Rockdale,TX Class of 1965
Lee Roy was a competitor until the very end
"You Gotta Play Hurt" by Bill Martin
Some time around January or February of 1976, the Rockdale Tiger basketball team was cruising along pretty well there, with a 25+ game winning streak and atop the state rankings.
About that time, a group of local businessmen who thought they were pretty hot stuff decided to get together and take on the high school team who knew they were pretty hot stuff.
The outlaw hoopers begged Coach Gerald Adams to give them a shot at his talented team. He at first refused, then finally relented, if for nothing else, to get them to leave him alone.
Coach Adams told the ballers to be at the gym on this particular night and he would allow his team to take them on after practice.
One of the basketeers was Lee Roy Caffey and that’s right, he covered me.
Why he chose me I’ll never know. Ray Locklin was standing right there and would have been more appropriate at a muscular 6-3, 225.
I guess he chose me just because I was the tallest guy out there.
There was only one problem.
Mr. Caffey was 6-4, 240. I was 6-4, 140.
Actually I was tipping the scales at about 175 with all my practice clothes and Chuck Taylor’s on and dripping in sweat.
As we began the game and started moving up and down the court, I could tell Mr. Caffey was getting frustrated for some reason.
I think it had to do with the fact that I rarely ventured into the paint and that’s where he wanted me to be because that’s where he could do the most damage.
Whenever I did try to make a move, he just poked his finger into my birdcage chest and pushed me around like I was a sheet of notebook paper.
After several trips up and down the floor and during a stoppage of play, Mr. Caffey turned to me with furrowed brow and quizzical look and asked, “How much do you weigh?”
When I informed him of my weight, or lack thereof, he still seem puzzled. Almost disappointed.
The thing is, he wanted to mix it up and anyone who knew me knew that I was MIA when it came to crashing the boards or battling for a rebound.
He was a competitor.
We beat the outlaws pretty soundly that night, but I will never forget Lee Roy’s desire to win.
Lee Roy Caffey was actually born in Rockdale despite the fact that he did not attend school here, he was certainly an adopted son who was a presence in this town and was an easy choice for this year’s feature story in Volume III of our Gridiron publication.
His kids graduated from Rockdale High School. His daughter Lee Ann, married one of my good friends, Wade L. Smith.
Caffey’s story is the classic small town boy done good. While his size and speed was certainly an aberration in Class B football at Thorndale High School, he proved he could play football at its highest levels, no matter where you were from.
And as a testament of the impact that he made as a Green Bay Packer and on Green Bay fans, he is still included on their all-time teams despite the fact that he played there just six seasons and that was over 40 years ago.
He forever stands beside names like Starr, Kramer, Thurston, Nitschke.
He fought the cancer-that ultimately took him much too soon at age 53-as hard as he fought off NFL linemen to get to a ball carrier.
“The cancer won’t beat me,” he said. “The clock will just run out.”
It was a delight visiting with Lee Roy’s wife Dana, who still lives in Rockdale.
She was entertaining, informative and her memory was incredible. Dana’s participation in the story gives readers an insight to pro football and her husband that not many have been privy to.
From: The Rockdale Reporter Rockdale, TX
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Supplement: Gridiron 2008
Publisher: Ken Esten Cooke
Editor: Mike Brown
Sports Editor: Bill Martin
Copies of this article are available from http://www.rockdalereporter.com
Lee Roy Caffey
Small Town Boy Done Good
Blessed with the body of a lineman, but the speed of a running back, Lee Roy Caffey was a unique athlete.
His special abilities took him all the way from Thorndale to the NFL with a pit stop in College Station for a dose of big-time college football.
His life was cut short by cancer at the age of 53 after a four-year battle and he was a popular member of the Rockdale community for over 20 years after his retirement from pro football.
His success story is a simple one: small town boy done good.
Caffey’s earliest success came at the age of 10 when as a member of a Texas pee-wee football team, he played against a team from Oklahoma in the Milk Bowl championship in Marlin.
The Texas team slaughtered Oklahoma 33-0, but his biggest thrill was meeting the world’s greatest athlete, Jim Thorpe, who was present at the game.
“He was an idol... a champion,” Caffey said at the time. “I’ll never forget meeting him.”
Despite playing for a Class B high school, Caffey—who was actually born in Rockdale in his grandmother’s house—
was heavily recruited out of Thorndale where he was a stellar athlete who thrived in football, basketball and track.
He earned all-state honors in basketball his senior year and also captured the state championship in the high jump.
His leap of 6-foot-3 at the 1959 Rockdale Relays was a record for almost 20 years.
“He was really recruited for his basketball skills,” says wife Dana, who still resides in Rockdale and was married to Lee Roy for 33 years. “He broke his collar bone his senior year and only played in three football games.”
Texas A&M Coach Shelby Metcalf wanted Caffey for his basketball team, but as much as he loved basketball, he wanted to play football.
A&M won only eight games in his three years on the varsity under Jim Meyers who had the misfortune of replacing the legendary Bear Bryant.
The Texas A&M defense was stout, however. In the 30 games Caffey participated in, the Aggies had 11 games when they allowed just seven points or less and averaged giving up just 12 points in that three-year span.
Problem was, the offense was stagnant and couldn’t score. In 1960 they produced just 73 points. In 1962, only 64. The offense averaged just 10 points a game in his three years there.
Of course, this was the age of the “iron man” single platoon, so Caffey played both ways.
In 1961, Caffey led the Aggies in rushing with 371 yards. Probably led them in tackling as well, but they didn’t keep such records back then.
After the Aggies fired Meyers and replaced him with Hank Foldberg before Caffey’s senior year, he was lucky to get to play on either side of the ball.
Foldberg was starting over and he had no use for the seniors that were going to be gone in a year.
A&M faced old rival Texas in the final game of Caffey’s senior season and Aggie linebacker coach Craig Randall was determined to see that Caffey saw plenty of action in his last game.
Without Foldberg’s knowledge, Randall was true to his word and Caffey responded with perhaps his best collegiate game.
After the Texas game, the phone started ringing off the hook at the Caffey household.
It was the NFL calling.
Despite his team’s poor performance, the pros took notice of him and Philadelphia snatched him up in the seventh round of the 1963 draft. He was also selected in the fourth round as a fullback by the Houston Oilers in the fledgling American Football League.
Caffey would have his brush with the AFL on down the road.
“Playing in the NFL went way beyond what he had thought of,” Dana Caffey said. “He was real excited about it."
More importantly, during his sophomore year, Caffey married his childhood sweetheart from Thorndale, Dana Towery, and they were together for 33 years and had three kids.
“At A&M you got married at Christmas because that’s all the time you had off,” Dana says. “So during the two-week Christmas break we got married at the Methodist Church in Thorndale.”
In his first year in pro football, he performed well enough to be named to the all-rookie team.
After one year with the Eagles, Caffey became a part of one of the most famous trades in NFL history.
Veteran Packer center Jim Ringo was one of the first professional players to hire an agent, so when he introduced his agent to Vince Lombardi at contract time, Lombardi was not amused, and excused himself from the room.
Lombardi returned a few minutes later and informed “Mr. Ringo and Mr.Agent” that they needed to continue their negotiating with Philadelphia because that’s where Ringo had just been traded.
Lombardi called Caffey himself and informed him, “You’re gonna be my linebacker.”
“As soon as he hung up the phone with Coach Lombardi, we had to look on the map and see where Green Bay was,” Dana remembers.
After the season, Caffey had gone back to A&M to finish off his final six hours and earn his business degree.
It was a serendipitous circumstance for Caffey, who found himself in the heart of the football world with the Packers, who were about to embark on a legendary journey.
Green Bay Days
The Caffeys loved Philadelphia, but Green Bay was a little closer to Thorndale in atmosphere and they felt right at home there, despite the freezing cold.
“People were so nice, they loved the team,” Dana said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Dana Caffey made acquaintenances then that are still friends to this day, 45 years later.
Their oldest child, Lee Ann, learned the alphabet in school by reciting the Green Bay roster.
“Everybody in town knew everything there is to know about football,” said Dana. “It wasn’t a guy thing, it was a family thing.”
Caffey started at right linebacker alongside middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, one of the meanest men to ever play the game and a Hall of Fame selection.
Years later, he would play alongside undoubtably the meanest man to ever step on a football field, Dick Butkus, when Lee Roy was traded to Chicago.
In June, the Packer linebacking corp of Nitschke, Caffey and Dave Robinson was voted the sixth best linebacking corps in the history of the NFL by the NFL network.
At Green Bay, Caffey earned the reputation as the fastest linebacker in the league.
During his six seasons there, Caffey became entrenched in the NFL’s first dynasty and he also witnessed the birth of the world’s greatest sporting event, up close and personal.
After grabbing the NFL title in 1965, the Packers participated in the inaugural Super Bowl in 1966 and whomped the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Los Angeles.
They defended their world champion status by dumping the Oakland Raiders 33-14 and proving the NFL was far superior to the weak little sister AFL.
Dana Caffey says that to the coaches and players, the first game—which was called “The World Championship Game” not the Super Bowl—was just another game and nothing special.
“It really wasn’t,” she said. “We had no idea and never dreamed what it would become. It was just another game, with a little more pressure. They knew they had to win it though.
“We never thought, ‘We are playing in the first Super Bowl.’”
The game wasn’t even sold out and was broadcast on two different networks and there was very little publicity about the game.
“There were seats everywhere,” Dana said. “Within our league, it was a big deal. Not with the public though.”
Dana Caffey says that part of the anticlimactic nature of the first Super Bowl is that Green Bay had just come off playing in one of the NFL’s iconic games, “The Ice Bowl,” in which they defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in frigid 20-below temperatures at Lambeau Field on a Bart Starr quarterback sneak in the closing seconds.
“The Ice Bowl was so consuming—that was the big game to us,” Dana said. “Everybody was tired. They were sick. They had the flu. They still had frostbite.”
“It’s tough to get up again when you’ve been on the stick for two big games,” Caffey told Sports Illustrated. “I know we did not play as well as we have. We made mistakes we don’t make in most games. But I guess it turned out all right, didn’t it?”
The second Super Bowl was just an after thought, but because it was supposed to be Lombardi’s last game, that made it special for the Packers and motivated them to win again.
While the name Lombardi conjures up the epitome of strict discipline and an in-your-face coaching style and is synonymous with winning, Dana Caffey had the opportunity to see the other side of this driven man.
“He was always very good to Lee Roy, he liked him,” she says. “He was also very good to the wives. Of course, we were all a little afraid of him.”
In his seminal sports book Instant Replay, Packer guard Jerry Kramer points out that Lombardi was hardest on the players he liked the best. He was hard on Caffey.
“Lombardi thinks of himself as the patriarch of a large family and he loves all his children and he worries about all of them,” Kramer said, “but he demands more of his gifted children.
“Lee Roy Caffey, a tough linebacker from Texas, is one of the gifted children and Coach Lombardi is always on Lee Roy, chewing him, harassing him, cussing him.”
“Look at yourself, Caffey, look at yourself, that stinks,” Lombardi would shout at Caffey. “Lee Roy, you may think that I criticize you too much, a little unduly at times, but you have the size, the strength, the speed, the mobility, everything in the world necessary to be a great football player, except one thing–you’re too damn lazy!”
Lombardi’s chiding worked. Caffey earned the highest individual honors by being named to the NFL all-pro team in 1965 and 1966. No one was happier for Caffey than Lombardi.
Dana remembers the annual Thanksgiving day dinner that Lombardi would throw for the players and their families.
“He would have baby sitters there to help out. He was very thoughtful to the families.
“A lot of people might be surprised by that, but Packer people would not. He was good to everybody.”
And what about his aggressive style of coaching?
“He yelled at everybody,” Dana said. “I remember all the good things about him... I remember the yelling too though.”
She keeps a picture of Lombardi on a wall in her office at home.
Lombardi—who died of cancer in 1970—retired at the end of the 1967 season and Caffey became disenchanted with the Packers and asked to be traded.
He was hoping to be sent south to Dallas. He was sent south alright—to Chicago, where he played alongside the player who many people consider the best linebacker to step on a football field anywhere, Dick Butkus.
The next season, Caffey was indeed shipped off to Dallas.
“We were thrilled to death,” Dana said. “But, when we got there, we found out he wasn’t going to get to play.”
“I just picked up splinters and got rusty,” he would say.
Despite earning his third Super Bowl ring after Dallas captured the 1972 championship, Caffey considered retiring after his disappointing stint with the Cowboys, but he went to San Diego where his former Packer linebacker coach Carl Bankston and former Packer teammate and friend Forrest Gregg were coaching.
“He absolutely loved it out there,” Dana said. “He said he could have played there for another 20 years because it’s not cold and nothing hurts.”
Life After Lombardi
While Caffey felt like he could still play—he had been injury free in his career—he started thinking about his future and his growing family, which included Lee Ann, who was 11 at the time, Jennifer, 7 and son Bradley, 2.
Unlike today’s spoiled professional athletes, NFL players back then were making just an average of $20,000 a year and most had to find jobs in the off-season.
He told Dana, “We’ve got to get settled.”
“Football was great to me,” he told the Reporter in 1973. “I had a good career and a lot of thrills.”
The Caffeys settled in Rockdale where he became partners in the Miller Chevrolet-Buick automobile dealership, which became Miller-Caffey Chevrolet.
He was also involved in a real estate agency in town and developed both residential and commercial properties.
He had already accumulated a lot of land in the Thorndale-Salty area over the years.
“It’s really quite a thrill to settle down back in home country,” he said. “There are a lot of new kinds of challenges now.”
Caffey dealt with life after football by ignoring it.
“The first couple of years, he just didn’t watch it,” Dana said. “He’d go fishing or go hunting on Sundays. The way he handled it was he didn’t go to games.”
The Caffeys finally attended a Houston Oiler game after being invited by good friend Gregg who was now the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals who were in town.
He was shocked by what he saw.
“I can’t even imagine hitting someone like we used to or even being hit,” he told Dana. “I’d forgotten that part.”
Despite the fact that Caffey has been gone for 14 years and played for the Packers 40 years ago, Dana Caffey is still very much a part of the Packer family.
“We all stayed very good friends,” she says. “I talked to Forrest and Barbara (Gregg) just yesterday.”
Dana makes a yearly trip back to Green Bay for the alumni game and children Brad and Jennifer have gone with her as well.
“When I go up there, they are so good to me,” she said. “They make sure I am included in everything.”
Dana will attend Green Bay’s game with Dallas on Sunday Night Football on Sept. 21.
Caffey made a imprint on the game wherever he played.
He is included in the Texas A&M Hall of Fame, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame and was selected to the A&M All-Decade team (1960s) and the 75th Anniversary All-Time Packer team.
Not too bad for the boy from Thorndale who just wanted to play basketball.
If you're looking for a great adult gag gift, check out the
Green Bay Packers
from the Goofy Gift Shop
Lee Roy Caffey
are also available for all NFL teams
They will also custom make one in your colors and/or specs
They also have many goofy and fun gifts.
The Goofy Gift Shop
Articles and pictures are from the
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Supplement: Gridiron 2008
Lee Roy Caffey File
Born: June 3, 1941
Died: January 18, 1994
Family: Wife of 33 years: Dana
Daughters: Lee Ann & Jennifer
Graduated from Thorndale in 1959
A gifted allaround athlete, he won State in the High Jump in 1959. He was also named AllState in Basketball
College: The 6foot4, 240 pound Caffey attended Texas A&M where he played both fullback and linebacker and was AllSouthwest Conference
Professional: Played 10 seasons in the NFL, six with the legendary Green Bay Packers. Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1963 and made the AllRookie team. Was named AllPro in 1965 and 1966. Won three Super Bowl rings two with Green Bay, one with Dallas. Also played with Chicago and San Diego.
Honors: Member of the Texas A&M and Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. Named to the 1960s AllDecade Aggies Team and the 75th anniversary alltime Packers team