On Your Marc 7/17: Good any day

F irst, a funny story. Larry Lee, the big tackle from Roth High School, for a number of reasons decided he was going to UCLA for college and football. Woody Hayes, the Ohio State coach, was unhappy with that decision, calling Lee just prior to signing day trying to convince him to go to Ohio […]

Larry Lee’s switch from music to football and back again

By Marc Katz

First, a funny story.
Larry Lee, the big tackle from Roth High School, for a number of reasons decided he was going to UCLA for college and football.
Woody Hayes, the Ohio State coach, was unhappy with that decision, calling Lee just prior to signing day trying to convince him to go to Ohio State.
Hayes said he was calling from New York and would be in Dayton later in the week to sign Lee, who kept trying to tell Woody he was going to UCLA.
“He said, ‘I’ve got big plans for you,’” Lee reported. “He said, ‘Son, I never tell a freshman this. You are going to start varsity as a freshman guard next to your homeboy, Chris Ward (of Dayton Patterson), who is my All-America tackle. I’ve already got plans for you two to play side-by-side.
“’And when Chris (who was a senior) graduates, you’re my next All-America offensive lineman.’”
Lee pauses, tells me his brother had already moved to Los Angeles and his father was sick and wanted to make a family move to better weather.
He tells all this to Woody, too, who hangs up dreaming of a last-ditch effort.
“This was before cell phones,” Lee says with a laugh. “About a half hour later, I get a knock on the door. It’s Chris Ward. He says, ‘The old man says you’re not coming.’ I said, ‘Yeah, Chris, I decided to go to UCLA.’”
The two sat on the curb in front of Lee’s home for an hour, an hour and a half. At the end of that discussion, Ward knew Lee was not going to be blocking at OSU next to him.
“I don’t regret it one iota now,” Lee says. “It was a little scary back then. After I signed on a Tuesday, that Friday, my dad died. Now I’m committed to go to California with my brother, and my mom was alone (in Dayton). But it worked out. I ended up starting varsity at UCLA.”
That’s not all. He played nine seasons in the NFL, for Detroit, Denver, and Miami. Upon retirement, he was hired by the Lions in their front office, becoming the vice-president of operations.
Holding that job for nine seasons, Lee was replaced by a new regime. Lee thought he would be hired by another team. When he wasn’t, he remembered the bass guitar he used to play in grade and high school.
“I started doing two things in sixth grade,” Lee said. “One was play football. And the other was learn how to play the bass guitar.”
His pals in the neighborhood wanted to start a band, so they asked parents for specific Christmas gifts. Rufus Frazier got the drums. Michael Baker and Ronald Bond picked up guitars.
“It took us a little while,” Lee said. “By the seventh grade we were good enough to play songs. We incorporated a couple of singers. We didn’t necessarily perform; we just knew how to play.
His band used Art Thomas, who had three sons in the band, as a manager. They were so young they played places they couldn’t patronize.
When he was a senior, Thomas told Lee he had a decision to make. It was either football or the band. He couldn’t continue to do both.
“Obviously, I chose ball,” Lee said. “I told Mr. Thomas, ‘As much as I love the band and everything, I’ve got to pursue this football career. As long as they want me, I think I might be able to do something pretty good in that.’”
Lee was about to become a top college and pro player, then a top executive. He didn’t touch his bass guitar for 20, 25 years.
“I played in jazz band in high school,” Lee said. “I don’t know how I did it. I’d get up in the morning and go to school. After school, I had some kind of practice (football or wrestling or track). So that was year round. “Then I would leave those practices and go to band practice, 8, 9 or 10 at night. Then I’d go home and study. I was in bed midnight or 1 o’clock every night. That was my routine for pretty much four years of high school. I thank God for that. It created the work ethic. I outwork most guys. I just know how to go get it. I didn’t have time to get into trouble.
There were no drugs for Larry Lee.
“I was an old school, old-fashioned kind of guy. I was an athlete first and a musician second,” he said.
He was called a “rare bird,” by the late players’ association head Gene Upshaw, who noted Lee’s three-pronged success as a player, executive and musician.
“I’ve been blessed,” Lee said.
He’s had his Detroit-based band, Back in the Day, 16 years, playing across the country and overseas.
“Everybody in my band has played for national acts,” Lee said. “I didn’t go out and get sorry guys. I got top-notch players.”
Like himself.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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