I remember my last conversation with Johnny Sample I was heading south to the memorial services for my coach and mentor CIAA basketball legend, Clarence ‘Bighouse’ Gaines. He said, “Man I am going to try to make it” but I didn’t look for him. Johnny was notorious for not showing up. I have heard all the stories but I don’t ever remember him giving me his word and not keeping it.
He was always there for my celebrity tennis tournaments, media panel discussions, award programs, radio and television talk shows, etc. Compared to today’s pro athlete, he was a Saint and a MAN among boys in the game called life.
Johnny comes to mind because the American Tennis Association (ATA) is celebrating its 100th Anniversary in Baltimore on July 29th through August 5th 2017 and former NFL QB Doug Williams recenty said in the Washington Post “I Am Not a Yes Man”. Johnny Sample’s tennis contribution in the inner-city is second to none and he was nobody’s ‘Yes Man’!
The ATA will induct four tennis notables into its hall of fame to include Richard Williams the man behind and in front of two of the greatest professional tennis players ever, his two daughters Serena and Venus.
I will be in Baltimore to talk with some of the folks who remember the great Johnny Sample and his contributions to the Black American tennis community. The interviews will be seen and heard on my You Tube Channel “The Legends of Inside Sports”!
I remember Johnny Sample as a member on the Board of Directors for my non-profit organization Kids In Trouble, Inc. for over 30 years. He was a frequent guest on my pioneering radio sports talk show “Inside Sports”.
Johnny and NBA Boston Celtic Legend Red Auerbach co-host the Inside Sports Celebrity Tennis Tournament in Washington, DC
NBA great the late Jim Bad News Barnes and Johnny take a break during a Inside Sports’ Celebrity tennis tournament in DC’s Anacostia Park.
I first saw Johnny Sample in Washington, DC in 1954. He was a member of the Maryland State football team and they were in town to play Howard University at the Cardozo High School football stadium.
I was amazed that he didn’t wear thigh and knee pads; his pants were skin tight. The shoulder pads were so small it didn’t look like he had any on. His level of play that day was like a MAN among boys.
It was here that I came away with the impression that Johnny Sample was indestructible. It would be years later before I would meet Johnny face to face. It was at a Baltimore Bullets’ (Wizards) basketball game at the Baltimore Civic Center.
He was a member of the Baltimore Colts football team. Johnny was standing around outside of the bar during halftime laughing and talking with anyone and everyone. I decided to go up and introduce myself, and we have been great friends ever since.
It was easy to like Johnny Sample; he had an outgoing personality and he made you feel like he had known you all of his life. There was nothing phony or pretentious about him. If you didn’t want to hear the truth, you didn’t want to be around Johnny Sample. He was a stand up brother and had your back if you were his friend.
Michael Cooper is one the greatest running backs to ever come out of the Philadelphia public school system. He was one of Johnny’s closest friends. He played at North East high school and Michigan State.
Michael remembers when he was invited to the Washington Redskin camp in 1964 for a try out by then Coach Bill McPeak.
It looked as though Michael was a sure bet to make the team until one day Coach McPeak decided it best he go on the Redskin taxi squad.
Johnny disagreed with the coach’s decision and let him know in no uncertain terms. He would run through a brick wall if you were his friend. Michael recalls his many acts of kindness for his friends. He says, “Johnny Sample was not a fly by night friend, if you needed him, he was there.”
When his friend and teammate the legendary Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb was mysteriously found dead in Baltimore, the NFL claimed he died of an overdose of drugs. Johnny knew for a fact ‘Big Daddy’ didn’t do drugs. He said, ‘Big Daddy was scared to death of needles.’
He sued the NFL for $100,000 to clear his friend’s name and won the battle. Johnny would lose the war NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle declared on him. He “Blackballed” Johnny from all NFL activities including his induction into their sacred Hall of Fame.
Coming out of Maryland State College, he was one the greatest running backs in the nation. In 1955, he was voted unanimously by The Pigskin Club of Washington, DC as its “Player of the Year” for the Central Inter-collegian Athletic Association (CIAA).
He was the first ever player from a Historical Black College selected to play in the College All-Star game in Chicago.
His NFL career would be controversial, but his athletic skills were never questioned. His mouth often got him into trouble, but his play on the field would often be his ticket out of the NFL doghouses.
During his 11-year NFL tenure he was one of the most feared defensive backs in pro football. Roy Jefferson a former teammate and All-Pro wide receiver says, “If you caught the football in his territory you were going to pay the price.”
Hall of Fame and All-Pro wide receiver Frank Gifford of the New York Giants was so fearful of him that he once saw Johnny on a New York street corner and ran to the other side against a red light to get away from him.
Johnny made “The Bump and Run” against NFL wide receivers a art form. He would hold some All-Pro receivers to no catches for an entire game.
The Baltimore Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and the New York Jets were all NFL homes for Johnny Sample.
He was the co-captain with QB Joe Namath of the New York Jets when Namath boldly predicted that the Jets would upset the Baltimore Colts and win Super Bowl III. He is the only player in pro football history to win three different championship rings, for the Baltimore Colts, the New York Jets and a NFL/AFL World Championship ring for Super Bowl III. Super Bowl III will go down in history as one the biggest upsets in professional football history.
In 1969 Johnny walked away from the game that he loved. He was much more than a great athlete he was a student of the game. Johnny could disrupt the flow of a game by calling out the offensive play as the opposing team came out to line up.
The QB would immediately have to call a timeout and many would cuss Johnny out as they made their way to the sideline. There were many players and coaches who thought he would have been a great NFL coach, but he had burned too many NFL bridges.
Immediately after retirement he went to work on his first book, “Confessions of a Dirty Football Player.” This book outlined the mercenary world of professional football. In an interview on my television sports talk show roundtable “Legends of Inside Sports” host Jim Brown asked the question, ‘Johnny were you a dirty football player or just a plain hard clean player?’
His response, “I was never dirty, except when I played against you.” The NFL Roundtable panel including, Roy Jefferson, Willie Wood, Sonny Hill and JB Brown all broke out laughing with Jim. (see roundtable interview) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzY5Mki8OVE
L-R: The Kids In Trouble All-Stars: legends, Roy Jefferson, Willie Wood, Sonny Hill and Johnny Sample
Johnny was not one to just sit around after his NFL career. He became an entrepreneur and owned a ticket agency and sporting goods store called, Sample’s End Zone. He later taught himself the game of tennis and quickly excelled.
He was the No. 1 player in the country in the United States Tennis Association (USTA), 45 and over category for several years running. He would later serve as a tennis official for Wimbledon, the U. S. Open, the French and Australian Opens as a pioneering chair umpire, linesman and referee.
His inner-city youth tennis program was one of the largest and best run in the country. Tennis to him was all about, love, love and more love.
In February of 2004, he was inducted into the CIAA Hall of Fame in Raleigh, NC. This was almost 50 years after he had graduated from college. The first question he asked when he took the microphone, “CIAA what took you so long?”
Johnny and I had often talked about being “Blackballed” by the system is one thing, but to be “Blackballed” by your own people is a tough pill to swallow.
Johnny Sample’s induction into the Hall of Fame could not have come at a better time. In this case better late than never. This was definitely a highlight in his long distinguishing odyssey into the world of politics and sports.
During his induction speech he asked me to stand up and be recognized as the pioneer in sports talk radio. He was always reaching out and giving something back. Johnny also excelled as a sports talk show host on W-H-A-T Radio in Philadelphia from 1988 to 2004. Johnny used his sports talk show much liked I use Inside Sports as a vehicle to improve the growth of his community.
I was the one who encouraged him to get his own radio sports talk show in Philadelphia. The show was a big hit, he called it like he saw it—no cheerleaders allowed. Johnny Sample found “The Johnny Sample Tennis Foundation” for under-privilege kids in the Philadelphia inner-city shortly after his remarkable and controversial NFL career. He was a pioneer as an official line judge and chair umpire on the pro tennis tour (U. S. Open, Wimbledon, French and Australian tournaments).
He was one of the top players in the USTA for almost a decade and its number one ranked player in the 45 and over for several years running. He should not only be in the NFL Hall of Fame but any hall of fame that honors blacks in tennis. His life story after the NFL is a remarkable journey that definitely belongs in our history books. He follows only Arthur Ashe and Richard Williams when it comes to tennis contributors and icons in the black community.
As a community advocate, he was instrumental in several projects.
His crown jewel was the Million Man March in 1986. He organized seventy-three buses from Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey to Washington, DC.
There was a recent statement on Face Book referring to QB Colin Kapernick and upcoming umenployment in the NFL, the question was “What are we going to do about it”? My response, there is nothing that we could do about, it is all in the hands of his former teammates and peers in the NFL.
This means he will be left out in the cold for another NFL season because the Johnny Samples, Jim Browns, and Roy Jeffersons no longer exist in the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball. Today’s players only stand and kneel for a paycheck.
Jim Brown and Roy Jefferson prove “No One is Too Tall to Stoop to Help a Child”
Johnny went where there was no path and left a trail for others to follow. I am honored to have walked in his shadow in a journey of love for his community.
I was pleased to see my name in the program as an Honorary Pallbearer for my brother in the struggle.
When I hear the word “Friend” I immediately think of Muhammad Ali’s definition of friend. In my 1974 interview with the champ I asked him how did he distinguish his friends, he said, “A friend is someone who is always doing something for others and never expecting anything in return”—meet Johnny Sample.
Note Worthy: First, a recent “FAKE NEWS” story was written in the Washington Post by a fake writer by the name of Andy Polin. He wrote a story wanting you to believe John Thompson, Jr. was responsible for sports talk thriving in Washington, DC. The real deal, John Thompson got his first talk show experience on Inside Sports promoting Georgetown basketball in 1972 when he could not win game. ESPN the sister station to the Washington Post is airing another “FAKE NEWS” special on “How Mike and Mad Dog Made Sports Radio History!” These two guys didn’t hit the airwaves until 1989 almost two decades after Inside Sports changed the way we talk sports in America. During the 19 year history of the Mike and Mad Dog show WFAN never hired a black sports talk show host and if they did he never made an apperance the entire 60 minutes the ESPN special aired—WOW!
INSIDE SPORTS BLAZING TALK SHOW PATH (WASHINGTON POST 1975 & 1989)“BLACKS IN BROADCASTING”. RED AUERBACH CO-HOSTING INSIDE SPORTS. MIKE & MADDOG ESPN FAKE NEWS HISTORY?
P. S. Congratulations to DC sports talk show host Glen Harris voted into the DC Sports Hall of Fame and DC’s own Maury Wills has been nominated for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame after sitting on the sidelines for 50 years. He revolutionize the game with the stolen base as a LA Dodger.