How a gangly tight end became an All-Pro linebacker
Ted Hendricks was a three-time All-America defensive end and tight end at the University of Miami. Still, when it came time for the pro scouts to evaluate Hendricks, questions remained. At 6-7, some personnel directors argued that he was too tall and gangly to play linebacker. Others felt that at 214 pounds he was too light to play defensive end. But the Baltimore Colts had scouted a Miami-USC game and were impressed with the way Ted continually wrapped his long vise-like arms around USC's O.J. Simpson. They viewed him as a potential linebacker, so they selected him in the second round in the 1969 AFL-NFL draft. It turned out to be an excellent decision.
"Maybe I wasn't the prototype," Hendricks explained, "but once I got the experience of playing, then I knew I could play in the big league." He argued that his size, rather than being a hindrance gave him some special advantages. "I have more leverage and though I may be giving up some speed, I can make up for it with my range. One of the problems in the NFL was that coaches were too programmed. They didn't think I could play linebacker at 214 because no one else was playing the position at 214. Well, that is really quite silly. If you're good, you're good."
At the start of his rookie season, Hendricks was relegated to the special teams and saw only sporadic action on defense. But the Colts were floundering and coach Don Shula decided a restructuring of his linebacker corps might help. In the season's seventh game, Ted was named the starter at the right linebacker's spot. He seldom missed a start again. Once he got into regular-season action, Hendricks made the Colts and the rest of the NFL take notice.
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"Don Shula was probably the best coach I ever played for," Hendricks recently stated. "He was big on discipline and had total control of both the offense and the defense. He was also good at evaluating players, and he could adjust his game."
Hendricks played a big role in the Colts' victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super V. He went on to have an incredible season in 1971, when he made all-pro for the first time. During that year, he blocked a Cleveland punt, returned a fumble 31 yards for a go-ahead touchdown over the Los Angeles Rams, and blocked an extra point attempt that preserved a 14-13 win over the New York Jets. He also intercepted five passes that year.
Remarkably, the Colts traded Hendricks to the Green Bay Packers after five productive seasons in Baltimore. The bigger surprise came, however, when the Packers allowed Ted to play out his option and join the Oakland Raiders after just one and possibly his finest season. That year, he had five interceptions, blocked seven kicks, and scored a safety. In order to sign Hendricks, the Raiders had to compensate the Packers with two first-round draft choices.
Surprisingly, Raiders coach John Madden used Hendricks sparingly in 1975. "Well, he played some that year," Madden offered. "Special situations. We got him in there. . . Oh hell, we just made a mistake." Finally, Madden recognized Ted's unique skills and allowed him the rare freedom to freelance. He simply positioned himself along the line where he thought the play would go, then reacted. He was right so often that coaches rarely challenged his decision.
In 1980, under a new defensive scheme with the Raiders, Ted had another all-pro season and his fifth Pro Bowl bid after a five-year absence. In a season that resulted in a Super Bowl XV win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Hendricks had a team-leading nine sacks plus three interceptions, three blocked kicks, and a safety. "At least once a game, he'll do something and I won't know how he did it," an admiring Charlie Sumner, the Raiders defensive coach remarked. Ted played nine seasons with the Raiders before retiring in 1983.
During his 15-year career Hendricks blocked 25 field goals or extra points. He recorded numerous sacks and blocked passes, recovered 16 opponent's fumbles and intercepted 26 passes, which he returned for 332 yards. He scored a record-tying four safeties, three touchdowns on an interception, a fumble return, and a blocked punt.
Post season honors included All-AFC recognition three times as a Colt, and four times as a Raider. He was a 1974 All-NFC pick as a Packer. He was all-pro in 1971, 1974, 1980, and 1982. He was selected to play in the Pro Bowl eight times, 1972-74, 1975, 1981-84. He was accorded pro football's highest honor, election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 1990.