Ron Mix Interview
He’s a member of the Pro football Hall of Fame, he played in 5 consecutive AFL Championship games, and he’s been named All-Pro eight times in two positions. Nicknamed the ‘Intellectual Assassin’ for his love of the trenches and the law former guard and tackle Ron Mix paved the way for a change in attitude towards offensive linemen, earning respect and admiration for a position that previously lived in the shadows.
Now working as a lawyer and co-owner of a Hall of Fame memorabilia cards website in his native California, the former San Diego Chargers offensive lineman talks to Lawrence Vos.
This interview took place in July 2005 – but is still hopefully a fun read.
LV: You have been out of the game a good while now, do you still miss playing?
RM: Football was the ideal job. Look at it, you are doing something that you are good at, it pays well and we get attention, something we all like. It is also a babe-catcher. Naturally, I miss all of that as well as the camaraderie, being a role model, getting regular healthy exercise, and some other things athletes like to talk about.
LV: You became an AFL All-Star playing at both Guard and Tackle – what were the big differences in the two positions?
RM: Playing guard was easier because I was there among the blubber-butts. For instance, on pass protection we generally had three players (two guards and the center) to block two players (the two defensive tackles). In addition, it often got so congested up there that a defensive tackle would trip or simply could not get through the crowd. An offensive tackle is left all alone in the wide-open space against a great athlete with speed and agility.
LV: Incredibly you were only called for holding twice in your entire career. How did you maintain that discipline and do you think the refs were wrong on the two calls against you?
RM: “The refs were wrong!” Thank you very much for that line – I will be using it in the future. Let me respond in all seriousness. The game is supposed to be played by the rules. Athletes are supposed to win their individual battles within the framework of the rules. Teams are supposed to win games within the framework of the rules. I did not hold because it was against the rules. Coaches who teach players to break the rules, and players who do it, are violating everything that sports are supposed to represent: sportsmanship, respect for opponents, respect for coaches, integrity, discipline, the value of hard work. Teach the athlete to cheat in an activity that is supposed to be performed with honour and the athlete will cheat in all other aspects of his/her life.
LV: In your decade playing on the line who was the toughest team and the toughest individual defenders you fought against whilst playing for the Chargers?
RM: On a consistent basis, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders had tough teams. The truth is that every individual opponent was tough. At the time, there were only about 20 teams in professional football. That means about 800 professional football players. Each year, there were approximately 1,000,000 kids playing high school football. The top 10,000 of them went on to major colleges to play major college football. The top 800, over a 10-12 year period (the length of time a player can play if he’s lucky), make up the professional players. In other words a very select group of talented, who were all tough guys.All of them are good. Still, some stand out. I would rate the following players as the best I played against: Deacon Jones, Bubba Smith, Tombstone Jackson and Jerry Mays.
LV: During that time you played in five consecutive AFL championship games. After losing the 1960, 61 and 62 AFL championships by a combined 18 points what was your personal highlight of winning the 1963 title by 41 points against the Boston Patriots?
RM: After one practice session during that season, I decided to stay late and work on some techniques; therefore, I was very late in getting into the shower. Unknown to me was that, as part of a fan out-reach program, the public relations office had scheduled a women’s club to show them the work-out facilities and give them a basic seminar on football. So, I walked out from the shower naked into the locker room where 50 women were meeting. The women gave me a standing ovation. That was my personal highlight of that season.
LV: Which AFL player that you played with or against did you admire the most during your playing days in the 60s?
RM: The player I admired most when I played was my teammate, wide receiver Lance Alworth, also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lance is still the finest receiver I have ever seen. He had great speed, never dropped a pass, great running ability after he caught the pass, and would block. Our Charger team was loaded with great talent but we all thought Lance was special. The incident took place that illustrates the high regard we held for Lance. Our team was being flown back to San Diego from New York. The plane ran into a storm that created very rough flying conditions, with the plane shaking and plummeting. I actually believed we were going to crash and was very frightened. Then I relaxed – I remembered Lance was on board and I knew that God would not kill Lance.
LV: What were your thoughts when you were told that you had been elected to the Hall of Fame? And who inducted you?
RM: My first thought was I wondered if it was like the Pulitzer Prize and we get $250,000.00. If you watch the induction ceremonies, you will see some of the guys crying. The reason is that they finally realise there is no cash award.When I was told that I had been selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I had a feeling of great satisfaction. It was somehow the validation of years of hard work and respect for the game. And to be then considered a peer of the legends of the game was thrilling. I had asked my Head Coach, Sid Gillman, to present me but Coach was ill at the time so I asked my position coach, Joe Madro, and Coach Madro presented me.
LV: What are the top three skills needed to become an offensive lineman? And what tips would you offer to anyone in England who plays on the offensive line to improve their game?
RM: An offensive lineman can set himself apart from others by working-out year-round on the skills that are used in his position. That means short sprints, pulling, setting up on pass protection. Boring stuff to be sure, but very valuable. In addition training with weights year round is also valuable if you want to become the best.
LV: What were your thoughts on Robert Gallery (offensive tackle from Iowa) being drafted number two in the 2004 Draft? Is he worth the hype?
RM: There always seems to be somebody who is anointed as the next great player, but that type of talk is premature. So many things can happen along the way, firstly injuries, secondly the athlete not being able to rise to competing against athletes who are just as fast, strong, and tough. Third the athlete not being able to sustain doing the hard work necessary to play great over a long period of time, and finally the athlete not maintaining the discipline to construct his life both on and off the field with the goal of always playing well.
LV: As a former Charger you must have viewed Eli Manning’s decision to snub the Chargers and get traded to the Giants as a bit of an insult? What are your thoughts on modern salaries, egos and players refusing to play for teams that drafted them?
RM: My feelings on this are somewhat mixed. On the one hand, the system seems to function best with an equalizer draft; on the other hand, the draft is an infringement on an individual to work in a geographical area of his choice and an employer of his choice. With regard to current salaries, oppose the manner in which they are distributed. The system of a salary cap has led to the devastation of the middle class of players, much like we are seeing the same thing in our American society as President Bush and his party give tax breaks to the rich and to big corporations while at the same time fighting all efforts to raise the minimum wage. In football, it has led to huge salaries for a very few and lower salaries for a lot. For instance, a quarterback might earn $10,000,000.00 a year and a team-mate of his earning only $250,000.00 or approximately 40 times less. There is no football player in the NFL who is twice as good as the worst, let alone 40 times better.
LV: What would you suggest then to make life fairer for all players?
RM: The formula that should exist is that the minimum pay scale should be raised to $500,000.00 and no player should be able to earn more than, say, five times the average salary. This would eliminate the great injustice, stop the practice of the teams releasing a veteran who is due to make $1,000, 000 a year when they can replace him with a player who they can pay $250,000.00 and make a step closer to more standardised salaries which would slow down the great transfer of players that now takes place during free agency.
LV: With Philip Rivers as the new QB and LadanianTomlinson as the hardest working back in the NFL what prospects do you think the 2004 Chargers have?
RM: The most encouraging change is the Charger philosophy. This year, they drafted only players from major colleges. That is very encouraging. Long-term, the Chargers will do well. Short term, we will see steady improvement.
LV: Finally with all your commitments as a businessman and a lawyer, what do you do to relax?
RM: I work out almost every day, running 6-7 times a week and lifting weights 3 times a week. My wife goes to the gym with me. We also like to visit our daughters in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I read, go to good restaurants, live theatre and the movies. I also like to play poker.
LV: Thank-you Ron Mix.