Volk family tree branches out from foundation of football tradition and success

John Steadman

September 28, 1990|By John Steadman

WHEN IT COMES to recognizing the intrinsic values of football, apart from the hoopla of bands playing and crowds cheering, Rick Volk offers positive testimony. Four years at Wauseon (Ohio) High School, four more at the University of Michigan and, finally, 12 seasons in the National Football League.

He has become a major success in business, functioning as a sales representative for diverse manufacturers in the Middle Atlantic area. Football was so much a part of him that his two sons followed his cleat marks into the same game. Son Eric played four varsity campaigns at Duke and Brian is now at Loch Raven High School.

Football is a family legacy. The man he calls "Uncle Bob" was a celebrated All-America halfback at Michigan, one Bob Chappius, the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Johnny Lujack in 1947. "I went to Michigan because of Uncle Bob," Volk said. "His jersey number was 48. They said they wanted him to be only half as good as the man who wore, 98, Tom Harmon. So he got 48.

"Maybe numbers aren't important, but when I got to Michigan they gave me No. 21. I asked coach Bump Elliott, a great man, if I could have 48, which was Uncle Bob's old number. And because of wearing his number, right away, I felt deeply involved with Michigan tradition."

After graduation in 1967, Volk was a second-round draft choice of the Baltimore Colts and signed a three-year contract for $18,000, $20,000 and $22,000, plus a $40,000 bonus. "That was a good deal, but only the season before the NFL was at war with the American Football League and early draft picks were making up to $500,000," he said.

Impressions of the Colts?

"Johnny Unitas was a superb quarterback. Bobby Boyd was as smart a cornerback as you could imagine. And Don Shinnick, well, a lot of times he played his own defense, a lot like Ted Hendricks. One time, Boyd told Hendricks he was in the wrong spot in the coverage but he looked at Bobby and said, 'Yeah, but I intercepted the ball.'

"I like what was said about Johnny U. Well, maybe he mentioned it jokingly. Supposedly, he felt he never lost a game; only the clock ran out. I think football does a lot for an individual. You find out how life is. If you get beat on a play, you line up right away for the next one. The same in the world outside football. If you're in sports, you learn never to give up. And you find out, in some ways, how to manage yourself."

But Volk knows, too, pro football shouldn't be the paramount objective so many college players make it out to be. At Michigan, three-quarters of the defensive secondary played in the NFL -- Volk with the Colts, Miami Dolphins and New York Giants; John Rowser with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike Bass with the Washington Redskins. The only NFL exception was Rick Sygar, who would have signed with the Detroit Lions but had incurred physical damages.

"So Sygar became an architect and has done tremendous things," Volk said. "But back to football. I think too much emphasis is put on how fast you can run and how much weight you can lift. That doesn't make you a football player. Why, check Tom Matte, who never had the speed to break a stopwatch but I never remember seeing him caught from behind."

In nine years as a Colt, Volk observed close up the Bob Irsay regime. More often than not there's a bizarre incident to relate. Volk recalls the team at practice while Irsay was observing with three friends who had accompanied him from Chicago.

Suddenly, Irsay was in the huddle and so were his traveling companions. "Either Marty Domres or Unitas stepped aside for Irsay. He went up under center, took the snap like a quarterback and handed off to one of his pals. It was absolutely unbelievable."

Volk is conversant with the way Baltimore is lining up to put in a bid for an expansion franchise. "Everything you hear about Bob Tisch, who would like to get the club, if one comes here, is good," he said. "After all, he's a Michigan alum. I hope it works out. Baltimore is too good a place to be denied and I would hope he'd be an ideal owner."

Rick Volk, a boyish-looking 45, is perpetually spirited. A credit to himself, to family, to those old school ties. In football, there was never a time he didn't extend himself to fulfill the team concept.

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