After 38 years, Ravens' Tessendorf hanging up the tool belt and medical tape

June 09, 2011|By Mike Preston

In the spring of 1996, Bill Tessendorf showed up at the old Colts complex in Owings Mills wearing a tool belt and a hard hat. His main job was to piece the old facility together again for Baltimore's new NFL team, the Ravens.

Since then, no player, coach or administrator has spent more time putting the Ravens back together than Tessendorf.

Regardless if its duct or medical tape, hammering a nail or piecing together his own medical contraption, Tessendorf has put in 38 years as an NFL trainer, the last 15 with the Ravens.

Finally, he's calling it quits. The "Godfather" of NFL trainers is retiring.

"Before I took the job here, I asked Rick Burkholder [Philadelphia Eagles head trainer] about Tessendorf, and he told me that he was terrific," Ravens coach John Harbugh said of Tessendorf, a.k.a "Bill T." "He told me that I would like Bill T., that he was the Godfather of all trainers, and all trainers looked up to him.

"He was right. Bill is like the mother hen. He works too hard and kills himself. I love him and everybody around here thinks he is great."

Tessendorf, 61, deserves a break. He is a tireless worker and part-time handy man. He can hang drywall, or pull telephone lines. He can build a house, or design a skyscraper.

When the Ravens had to rebuild the old Colts complex, they called on Tessendorf. When Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti had plans drawn up for the new facility, Tessendorf was one of the top consultants because he had already designed the league's best one in Berea, Ohio.

"When we first arrived in Baltimore, we had to work with what we had. I remember Jerry Simmons [former Ravens strength coach] having to use the racquetball room," said Tessendorf. "But there was value in being intimate and close, working in a small building like that. We won a Super Bowl in that building. Most of my family worked in the trades and I had a background of working with tools, so I've always done this kind of stuff."

Tessendorf, though, will be remembered for his work on the field, especially his attention to detail. He has the infamous walk, the one where his eyes lock onto an object or injured player, and he goes directly to it without batting an eye or moving his head. You could scream his name, hit him in the back of the head or drop a grenade at his feet, and Tessendorf wouldn't notice.

The focus is always there, always intense. After flying back with the team from a West Coast game, Tessendorf would sleep about three hours and arrive the next morning to provide treatment. He was always the last to leave.

Throughout Pro Bowl linebacker Peter Boulware's nine-year career in Baltimore, Tessendorf put him back together again so many times that Boulware felt like Humpty Dumpty.

If it wasn't Boulware's left shoulder that popped out, it was his right one. If it wasn't the right one, Tessendorf often straightened out Boulware's mangled fingers.

Tessendorf treated the players like they were his sons.

"It wasn't like it was a job, but you were one of his children," Boulware said. "Bill showed that he was there for you, that he was working in your best interest, not to just get you back on the field. You trusted him because he has that kind of personality.

"When you were down on the field, he would come out, tell you what he thought and you were comfortable with it because he has seen those type of injuries before. You worked for him because he worked for you and put everything into it. The retirement is well-deserved."

Tessendorf never lied about injuries. He was intelligent and witty, but most of all he had a lot of common sense. He could console or push players because he developed rapports with them regardless of the era

"One thing about this job, it will keep you young," Tessendorf said. "Its fun watching some of their reactions when you mention Andy Griffith or Mitch Miller, and they wonder, who the hell is he? What I like about football players is that they are highly motivated people, but you have to develop a rapport with every player.

"I let them know what I thought would work and what wouldn't work, but I also had to gain their confidence. They knew I would be looking out for their welfare and wasn't going to send them out there at 70 percent where they could not make that deep route or couldn't make that carry or cut."

Few have done it better than Tessendorf. But those days are gone now. He doesn't have to work those grueling seven-month seasons anymore. Gone are those long, hot, humid days in training camp when injuries mounted with each practice.

There are no more broken bones or life threatening spinal injuries, just Tessendorf and his tool belt. Tessendorf Construction Company might be an option. Or he might spend more time with wife Nan Jean and daughter Amy.

"I've been thinking about it [retirement] for a while," said Tessendorf. "I like being able to decide when to go instead of being told when to go. It's time to put value on the good life, spending more time with my wife and daughter.

"Training camp is 12- to 14-hour days, and Sundays are 12 hour days," said Tessendorf, who will continue to reside in Carroll County. "I won't miss the job, but I will miss the people. I've always admired players who, when they got to a certain age, they knew it was time to bow out. I got season tickets when we first moved here and I'll be at the games. I won't be on the sidelines like I was for the 700 or 800 other ones, but I'll be there. Only this time, with a beer in my hand."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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