Phil Robertson called signals, darted, dove, and threw. He wasn’t calling, chasing or hunting ducks, he was quarterbacking Louisiana Tech’s football team against Alabama in 1966.
It’s an interesting clip on YouTube that shows Robertson’s high skill level at quarterback.
Back in the mid-1960s, when Robertson was married, raising a family (his first child, Al, had been born), and going to college, he was the starting quarterback for Louisiana Tech. His backup? Future Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. Yes, the same Terry Bradshaw that led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles.
Bradshaw remembered Robertson fondly in his autobiography, “It’s Only a Game.”
“The quarterback playing ahead of me, Phil Robertson, loved hunting more than he loved football,” Bradshaw wrote. “He’d come to practice directly from the woods, squirrel tails hanging out of his pockets, duck feathers on his clothes. Clearly he was a fine shot, so no one complained too much.”
It was evident even out of North Caddo High in Vivian, La., that Robertson could play at a high level. Despite offers from LSU, Mississippi, Baylor and Rice, Robertson stayed close to home and played less than 100 miles away at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La.
From 1965-67 at Louisiana Tech (the last two years as a starter), he passed for 2,237 yards and 12 TDs, including a school-record 302 yards during a loss to Southeast Louisiana in 1967. Those career numbers may not seem staggering compared to today’s pass-happy offenses, but consider he did that in an era when running the ball was the first, second and third option for most teams.
Though Robertson had one season of eligibility left and interest from the NFL’s Washington Redskins, he decided he loved hunting more. So he let Bradshaw know his intentions.
“I said, ‘Bradshaw, son, you’ve got the arm, you certainly have the desire to be a great pro football player. You got the brains.’ He said, ‘You think so?’ He only questioned me about the brain power. I said, ‘Hey, you got enough sense. Look, when you get to adding up the IQs running around out there on Sunday evenings, it might surprise you. You got a good strong arm. You’ll do well, my boy. I‘m going hunting ducks, because I just love it more than throwing touchdown passes, so good luck to you.’ Of course, he appreciated it because that moved him up to the No. 1 slot.”
So Robertson left football and, the following season, he hunted ducks while completing his degree.
A year or so later, though, a former Louisiana Tech teammate, running back Bob Brunet, was with the Redskins and thought Robertson could still make the team. Brunet told Robertson to come up and he would likely be the backup and earn about $60,000.
“At the time, $60,000 didn’t seem like a whole lot even in the ’60s,” says Phil, who worked as a teacher for a few years after earning his degree from Louisiana Tech and then earned his master’s degree in education, with a concentration in English. “I said, ‘I don’t know about that. I would miss duck season, you know? I’d have to be up there in some northern city.’ I said, ‘Brunet, you think I’d stay?’ He said, ‘I doubt it. You’d probably leave with the ducks, Robertson.’ I said, ‘Probably so.’”
“That’s when (future Hall of Fame coach Vince) Lombardi went to Washington for a few years right before he quit coaching…What (Brunet) said was, ‘We got this hotdog, Robertson, but you can beat him out easy.’ I said, ‘Who’s the hotdog?’ He said, ‘You’re not going to beat out (future Hall of Famer Sonny) Jurgenson. You’re not going to beat him out, but this hotdog, his backup, no problem.’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ He said, ‘Joe Theismann.’
Phil paused, smiled, then chuckled, recalling the conversation and how good Theismann became—a Super Bowl XVII champion, NFL MVP, and a two-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection.
“(Brunet) said, ‘No problem, we’ve got him, hands down.’ ‘I may do it,’” Phil recalls says. “But I didn’t do it. I stayed with the ducks. But looking back on it, who knows if I’d gone up there, you know, I might not have ever run up on Jesus at 28.”
Kay, his wife, known as Miss Kay on the Duck Dynasty television show, says matter of factly, “You’d probably wound up dead.”
Bradshaw and Phil Robertson never forgot each other, though. Recently, a chance meeting in an airport reacquainted the former teammates.
“Forty-four years later, he runs me down in the airport and grabs me and I looked around and I said, ‘Good night Bradshaw, is that you?’ So he went to telling me about his ailments… ‘They broke my neck, they broke my ribs, they tore my knee up.’ He went to telling me about all the things that happened to him. I said, ‘I told you back there about 40-something years ago, I was going the less stressful route.’ He said, ‘You know, you ain’t done bad.’ I said, ‘Well, you did pretty well yourself, son; four Super Bowls.’ He said, ‘Well, now, you’re a movie star.’ I said, ‘There you go. Hey, we’ve both come out of it pretty good.’ It was good to see him. He’s a good guy. Bradshaw’s a good dude.”
Missing out on football, if you can phrase it that way, was put in perspective by Al Robertson, Phil’s oldest son. Like his dad, Al saw the bigger picture of his dad’s choices.
“Obviously, athletically, he had a talent and ability to get on a stage like a lot of athletes do, and use their ability to do this as well,” Al, says. “What’s ironic is, is that instead of (football), though, it’s like God had a another plan because (Duck Dynasty and the duck calling business) is something totally unique and different, even from what those (football players) do, which we respect…We look at that as sort of a forerunner way this whole ministry has unfolded as being a real movement of God that is unique and different. And in Dad’s case, he actually had an ability to do something totally unique and different and yet this other door (Duck Dynasty) was down the road that we wouldn’t even know. And now, we’re just now going through that door.”
By Brett Honeycutt
Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor at Sports Spectrum magazine.