Gold Jacket Spotlight: John Randle was often overlooked but never was outworked

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 2/19/2024
Many so-called football experts considered JOHN RANDLE too short at 6-foot-1 to succeed as an NFL defensive lineman and too light at 240 pounds to overwhelm larger offensive opponents.

Because of these “measurables,” John went undrafted in 1990, overlooked in favor of other players who fit the bill on paper. But football history is dotted with individuals whose intangibles separated them from the pack, and this week it’s John whose career is recalled in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Gold Jacket Spotlight.

The first defensive lineman taken in the 1990 NFL Draft was the University of Miami’s CORTEZ KENNEDY, a prototype of sorts who measured in at 6-3, 315 pounds. Himself a future Hall of Famer, Kennedy was the third overall pick and the first from a list of 13 defensive tackles and 35 defensive ends eventually selected that year.

None of them was named John Randle. 

Although the disappointment of going undrafted stuck with John, he knew he couldn’t give up his dream of playing professionally.

“The scouts all thought I was too undersized,” John said. “But I knew I had to see if I could compete. I thought, ‘If I don’t do this, I’ll regret it the rest of my life.’ ”

Having played at smaller schools in college (Trinity Community College and Texas A&I University) and being labeled an undersized lineman, John knew he had to perform perfectly in his free agent workouts.

He worked out for the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but neither opportunity came to fruition. The Falcons weren’t interested and the Buccaneers, where John’s brother Ervin played, wanted to shift him to linebacker, which didn’t interest the future Hall of Fame defensive lineman.

John then worked out for the Minnesota Vikings. There, the coaching staff told him they would offer him a spot on the roster under one condition: that he get his get his weight above 250.

And that he did.

Yet, for how great Randle was on the field – 137.5 career sacks, seven Pro Bowls, eight consecutive seasons with 10-plus sacks – his success can be attributed back to the struggles that he and his family went through during his childhood.

“My brothers and I rode the bus to school, and of course we didn’t have a car,” he said. “I’d have to hitchhike every day after football practice, and I can remember sometimes getting home at 2 a.m.

"I quit football my sophomore year because I got tired of hitching. My mom said, ‘If you quit, there's nothing else around here for you to do.’ ”

No matter what John had going on in his life, his determination never wavered after that moment. He knew that greatness was the only option. The work he put into football was nothing compared to the things he’d done growing up, the things that made him into the hardest worker in every room.

In a 1998 interview, John, who had just been voted first-team All-Pro for a fifth consecutive time, stated: “In my life, I’ve chopped cotton, picked watermelons, built fences, worked on an assembly line, worked in an oil field, built scaffolding. You know what? Those jobs are harder than football. So, I’ll never take it easy in football. I remember how I grew up.”