INDIANAPOLIS –Linebacker Jeff Herrod arrived from the University of Mississippi in 1988 as a ninth-round draft pick intent on making his way in the NFL.
The 6-0, 250-pound linebacker hoped to pack the wallop of a family member, Mr. T. Herrod accomplished his mission by packing enough punch to total approximately 1,300 tackles in playing 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with the Colts.
Now retired, Herrod is being pressed into service for a second time by representing the Colts in New York City at the annual NFL Kickoff celebration on September 5. Former players from each team will participate in a special flag ceremony that will air on NBC prior to the first game of the season between Dallas and the New York Giants.
This follows a 2010 appearance Herrod made for Indianapolis when he announced the team's second pick in the draft, Pat Angerer, a player cut from the same playing cloth as the former Colt and Ole Miss Rebel.
"I felt so honored a couple of years ago when (Chief Operating Officer) Pete (Ward) called me to be involved in announcing a draft pick," said Herrod. "It was great to meet with (Commissioner) Roger Goodell and to see players I played against like Natrone Means, Barry Sanders and others. It was a nice reunion and a great way to stay involved with the team. I told Pete, 'I can't believe that you asked me. You could have called any number of former Colts and you asked me.' It meant a lot to me."
In addition to the flag ceremony, Herrod and 31 other former players can take part in NFL Play 60 Youth Clinics on September 4-5. There, they will teach kids football skills and drills. They will sign autographs and participate in an NFL Legends Luncheon with Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"There is nothing like being separated from the game for so long, and then being asked to contribute. It is a great feeling as a former player. I'm a grown man, but I shed tears," said Herrod. "I'm really looking forward to all the events, especially being involved with the kids at the Play 60 Clinic. I will share with them that football is a great sport. I want kids to understand and get educated on how the sport is being played today. It's a great game and young people should do much more than just watch it. There are many ways to get involved in it and other activities."
The end of the two-day celebration is capped by the NFL Kickoff Concert and Back to Football Flag Ceremony that will include musical performances by No Doubt and Mariah Carey in Rockefeller Plaza.
Herrod will make the trek to New York from Tampa, where he has lived for the past two years. Herrod moved there from Indianapolis after a career that involved 153 games, 1,337 tackles, 15 sacks and five interceptions. Though he lives elsewhere, Herrod still visits the area regularly. Three of his six children – Jeff, Jr. (23), Marcelle (17) and Marcellus (11) – live in Indianapolis.
Just as he has children spending some key years of their lives in Indianapolis, Herrod spent some formative ones here as well. He was drafted by a team coming off an AFC East title and that was stocked with some veteran talent.
Prominent starters for the club defensively that year were Barry Krauss, Donnell Thompson, Jon Hand, Joe Klecko, Duane Bickett, Eugene Daniel, Freddie Robinson and Mike Prior. The offense was headlined by Eric Dickerson, who would win the NFL rushing crown with 1,659 yards, Chris Hinton, Ray Donaldson, Bill Brooks and Clarence Verdin. After a rough 1-5 start, the team sped to a 9-7 finish but just missed the playoffs.
Herrod did not start that year but he did afterwards, and he went on to total more than 100 tackles in each of the eight next consecutive seasons, topping the team seven times and never failing to amass fewer than 130 stops in any of those years.
After an 8-8 mark in 1989 and a 7-9 record in 1990, the team dipped in 1991 and 1993 before making a rebound from 1994-96, Herrod's most memorable years with the team. He spent the 1997 season in Philadelphia before playing his last year (1998) in his NFL home.
The memories are almost too many to count. Some are very vivid for a hard-nosed player with a reminiscent side, and they mean the world to Herrod.
"I still have so many friendships. I still watch the team regularly," said Herrod. "I remember the past years, and there were some good ones and bad ones. The 1991 season (1-15), I was the team MVP. Even though it was a bad year, it was a good year. We had guys that fought. We didn't quit.
"We did have some good years and made a great run at the Super Bowl in 1995 with Jim Harbaugh, the Goose (Tony Siragusa), Ray Buchanan, Eugene Daniel, Tony Bennett and Marshall Faulk. It was great to be a Colt in Indianapolis. Those were the up times (1994-96), and I was fortunate to come back and finish my career there in 1998.
"I'm very proud of my career. For all the nicks, aches and pains I experienced physically, I always look on the bright side for the sport that I got to play. When people think of me, I want them to think I was a warrior who always fought. I value my relationship with the Colts."
Former Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy stays entwined with the club, though he has not been associated with it since 2008. He once commented, 'Once a Colt, always a Colt.' It is a feeling shared by Herrod.
"I still feel a part of the organization. I like to think of it that way," said Herrod. "Believe it or not, I struggle when football isn't on. I watch the NFL Network and all the coverage, and I like when the games are replayed. I'm like a lot of fans who want to see their sport. I like the brotherhood of the game. When I talk to Eric Dickerson and Harvey Armstrong it brings back great memories. It's a special bond."
Herrod has seen Lucas Oil Stadium with the club in action. It does not take him long to think of wonderful years past.
"It's crazy. I think back to the Hoosier Dome and it was like playing on concrete (laughs). I see the new stadium now, and it's like night and day. Things are much better in terms of the playing conditions. It's beautiful and a great place for football," said Herrod. "The stadium is good for the city and the fans. When I go there, I still look back to 1988 when I was drafted and all the special moments.
"Football still has a hold on me. I still dream about it, things like being late for meetings and I will hear it from the coaches. I still remember the close-knit feeling of the locker room. It's something I cherish all the time, despite the (injuries). I have old tapes that I watch with my kids at times. It's a great trip down memory lane, and I still get chills. Sometimes I pop in the tape of the game in 1996 against Baltimore when I returned an interception 68 yards for a touchdown. It's great that my kids can see their dad could motor at one time."
Though the cheering has stopped for him and the rigors of life are a part of his daily routine, Herrod appreciates the fans who supported him then and the Colts teams since.
"First and foremost, I would like to thank the fans. They've always been great," said Herrod. "I want them to stick behind the club, and I know they will. There have been changes, but with Andrew Luck and some others it should be good. There are great fans of teams around the league – Packers fans, Cowboys fans – who always support their team. I know the Colts fans have always been there, too. I know sometimes it (the team's record) always hasn't been great like in the early 1990s, but I know we have a strong fan base that stays behind its players. Jim Irsay has been around a long time, and he has made a lot of moves. Everything is going to work out.
"It was an honor most of all to be drafted by the Colts. To this day, I remember that feeling. It was the start of a career that I still look back on with fondness, to be in a new city with great fans. I was able to play with pros like Eric Dickerson, Jim Harbaugh, Marshall Faulk and Ray Buchanan in front of some very special fans."