BLAST FROM THE PAST: Mile High achievements: Ron Meyer, Dennis Hale were drafted by NFL teams
WORTHINGTON -- While researching for information about Wilmont's amateur baseball playoff run in the summer of 1969 for my last "blast from the past," I came across this story in the Friday, August 22, 1969, edition of the Daily Globe:...
WORTHINGTON -- While researching for information about Wilmont's amateur baseball playoff run in the summer of 1969 for my last "blast from the past," I came across this story in the Friday, August 22, 1969, edition of the Daily Globe:
"Jackson's Dennis Hale is traded to Washington Redskins by the Saints."
That was the headline to a brief story about Worthington High School's long-time head football coach when he was going through training camp as a prospective National Football League rookie 40 years ago this summer.
Here's the story:
"NEW ORLEANS, La. (Special) -- The New Orleans Saints professional football team Thursday traded rookie defensive back Dennis Hale to the Washington Redskins for veteran linebacker Mike Morgan.
"Hale, former Jackson, Minnesota high school and University of Minnesota star, was the Saints' fourth-round draft choice. Morgan, in his sixth year, was obtained from Philadelphia last season.
"The 6-2, 196-lb. Hale will now join the Redskins and their new coach, Vince Lombardi."
Yes, after a sparkling career as a three-year starter at defensive back for the Gophers, Hale had a brief preseason NFL career.
Hale suited up for two pre-season games for the Saints, who held their training camp in the San Diego area. After not playing in the opener against the Chargers, Hale played most of the game -- as a defensive back -- against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium.
"I played most of that game," recalls Hale. "But I must not have played well enough, because they traded me after that."
Joining the Redskins, coached by former Green Bay Packer coaching legend Vince Lombardi, was an experience that Hale remembers well.
"The Redskins were a classy organization and much of that had to do with Lombardi and how he ran things," says Hale, who had a personal conversation with the legend -- explaining to him his situation with the other draft, the one known as "Uncle Sam."
"I was going to be drafted by the military," explained Hale. "I either had to get into a National Guard unit or go back to college. That whole situation played a part in my future role with the Redskins."
Hale continued practicing with the team and was on the Washington sideline at pre-season games against Detroit in Tampa and against Atlanta in Atlanta.
"I did not play in either of those games," Hale recalled. "I was put on the 'taxi' squad, which meant I could practice, but not dress for the games -- I would soon be headed for 'boot camp.'"
Hale returned home to Minnesota, went back to the U of M, coached freshman football and joined the National Guard.
He did return briefly to the Redskins' training camp in Carlisle, Pa., in July of 1970 -- after going through the earlier 'mini-camp.' But his motivation had declined and Hale told his position coach that he was not "interested in playing any more."
"He appreciated my honesty and they paid for my ticket home," Hale said about his last pro football experience.
While Hale had the opportunity to travel to several NFL stadiums -- including playing most of a game at Mile High -- he never dressed or played in a regular season NFL game.
Stellar SDSU career leads Meyer to Chicago, then to Pittsburgh
Windom's Ron Meyer -- who, like Hale, was an exceptional all-around high school athlete -- also had a brief professional football career.
Meyer's career was not much longer than Hale's -- and his, too, was hindered by the looming military draft -- but Ron did get to play in four NFL regular-season games with the Pittsburgh Steelers, even getting to start one game.
"One guy got hurt and the other guy came down sick the day of the game," offered Meyer, who was Pittsburgh's third-string quarterback in 1966. "By halftime, the coaches must have decided that the sick guy was feeling better."
After a stellar three-year career as an all-conference and honorable mention Little All-American quarterback at South Dakota State University (SDSU) in Brookings, S.D., Meyer was a seventh-round draft choice (107th overall) by the Chicago Bears, owned by George "Papa Bear" Halas.
"That was pretty exciting," remembered Meyer about getting drafted. "Both Ed Maras (Meyer's college roommate and go-to receiver) and I were hoping to get picked and we did. I signed my contract that day, which made me ineligible for baseball the next spring."
Meyer, who starred in four sports at Wells High School, played against Maras, from Windom -- when both were seniors -- in the 1962 Region 2 basketball championship game at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
"The game was close all the way," Meyer remembers. "I know that I guarded Ed most of the night, and I am sure that he guarded me, too."
Wells won the game by five points and went on to finish third at the state tournament, where Meyer helped the Wildcats defeat Danube -- led by future Minnesota Gopher and Atlanta Falcon linebacker Bob Bruggers -- in the third-place game.
"I think Bruggers had 32 points at halftime and somehow we held him to four in the second half," recalled Meyer about that game. "Playing in the state tournament was a big thrill for me, as basketball was probably my favorite sport in high school."
A pitcher and first baseman on Wells' baseball team, Meyer also pole vaulted on the side -- and was good enough to win the region and place fourth in the state as a senior in '62, clearing the bar at 11 feet, 10 inches -- setting a new regional record in the event.
"I liked pole vaulting and I practiced in my back yard," Meyer said. "My technique was not always the best, but I lumbered down the runway and pulled myself up and over the bar, somehow."
The gifted athlete received a football scholarship to SDSU and earned six letters for the Jackrabbits --three in football, two in baseball and one in basketball.
In those days, freshmen were not eligible to play on the varsity, but Meyer became the starting quarterback early in his sophomore season and had passing yardage totals of 1,091, 1,385 and 1,132 during his three seasons as the Jackrabbit QB, leading SDSU to a conference championship as a sophomore in 1963.
First touchdown pass came at Nebraska
Playing at Nebraska early in that season, the Jackrabbits were soundly defeated, 58-7 (their only loss in a 9-1 campaign), but Meyer tossed his first college touchdown pass -- a long bomb to Maras -- after replacing the starting quarterback, who was injured.
"The starter got hurt and I got my chance," Meyer said. "I remember throwing my first touchdown pass in that game. It was kind of a trick play and Ed was wide open -- and if you hit him, he didn't drop them."
A two-way starter on the football team (tight end and outside linebacker), Maras -- who later signed with the Baltimore Orioles and pitched in the minor leagues for several years -- was drafted in the 20th round by the Green Bay Packers, but chose baseball over football.
Meyer, however, reported to the Bears training camp and went to work in an attempt to launch a professional football career.
"I signed a contract for $13,000 and received an $8,000 signing bonus," Meyer recalled. "The Bears had Gale Sayers, Brian Piccolo and Dick Butkus. Rudy Bukich and Bill Wade were the top two quarterbacks.
"I was fourth-string and we were hamburger or cannon fodder for the regulars," he said. "When you lined up against Butkus, you did not want to look straight ahead -- you looked right or left -- the guy was intimidating."
But at the end of the pre-season, Meyer was put on waivers and was picked up by the Steelers.
"I had to call Nancy (Myers from Elkton, S.D.) -- the future Mrs. Ron Meyer -- and tell her that I was going 800 miles farther east," remembered Ron about the news. "But I packed up and went to Pittsburgh."
With the Steelers, Meyer was on the "taxi" squad most of the season, but was activated when Bill Nelsen was injured.
Meyer (6-4, 205) played briefly in a home game against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 20 and then, when Ron Smith came down with the flu, the next week the future Windom High School football coach was named the starter for the Week 11 game at St. Louis on Nov. 27, 1966.
"I started and played the whole first half," remembers Meyer. "I threw an interception just before halftime. We stopped them, but I did not play in the second half; Smith took my place.'
Meyer played briefly in games against the New York Giants in Yankee Stadium and against the Falcons at Atlanta, giving him a total of four games played in (one started) and passing statistics of 7-for-19, for 59 yards and one interception.
Meyer, like Hale, joined the National Guard during the offseason and ended up missing two weeks of the Steelers' training camp for active army duty.
He was cut at the end of the preseason and had a chance to play in the Canadian Football League (CFL) but chose to return to SDSU and finish up his teaching degree.
Meyer landed a teaching-coaching job at Windom in the fall of 1968 and coached the Eagles for 20 years, winning Southwest Conference championships in 1971 and 1975.
Ron, who was an assistant baseball coach for 14 seasons and was the head football coach through 1987, retired from teaching in 2001 and still lives in Windom with his wife Nancy.
But Meyer, like Hale, had NFL stints with two different teams before becoming a long-time high school football coach in the Southwest Conference.