn’t going to happen.”
Texas A&M football coach Gene Stallings didn’t like his players to play other sports, but he allowed Elmendorf to play baseball. It paid off for the Aggies as Elmendorf became an All-American in both football and baseball.
Though the Aggies had losing records in Elmendorf’s three varsity football seasons, he was always a bright spot with his fierce tackling ability and pass defending instincts in the secondary. In 1997, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
“They had me playing several positions on both sides of the ball before I moved to safety halfway through my sophomore season,” Elmendorf said. “I wanted to play wherever I could help the most, and it worked out well because that’s where I played at the pro level. I never wanted to shy away from contact. I looked at safety as a combination of a cornerback and linebacker, so I got to cover receivers and tackle big running backs. That was the fun part for me because I enjoyed contact and liked being in the middle of everything.”
While Elmendorf was a tremendous two-sport athlete, Texas A&M teammate Bob Long thought his instincts and intelligence set him apart.
“He was a superb athlete and faster than most people think,” Long said. “As a safety, you had to know what was going on and see how the play developed, so it was the perfect position for him. He was also a good all-around baseball player who could cover ground in the outfield and was a good hitter.”
The Texas A&M baseball teams were much more successful during Elmendorf’s era, and he starred in centerfield like his hero Mickey Mantle.
“Coach Stallings and I made a deal that as long as A&M was in contention I could miss spring football training,” Elmendorf said. “We had a great baseball program and Coach (Tom) Chandler was outstanding. Before my senior football season in 1970, I did go through spring training and it was very difficult to get into football shape. Coach Stallings’ practices were brutal. He was a Bear Bryant descendent and there was a lot of hitting.”
After graduating from Texas A&M, Elmendorf had to decide whether to pursue a pro baseball or football career. He was drafted by the Yankees while the Rams chose him in the third round of the 1971 NFL draft.
“It was the most difficult decision of my life,” Elmendorf said. “I loved both sports and had been successful in both. The money was very close. If I had played baseball for the Yankees, I knew I would have to hack around the minor leagues to find out if I could play at the major league level. I could play immediately for the Rams and that made it easier.”
Elmendorf immediately stepped into the starting lineup as a rookie safety for the Rams. He felt it was quite a privilege to play with veterans like Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen, who were part of the famed Fearsome Foursome defensive line.
“These guys were Hall of Famers and they became my friends,” Elmendorf said. “Merlin Olsen was one of the best human beings God ever put on this earth. I also got to play with guys like Jack Youngblood, Isiah Robertson and Nolan Cromwell. We played great defense, and it was fun and we knew we were going to be competitive every week.”
Elmendorf became a staple in the Rams secondary and was named all-NFC in 1974 when he made a career-high seven interceptions while returning two for touchdowns. The following season, he was named second-team All-Pro after making four interceptions while developing a reputation as a smart, hard-hitting safety.
Elmendorf never missed a game in his nine seasons for the Rams, and often played through pain to stay in the lineup.
“One year I fractured a couple of ribs when an offensive lineman fell on me,” Elmendorf said. “That was my 99th game in a row. The next week, the training staff got me ready by fitting me with a flak jacket and shooting me with pain killers, and I played about three quarters. I got my 100th game under my belt.”
While the Rams repeatedly won the West Division in the 1970s, they endured frustration in the playoffs until 1979 when they beat the Dallas Cowboys to finally reach the Super Bowl against the Steelers.
The Steelers of the 1979s were among the greatest teams of all time, but the Rams took a 19-17 lead into the fourth quarter. But Terry Bradshaw hit John Stallworth with a 73-yard touchdown pass and Franco Harris scored on a 1-yard run as the Steelers closed out a 31-19 win.
Though Elmendorf was healthy enough to play several more years, he chose to retire following the Rams’ Super Bowl appearance. He finished his NFL career with 27 interceptions.
“Nine seasons as a strong safety is a lot in the NFL, and I felt it was a good time to do it,” Elmendorf said. “Guys I came into the league with were getting older, and I knew there would be some changes, and I thought it was an opportune time to go out on top.”
Elmendorf built a racquetball facility in Houston and later operated a restaurant before getting into management with American Golf Corporation.
“It was the largest golf course management company in the world at the time,” Elmendorf said. “I’m retired now but I still do some consulting in the golf business.”
Now living on a ranch with his wife outside of Normangee, Elmendorf is glad he can make the short drive to College Station to broadcast the Aggies and stay in touch with the school that led to his NFL career.
Long is glad he can still hear his old friend and Texas A&M teammate on the radio.
“Brains can take you a long way,” Long said. “He’s well suited to be an announced because he’s quick and sharp.”