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“Big change from football.”

“Very much. I got a degree in teaching but never used it.”

A wise move. Every public school teacher I’ve ever known hates his job and drinks too much. “Are you still a bit of a celebrity, or is it ‘That was then. This is now’?”

“Some people remember me in this town, a little bit, maybe. Not like a Rolf Benirschke [Chargers kicker 1977–1986] or somebody like that.” I hear a cough. “I enjoyed my time in San Diego. The favorite part of my career, actually. I lived in Rancho Santa Fe, La Jolla, all over.”

“You were playing after free agency kicked in [February 1989]. Salaries must have been good.”

“I wish my career would start now and go seven years. But for a single guy, I made decent money. I enjoyed the game until it became a business for me, until it was more than just fun. That was happening over my last couple of years.”

Ralf went to Michigan State. His first field goal attempt was a 61-yarder against Illinois. He drilled it. “Could you see the end?”

“I could see it coming. I had some bone spurs in my heel, which caused a lot of pain. I couldn’t practice as much as I did earlier in my career. And I lost the desire a little bit. I was sick of traveling, sick of having my family travel to wherever I was going to be playing next year.”

“Did you call it a day after ’91, or did you try to make a team in ’92?” Nobody quits the nfl.

“I went to the Dolphins’ mini-camp and did really well. They had a starting kicker at the time. They said if he got hurt, I would be the guy they’d call.”

“Was it on to the trucking business after that?”

“I looked into teaching.” Another good man puts his soul in peril. “I’ve got a secondary teaching degree. I was going to teach and coach and live the happy life. But my friend started his own business. When I signed on we had 7 trucks, now we have 120. I own a little bit of the business, not much, but a little bit is better than nothing.”

“Do players talk about the party coming to the end amongst themselves?”

“I remember people talking about what they wanted to do. When you start talking about how much money you need to retire, then your mind’s not in the game. I found myself thinking, ‘Well, let’s see, if I have this much money, I don’t need a good job.’ But, bottom line, you don’t want to sit around all your life — you’ve got to find something you like to do.”

“Is there a moment in San Diego that comes to mind?”

“I made the Pro Bowl after my third year there. That’s something that sticks in my mind. But I remember college more than pros. I remember beating Michigan at Michigan in front of 105,000 people, and they were 19-point favorites.”


Tyrone Keys

  • Position: defensive end
  • Played for Chargers: 1988
  • San Diego Chargers’ Record: 1988 (6–10)
  • Current Residence: Tampa, Florida
  • Born October 24, 1959, in Jackson, Mississippi
  • High School: Callaway High School (Jackson, MS)
  • College: Mississippi State
  • Height: 6' 7"
  • Weight: 272
  • Drafted Round 5 by New York Jets in 1981
  • NFL Career
  • Chicago Bears: 1983, 1984, 1985
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1986, 1987
  • San Diego Chargers: 1988

“You mean what I’m doing now?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve been running a collegiate mentoring program for first-generation college-bound students and students who have extracurricular talent they would like to pursue beyond high school.”

I take a deep breath. I always have this reaction when it takes more than 3 syllables for someone to describe his job. I’m comfortable with teach-er, plumb-er, writ-er, car-pen-ter, me-chan-ic, bank-er, bar-tend-er, pros-ti-tute, and so on. Keys’s job is 43 syllables long. “How did you find that…thing that you do?”

“I was injured in the last preseason game of 1989. I was looking for something to do, thought my career was probably over, and started working in a halfway house in San Diego. I began as a part-time coach in the evenings. From then on, I was hooked.”

“I’ve asked ex-players who have been injured, ‘Was it worth it?’ and they always say, ‘You bet it was.’ Was it?”

“You like to look at your life as if it’s nothing but a journey. Had I not been injured that year… I look at the number of youth who have been helped by our organization, and I can trace my time out there in San Diego as something that got me started.”

“Tell me about a game you played in San Diego.”

“My last game was the 13th game of the year. It was in San Diego against the 49ers. I think the Niners went on to win the Super Bowl that year [Super Bowl XXIII — San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16]. We were all fired up for that game. On the second play I sacked Joe Montana. I missed him on the third play, was blindsided and got a herniated disk in my back. That was 1988 and that was the injury I couldn’t come back from. But for the first three plays of the game, I either hit Montana or sacked him. I felt like it was going to be a rare day for me, and I ended up getting disabled. That was the end of my career right there, sacking Joe Montana.”

Six years later, Montana’s career ended by way of a sack. “How did the Chargers treat you?”

Keys laughs again. “When you’re injured…it’s not like the Chicago Bears. I played on the Bears’ Super Bowl team [Super Bowl XX — Chicago 46, New England 10]. Those guys get together. We had three outings this past year. With the Chargers, guys were coming and going, there was no cohesiveness.”

“After you got hurt, was it one of those ‘Where’s What’s-His-Name?’ ”

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