I recently was flipping through a stack of programs, yearbooks and magazines my father-in-law gave me, all mostly centered around Pittsburgh sports, reflecting his fandom. While leafing through an issue of Pro! (“The Official Magazine of the National Football League”) that served as the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 1973-74 yearbook, I was surprised to see a baseball next to a football. My first thought was that it was an ad.
But then I read the text and turned the page to find a feature on Hank Aaron‘s interest in football. As the headline and subheadline point out, Aaron was closing in on Babe Ruth‘s 714 home runs, and with this issue serving as the program for the 1973 NFL Hall of Fame class (Raymond Berry, Jim Parker and Joe Schmidt), it would be less than a year before Aaron slugged No. 715.
You can read the full article at the link above, but here are some of the parts that stood out to me nearly 50 years later.
Would this be a recruiting violation today?
“I see between 13 and 15 high school games a year,” Aaron is quoted as saying. “On the college level, I am a University of Georgia fan and I have worked with Vince Dooley and his coaching staff in recruiting. I have been very involved in recruiting at Georgia for the past hree or four years.”
I’m a college football fan, but considering that schools have paid staff dedicated to avoiding NCAA violations, I’m not going to pretend I can tell the difference.
He was a big fan of Jim Brown.
“I’m not sure there is a sports record that would compare to the Babe Ruth home run record,” he said, “but some of Jim Brown’s rushing records are going to be around in the NFL record books for a long time. He’s the only man ever to gain more than 10,000 yards rushing (12,312) and nobody else is close to him. And he’s gained 100 yards in a game twice as many times (58) as anybody else, including Jim Taylor. Brown’s rushing records are just incredible.”
Brown is now 11th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, but every player who passed him debuted in 1975 or later. Still, Aaron saw that possibility around the corner:
“But somebody may come along some day and break Jim Brown’s records,” he said. “There may be another Jimmy brown some day because of the way pro football changes. In one era, the emphasis is on passing, in another it’s on the running game and in another era it’s a combination of running, passing and field goal kicking.”
He saw the potential for another “untouchable” record to fall.
“Mark Spitz’ seven gold medals and seven world record in the Olympics was exciting to me and to everybody else and it is a great accomplishment,” Aaron said, “but I think that with kids getting stronger and faster every year and especially from one Olympics to the next, that somebody could come along with enough strength and train himself to a peak for that one week and really challenge the Spitz record. That’s something that a great swimmer could do.”
So, yeah …
He whiffed on the home run record, though.
“I’m not sure that baseball will ever again have anyone who will approach Ruth’s home run record or mine if I pass Ruth,” he said. “It’s not that it can’t be done again. It’s just that nobody can do it in eight to 10 years and 99 per cent of the kids who come into baseball today don’t want to hang around the game long enough to reach a record like that. …
“It could be that Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron will be the only names with 600 or more home runs in the history of the game.”
And in another football tie-in, Aaron and the man who would break his record, Barry Bonds, were featured together in a 2014 Super Bowl commercial.
He became a Packers fan.
When the Braves were in Milwaukee at the start of Aaron’s career, he and his teammates would watch the Packers when they’d play at County Stadium. “Those Packer teams didn’t do well, and there were no problems getting tickets,” he said. “We always sat in the same seats and propped our legs up on the seats in front of us to get comfortable. There was always plenty of room.”
Aaron thought legendary Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi would’ve made a good baseball commissioner — and somebody asked Lombardi if he was interested. “I really believe that he would have made a fine baseball commissioner,” Aaron said. “After he resigned as head coach of the Packers, I am sure he was considered for the job of baseball commissioner. A close friend of Lombardi’s told me that Vince had been asked by some people in baseball if he would be interested in the job. I don’t know whether it ever got beyond that point or not.”
Aaron actually referenced that ’67 playoff game when talking about Lombardi’s coaching ability: “In 1967, the Packers lost a tough game to the Los Angeles Rams when one of the Rams blocked one of Donny Anderson’s punts in a game in L.A. But the Rams had to play the Packers again in Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs two weeks later, and before the game Vince said, ‘We’re going to carry the game right to the Rams. We’re going to run right at them.’ The Packers did just that. And nobody was running at that great Rams line in those days.”
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There’s no direct Hank Aaron connection to today’s Super Bowl. The Packers just missed getting there and the Falcons, um, played football this season? But in 2019, the last time the game was in Atlanta and on CBS, the network included Aaron in its coverage.
Perhaps he and Lombardi are settling in to watch this year’s game together.