Former Americus three-sport star and Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, left, talks to John House during his visit to Albany on Thursday to serve as the guest speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet at the First Baptist Church of Albany. Reeves touched on a number of topics during an interview with The Herald, including the Saints’ bounty program, helping Georgia State launch its football team and his induction into the Americus-Sumter County Athletic Hall of Fame recently. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Former Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves came home Thursday.
A lifelong Christian, Reeves, a former Americus baseball, football and basketball star, was in Albany to share his life and the message of Jesus Christ as the speaker at the Albany Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes annual banquet at the First Baptist Church of Albany.
Reeves likes to joke that he had a drug problem when he was a kid.
“I had a mom and dad who loved me and cared about me and they took me to Sunday school and church. I tell people I had a drug problem when I was growing up. My mom and dad ‘drug’ me to Sunday school. They ‘drug’ me to church,’’ Reeves joked before the dinner. “A lot of kids don’t have that luxury, and the FCA is a vehicle we can use to let them hear the word for the first time, and let them know God does love them and cares for them, and how they should handle their lives. FCA is a great vehicle.’’
Reeves, who has been to the Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach and head coach more than anyone in the history of the NFL, has been involved with the FCA for almost half of a century. He started when he was a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 1965. A guy named Tom Landry pointed him toward the FCA, and Reeves, who is 68 now, is still delivering a message he thinks is as important as any.
“The FCA is the only thing where you can mention God in school,’’ Reeves said. “It’s the only organization. They can have their membership and have their Bible study with the kids. It’s getting where you can’t mention God’s name anywhere any more. So FCA is one of the few where you can.’’
Reeves is retired from football these days and spends a great deal of time traveling and speaking at fund-raisers and dinners for the FCA.
“I (speak at functions) more for the FCA than anything else,’’ he said. “I ought to run for office in Tennessee. I think I’ve been up there about 10, 12 times this year already (on behalf of the FCA).’’
He left his mark on the game as a player (South Carolina from 1962-64 and Dallas Cowboys from 1965-72, winning one Super Bowl) and a coach (Cowboys, Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Falcons) and said Thursday he is appalled by the recent revelation that New Orleans coach Sean Payton and the Saints had an illegal bounty program in place.
“It’s awful,’’ said Reeves with conviction and disbelief that the game he loves has come to this. “Football is physical enough without any kind of extra incentive to get somebody to be more physical and hurt somebody. The game is not played that way. The game is physical. You are physical, but you don’t do it to hurt somebody. I could never coach something that would try to injure somebody. You are going to have injuries, you bet, but having played the game myself, I could never coach anything to try to hurt somebody.’’
Reeves also said it was unbelievable that Payton would have such a program, and after hearing tape of Payton’s former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams — the architect of the program who has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL, while Payton was suspended one year — talking to his players about the bounty program before games, he said it just showed that Payton allowing that to happen meant the Saints head coach had no idea about what it takes to play in the NFL.
“That’s terrible,’’ he said. “Listening to what (Williams) was saying the night before a game … I’ve never heard anything like that. To me, that’s somebody who has never played professional football.
“Back in the old days, you never had the bounties. If someone would have done something like that, you would have had retaliation. Somebody is going to come after you. You realized that everybody makes a living the same way. Why are you going to try to hurt somebody who is trying to make a living doing the same thing you’re doing? It doesn’t make any sense.’’
Reeves said there was a time when some teams had a rewards program for making “good” plays.
“Until the league made it illegal, (teams) used to have what we called a rewards program for making good play, making an interception, making tackles inside the 20, making fumbles — all kinds of things,’’ Reeves said. “But never did we have an incentive that would even come close to saying you are going to try to hurt somebody and pay you for it.
“The league did away with it right before I came to the Falcons (in 1997). The league said it was an unfair advantage because every team didn’t do it. You can still do it, but it has to be in the player’s contract.’’
Reeves, the only coach to ever take the Falcons to a Super Bowl, may be out of football, but he still follows the Falcons.
“No, I don’t have anything to do with the Falcons other than just pull for them,’’ said Reeves, who added with a smile that he knew what the Falcons needed to do to get over their recent playoff woes in the last few seasons. “They need to win a couple of playoff games. They’ve done an outstanding job. They’ve had three winning seasons in a row, which had never been done. Matt Ryan is a heck of a quarterback. They just have to get a little bit better defensively.”
Reeves said he liked the Falcons’ recent hiring of Mike Nolan as the team’s defensive coordinator after the offseason departure of Mike Mularkey, who is now the head coach of the Jaguars.
“I hired Mike and got him started in pro football in Denver. Mike has been a great coach in the league, and he’ll do a good job for them defensively,” Reeves said. “They’ve been close. They’re in a tough league, in a tough division. There’s a lot of good teams out there now. They’ve got a window of opportunity with that quarterback. You’ve got to have that position. And he’s really special, and he makes everybody else around him better. They’ve got to improve their offensive line. I don’t care who you are, if you keep getting hit, you’re not very good.’’
Reeves said he cheers for the Falcons but doesn’t go to games in person.
“I still have some connections there and pull for them,’’ Reeves said. “I live in Atlanta. I don’t go to the games. It’s too good on television. I’ve got DirectTV and I can sit there and watch six to eight games at one time.’’
Reeves was also instrumental in helping start the football program at Georgia State, and he said Thursday that he follows that program closely as well.
“I helped them start the program. I was a consultant,’’ Reeves said of the Panthers, who announced Monday they were making a move to become a major Division I FBS program in 2013 after just three seasons. “I helped them raise money to start the program and helped them hire Bill Curry. They’re doing a good job.”
Reeves, who was a star quarterback at South Carolina, said he was happy to help when Georgia State came calling, and he is glad to see the program growing rapidly.
“They contacted me because I was out of football. They wanted to see if there was enough alumni behind it. The students were behind it, the president was behind it, so we went out and tried to see, money-wise, if there was enough there. They wanted to have that same experience other people have in the fall,’’ Reeves said. “You know, they have more CEOs and CFOs than Georgia and Georgia Tech combined, because it was a school that started as a night school and people who worked went there to get there degree at night. And all of a sudden those people who went there to get their degree at night started becoming CEOs and CFOs.
“They’re doing a great job, and Bill Curry was great for them. You know his wife, Caroline, told him, ‘You can go anywhere you want and coach, but I’m staying in Atlanta.’ So he wanted to stay married.’’
Reeves knows Southwest Georgia. He grew up in Americus, where he was a star in baseball, football and basketball for coach Jimmy Hightower — a man Reeves still says made a difference in his life.
“The three most important people in my life outside my parents were three coaches, my high school coach, Jimmy Hightower, my college coach at South Carolina, Marvin Bass, and, of course, (NFL Hall of Fame and former Cowboys) coach (Tom) Landry,’’ said Reeves, who won a state basketball title at Americus and was talented enough in baseball to have a chance to play professional baseball.
Reeves was also recently inducted as part of the first class of the Americus-Sumter County High School Athletic Hall of Fame, but he explained Thursday why he wasn’t there for the induction.
“I wasn’t there because they didn’t tell me about it,’’ he said. “They told me too late. I already had a thing right before it happened. I wasn’t there, but it’s a great honor. There have been an awfully lot of good athletes come out of Americus. I’m tickled to death to be put in it. I wish I had been there.’’
Reeves has been there for the FCA for 47 years and was there again Thursday night.
“FCA is awesome,’’ he said.