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Remembering Kirk Gibson the football player

Feb 10, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT

Kirk Gibson AP

I don’t have any memories of Kirk Gibson the football player, but I do remember hearing friends’ dads up in Michigan in the early 80s talking about Gibson made a big mistake picking baseball over football. This was before he truly broke in as a full-timer with the Tigers and was battling some injuries. These guys all were silenced by 1984, of course, and obviously Gibson ended up making a pretty wise choice.

But as Dan Bickley of AZCentral reminds us, thinking that Gibson could’ve/should’ve gone to the NFL is not crazy talk. He spoke with Gibson about his football career and what led him to baseball instead. And old story for some, but I imagine a lot of people in their 30s and younger may not realize how good a receiver Gibson was at Michigan State. He would have been a high draft pick in 1979 if he had committed to football and probably could have made a pretty good go of it in the NFL.

At least until he was destroyed by injuries.

  1. cur'68 - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:04 AM

    Best reason not to play football? Being able to live a normal life after your sports career is over. Gibson did the right thing.

    • asimonetti88 - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:53 AM

      There are plenty of players that live a normal life after football. Obviously their stories aren’t as compelling as guys like Earl Campbell, but Roger Staubach is healthy and started a multimillion real estate company, Herschel Walker is (mostly) healthy (he has always had multiple personality disorder) and is still fighting MMA… The stereotype that football ruins your body is as tired as the baseball is dying one.

      • cur'68 - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:54 AM

        Uh huh. Explain Namath’s fur coat from the Superbowl. That’s multiple concussions, right there. There’s no other logical explanation.

      • asimonetti88 - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:56 AM

        That’s not football, that’s years of alcoholism.

      • Old Gator - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:59 AM

        Yeah, but that might be from bowling at this point.

      • stex52 - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:04 AM

        Last number I saw, OG, had average life expectancy for an NFL lineman who played five or more years in the mid ’50’s. But that was quite a while back.

      • cur'68 - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:20 AM

        All joking around aside, the research on football related injuries are still coming in. What’s out there isn’t terribly reassuring, though. If Ryan Freel’s multiple concussions can have caused so much harm playing baseball, imagine how many more football players there are out there with the same number and kinds of concussions. Its a sport where running one’s head into another person’s head was encouraged for decades. Even Namath recounts and confirms numerous concussions. He’s hardly unique. This is not to say baseball doesn’t have its share of problems with this, but they are far less than football’s.

      • sportsfan18 - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:23 AM

        true, but the odds of living a normal life after a pro football career are much LESS than after a pro baseball career.

        not everyone wants to gamble when the odds are really bad.

        average length of NFL career is very short too.

        if one can play pro baseball well enough to stick in the majors, playing for 10, 12 or 15 seasons, remaining healthier overall than a pro football player and collecting the paychecks for that long even if you’re just a back up is much better than playing for 4 or 5 yrs and having problems getting out of bed, or having both your knees replaced at 37 and on and on.

        it’s all about odds and chances. i’d take mine where the odds were more in my favor.

        Gibson had a nice career, a World Series title and he’s still in the game and earning good money.

        he made a great choice

      • stex52 - Feb 10, 2014 at 2:28 PM

        Roger Staubach also retired early after multiple concussions scared him into realizing he might be giving up his post-football life.

      • asimonetti88 - Feb 10, 2014 at 3:10 PM

        Roger Staubach retired early? He was 37 when he retired.

      • stex52 - Feb 10, 2014 at 3:36 PM

        He specifically referred to concussions when he retired. There was a time when I was a Cowboys fan. And he wasn’t exactly finished from an ability standpoint. Quarterbacks can hang on longer.

      • raysfan1 - Feb 10, 2014 at 4:10 PM

        Staubach had 20 or so concussions in his career. Fortunately he is healthy today.

      • jacksprat57 - May 4, 2015 at 11:22 AM

        FYI, guys, the life expectancy of players who’ve seen the field in the NFL is GREATER than that for other American men, even though the higher percentage of black men–who typically have a much lower life expectancy than white men–among them would lead one to expect otherwise. As with everything in this life, rewards come with risk, as risk attends rewards. TANSTAAFL. I find it curious that people get so incensed at the risks of money sports, while often simultaneously jumping out of airplanes, piloting small pleasure craft, snorkeling, rock climbing, adventuring, mountaineering, and the like. My conclusion is that a whole lot of people are so accustomed to responding to the moral panics of their media and political masters, that, like Pavlov’s dogs, they just can’t help themselves. Sad.

  2. halladaysbiceps - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    Kirk Gibson the college football player in the 70’s was before my time (I didn’t follow college football in the 70’s; my only major 70’s sports remembrances as a kid were of the Phillies), but this does not surprise me. Gibson was built like an outside linebacker (you could see it with his lower build; his legs) but played wide-out because of his speed. This is a total-package athlete. He could have probably played football and would have had a nice career. Like Craig said, he chose baseball, and did so wisely. He, like most athletes, have many more years in baseball than they do in football unless you are a QB, kicker or snapper.

  3. stex52 - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    I’ve always thought that if you are truly one of those gifted people who can make the big time in either sport that you would have to be a lunatic to choose football. Sure, it takes more patience to crack the big leagues in baseball; and the skill set is harder to gain and retain.

    But imagine getting to age 50 being:
    1. Still alive
    2. In full possession of your mental facilities
    3. Able to use your arms and legs

    Even 35 years ago people knew pro football players didn’t live as long and had serious health problems.

    • asimonetti88 - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:56 AM

      “But imagine getting to age 50 being:
      1. Still alive
      2. In full possession of your mental facilities
      3. Able to use your arms and legs”

      Imagine being a former professional running back who at age 50:

      1. Is fighting (and winning) MMA matches
      2. Has the same mental capacity he always had
      3. Is attempting to make a comeback with the Minnesota Vikings

      His name is Herschel Walker.

      • Old Gator - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:02 AM

        Walker is one of those rare guys who make mere reality a fun place to be. I do wonder, though, what, if anyone has plotted it, is the statistical correlation between years playing pro football and either longevity or quality of life versus the same stat spread for baseball.

      • stex52 - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:03 AM

        Good for Herschel. He beat the statistics.

      • asimonetti88 - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:09 AM

        The statistics? In this sensationalist article, I like how they ignore that even players who suffered 5 or more major injuries, 85% of them are happy they played in the NFL.

        This is yet another sensationalist story. Football is a great game, it can be violent, some people will suffer major injuries, but how is that any different from any other sport? Didn’t Ryan Freel commit suicide possibly because of repeated concussions? Didn’t Mohammed Ali come down with Parkinson’s potentially because of repeated blows to the head?

      • stex52 - Feb 10, 2014 at 2:20 PM

        I’m not sure boxing is the parallel I would want to draw, personally.

  4. philliesblow - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:46 AM

    35 years later Gibson is still MSU’s career leader in yards per catch, 3rd in TD’s and 4th in reception yards. Pretty impressive when you consider the receivers that came after him included some long time NFL players including Andre Rison, Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason and Mushin Muhammad.

  5. raysfan1 - Feb 10, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    I remember him as a very good tight end with the Spartans and believe he’d have had a good career in football. However, i felt even then that he made the right choice. As others have said above, it’s safer. If you get to be a star in the majors, the money is better too (no non-guaranteed contracts). I also felt the same way about Todd Helton, especially considering he was not a sure thing at the NFL level.

    • spursareold - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:58 AM

      He wasn’t a tight end, although he was built like one. New England’s GM at the time said he was the fastest white player ever clocked at the combine.

      If you wanted a rough comparison in today’s NFL, it would probably be Megatron, with that conbination of sheer size and burning speed.

      • raysfan1 - Feb 10, 2014 at 1:22 PM

        My bad, hadn’t seen him play football in 35 years and was too lazy to look it up. Wide receiver then.

    • asimonetti88 - Feb 10, 2014 at 1:37 PM

      Helton was definitely not a sure thing in the NFL. He was a shaky starter at the college level and would have been a career backup in the pros. He was an outstanding baseball player who went on to have a likely HOF career, definitely made the right call.

  6. clydeserra - Feb 10, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    the article says he managed the world champion Diamondbacks. He must be building a time machine too.

  7. moogro - Feb 10, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    Football is miserable.

  8. louhudson23 - Feb 10, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    Reciting Walker(a physical freak to begin with)or anyone else who has so far survived the NFL(+ College + HS football) relatively healthy is like telling someone about Uncle Charley who smoked for 80 years and lived to be 100. It’s a great story and everyone is happy for Uncle Charley,but it means little to his buddies who smoked along with him and died the typically horrible smokers death,,…..

  9. Joe Vecchio - Feb 10, 2014 at 8:19 PM

    I don’t think Gibson ever stopped being a football player…

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