Rick Jennings, who disguised his superego four years as a running back-kick returner the University of Maryland, took Oakland storm when the city honored its Super Bowl campion Raiders recently.
As he received his award from the mayor, winnings displayed the flair of Muhammad Ali, his hero: "It feels so nice, let's do it nice," Jennings told the audience, coining at could become the Raiders' motto next season.
Jennings is back at Maryland, rehabilitating injured knee and completing 12 hours of ladies needed for a degree in criminology. Jennings chose this major, he said, "because my involvement with crime as it was in jonior high school and in high school."
He was not a victim.
"I was lucky enough to have proper guidance to get out of it before it got out of control," said Jennings. "It was little misdemeanors: stealing candy bars, minor shoplifting, truancy offenses, vandalism."
He was guided by an uncle, Frank Davis, who was a star athlete, at Armstrong High and later a government official who saw the possibility that Jennings could channel his energies into sports instead of crime.
"It was a long shot, but a long shot that excited me," said Jennings, about the prospect of a smallish youth who would prosper in pro-football despite his eventual size: 5-foot-9 1/2, 185 pounds.
The long shot came in. Jennings was an 11th-round draft choice of Oakland. He was waived and reclaimed by the Raiders a week later. He finished fifth in the AFC with a 26.1-yard kickoff return average. He suffered the knee injury in a Monday night game against Cincinnati when he was hit on the knee by a helmet as the opponent made a desperation lunge for Jennings.
In a society of pro athletes with a Super Bowl check and a Super Bowl ring demanding big speaking fees, Jennings is seeking off-season appearances free. He does not want to compete with the Chris Hanburgers or the Sonny Jurgensens.
He has a message for youth and his only selfish goal, he said, is attracting publicity. He is a firm believer that media and public exposure will help give him security in the NFL.
Jennings attended Paul Junior High and Coolidge High School in Washington, associating with a group of six or seven friends. "All of them had as much athletic ability as I have. They had superior athletic ability; they should have gone to college."
Only one did. He was Peewee Fletcher, a sprinter at Coolidge, who earned a scholarship to Arizona State and now is studying for a master's degree there. That is Jennings' message: the important thing is the education that the athletic ability will provide.
"Yeah," he said, "I know what the others are doing now. One is on probation for possession of a deadly weapon; a couple work mediocre jobs in the government; another one works as an assistant manager at a nightclub, taking tickets at the door.
"I'm sure there are a lot of schools and organizations that want somebody who can relate to the kids. There are those who have exceptional ability and should have an idea they can make it too when they see a Rick Jennings, a Len Willis or a Reggie Rucker. It's a way to deter crime . . . stress education especially with the job market being the way it is. I want to make it easier to get a (good) job."
For Jennings, the benefits will be an identity in the community and possibly something to fall back on following his pro football career.
Jennings said the Raiders are grooming him as a wide receiver.
"I want to rehabilitate my knee and graduate, in that order," Jennings said, "primarily because my knee is my job. My angle is publicity."
Jennings, a team leader at Maryland, said he tried to keep his ego hidden as much as possible at College Park because team goals were more important than individual ones.But in the pros, he said, everyone knows that you're out to make the bucks.
"To get security, you have to have personality," said Jennings. "That's why I dance before I catch the ball. That's why I dance before I catch the ball. That's my gimmick.
"I've got a little hot dog in me. I've got a lot of hot dog in me. Muhammad Ali had a big influence on my life. When he mouths off and backs it up, I want to mouth off and back it up - plus I look like him. Both of us are pretty. People say you should use handsome. If he can be pretty, I can be pretty."