MINNEAPOLIS - Mumford, a quiet little town on the fertile soil of central Texas, is known for producing cotton, grain and a Pro Football Hall of Famer who grew from nothing into everything.
John Anthony Randle was born Dec. 12, 1967, the youngest of three boys belonging to Martha Randle, a large Christian woman and a single mother who didn’t spare the rod. John’s father, Edward Wilson, a mechanic in nearby Hearne, lived with his other family and has been no part of John’s life to this day.
“Ninety percent of who I am is because of my mom,” Randle said. “We had nothing. But she never gave up.”
Neither did her sons. Dennis, 50, works in Hearne. Ervin, 47, played eight seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs.
And John, 42, is in Canton, Ohio, today where he’ll become the 14th undrafted player to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Randle will join six others in enshrinement. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, going in for his playing days as a defensive back, and running back Floyd Little both enter the Hall through the senior committee.
Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson got the long-awaited votes they’d been hoping for, and Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith both join Canton in their first year of eligibility.
But no one in the class might have come from as much obscurity as Randle.
“It’s one of the great stories in the NFL’s history,” said former Vikings linebacker Eddie McDaniel.
In 1990, 28 NFL teams drafted 332 players over 12 rounds.
They all overlooked Randle, the undersized defensive end out of Texas A&I University, a Division II school that’s now Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
“I was supposed to last three weeks in training camp,” Randle said. “I never forgot what that felt like.”
Randle lasted 11 seasons in Minnesota and three more in Seattle. He finished with the league record for sacks by a defensive tackle (137½), six consecutive first-team All-Pro selections and a spot on the 1990s NFL Team of the Decade.
The Randle boys are together in Canton this weekend. Martha will be there in spirit. She passed from a stroke three years ago.
“I miss her,” Randle said. “There’s not a day goes by I don’t think about her or what the four of us went through.”
When Randle was growing up in Mumford, Martha earned $23 a week as a maid. She also worked the cotton fields in the summer, making $3.75 an hour.
One day, tired from having to hitchhike 12 miles home from practice, Randle came home early and told his mother he quit the football team so he could hang out with friends. Martha made him go back.
“My mom was 6-1, about 210 pounds, tough and fast,” Ervin said. “You didn’t go against her. You didn’t have a say. She said it, and it was done.”
Robert Davis, a former football coach at Hearne High, said the Randle boys never caused trouble because, “Mrs. Randle did a great job being a mother and a father to those boys. You couldn’t have built a better person than John Randle.”
A HOT MOTOR
As a football player, Randle played guard and defensive end. He signed with Baylor, but didn’t have the core academic requirements. So he went to Trinity Valley Comm u n i t y College in A t h e n s , Texas , and on to Texas A & I , where he had 20 sacks as a defensive end his senior season. He was 6-1, 240 pounds on a heavy day.
“NFL scouts kept telling us he was too small,” said Richard Cundiff, Texas A&I’s defensive coordinator at the time. “We kept saying, ‘You better not pass on this one. This kid’s motor runs hot.’ ”
In the spring of 1990, Ervin was entering his sixth season with the Bucs. John was a rookie free agent about to sign with Tampa Bay, but Ervin told his brother not to. Then he directed him to Minnesota because the Vikings would be less likely to switch him to linebacker.
“We were just damn lucky to get John,” former Vikings coach Jerry Burns said. “And once he got here, I don’t think I ever saw a kid work that hard to make a team. Everything he did was 100 miles an hour.”
BECOMING A STAR
Randle’s breakout season came in 1992 , when Dennis Green arrived as head coach, bringing with him Tony Dungy as defensive coordinator and John Teerlinck as defensive line coach. Teerlinck will be Randle’s Hall of Fame presenter.
“It was kind of the perfect storm,” Dungy said. “John was getting bigger and stronger, and we switched him to this new defensive tackle position that was going to be more disruptive. And I’ve never been around a really good player who went as hard as John did all the time.”
Dungy said he wasn’t sold on the idea until one day in training camp in 1992 when Randle finally beat left guard Randall McDaniel, a 2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee and a guy who had dominated Randle since 1990.
“The day I finally beat Randall, everybody kind of went, ‘Ohhhhh,’ ” Randle said. “It was like someone cursed in church.”