Still Living On The Edge -- Long After Retirement, Hall Of Famer Hendricks Hasn't Made Transition

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fla. - The January day Ted Hendricks was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he visited his favorite hometown haunts.

He heard the announcement on TV at the Interliner Lounge, a cave of a bar with Eastern Airlines strike posters on the walls. Cheers rose from the smoky darkness. Everybody there knows Ted. Drinks on the house.

Hendricks called his mother, who lives nearby. He called Wisconsin to tell Audrey Matuszak, mother of the late John Matuszak, Hendricks' best friend on the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders. ``I made it, Mom Tooz!''

Then a limousine pulled up at the Interliner. Hendricks and his friends piled in, picked up some gyros and drove around Miami Springs, celebrating.

It was one of the best days of Hendricks' life, and one of the worst.

The greatest football player to come out of Dade County had reached the pinnacle of his career. And after weeks of being sober, he had started drinking again.

First stop on the limo tour Jan. 27 was the Hurricane Bar and Grill, where there's a painting of All-American Hendricks in his University of Miami uniform, emerging from the surf like some amphibious warrior. Drinks on the house.

Next, Mike's Lounge. Punches to the shoulder of the linebacker who won fans with his antics. Remember the time he rode into training camp on a horse with an orange traffic cone as his lance? Remember the Halloween he came to practice wearing a pumpkin carved in the shape of a helmet? Drinks on the house.

The limo went to Art Bruns' Executive Club. Hendricks' gruff voice took on a stentorian tone. He loosened molars with slaps on the back, repeated the same double-entendre jokes. Drinks on the house.

Hendricks was headed for another bar when his neighbor, Margie Palmer, decided to go home. She was so happy for him, but she saw the toasts as poison.

``He fell off the wagon that night,'' Palmer said. ``He started doing beers, got into Manhattans and then, what was it? Blackberry brandy. That was his favorite. I told myself, `He'll straighten out tomorrow.' But it was one big party all week.''

In Miami Springs, Ted Hendricks will always be the favorite son. But he has not made a smooth transition from hero to citizen. For Hendricks, star of Hialeah High, the University of Miami and the NFL, the laurel has withered. He is living a perpetual anticlimax.

He does not have a job. When asked his occupation, he says ``retired.'' He is divorced. His three children live out West. He lives alone in a small house with sparse furniture.

A recent day was typical: He cleaned the pool, played golf, answered fan mail, programmed the big-screen TV, then went out. He knows he is being pulled by the warm current that winds through his hometown. Does he fight the current, or ride with it?

``I've been stagnant,'' Hendricks, 42, said. ``I'm having trouble with the crossword in the morning. My brain's not deteriorating, it's just been non-functional for so long.''

Most of his old teammates have weaned themselves off adrenaline. He has not.

``I'm still looking for something that would excite me. Sometimes, I drink out of boredom.''

Hendricks will be inducted into the Hall of Fame Aug. 4, the 6-foot-7 linebacker with skinny legs nicknamed the Mad Stork. He revolutionized his position by roaming the field - blocking kicks, sacking quarterbacks, intercepting passes.

He was the leader of the Raiders, ferocious, fun-loving misfits who won Super Bowl titles in 1977, 1981 and 1984. He was the personification of the pirate logo on his helmet.

Today, everyone wants to share a moment with the great Ted Hendricks. He just can't say no:

``Hi, Ted, can I have an autograph?''

``Ted, buddy, can you play in a golf tournament for charity?''

``Teddy, have I got a deal for you!''

``Ted, can I buy you a drink?''

They don't see his quiet side, only the gregarious man who always has time for his friends, so many friends.

``When you stop loaning money and buying drinks for your so-called friends, they'll disappear,'' said Fred Wilcox, who runs a golf cart business at Ted's defunct Crooked Creek Country Club. ``But Ted can't resist. He likes to b.s. with people.''

After he had Thanksgiving dinner with his mother and brother last year, an old friend called with an invitation to go out. Hendricks had been in a sober period, but he succumbed that night. He hated himself for it, and dialed his own number.

``Hey, a--hole, I'm checking on you,'' he thundered into his answering machine. The message was there when he got home the next morning.

When Margie Palmer's mother, Meta Klein, was alive, she scolded Hendricks about his drinking.

He often went over to play cards with Meta Klein, who had lost a foot to diabetes. When she fell out of bed, or had trouble moving, Palmer called: ``Hey, Crane, I need help.'' He would come and lift Meta Klein back into bed, or onto the toilet.

She died last year at age 83. ``Went out on Ted's number,'' Palmer said.

Hendricks is hard to fathom - scary when he's drunk, humble when he's not, witty almost all the time. He can be kind and generous.

``He is such a gentle giant,'' Palmer said. ``I've had fights with people who have seen Ted out drunk and unpleasant. I tell them they have no idea what he's really like.''

The traits that made Hendricks a great player - stubbornness, pride, supreme control of the body, a certain reckless abandon - now make it difficult for him to seek help. He once went through rehabilitation but says he won't do it again.

``The problem is,'' Hendricks said, ``I play as hard off the field as I did on it. I try to reach as far as I can, but I can't reach that high anymore.''

THE RAIDER: Drinking was way of life

Hendricks played in 215 straight NFL games over 15 seasons. In 1983, his last season, he had abdominal muscle pulls so severe he had to roll out of bed and pull his pants on sideways as he lay on the floor.

``What do you think is the best painkiller in the world?'' Hendricks asked. He turned down the shots of cortisone, but not of Jack Daniel's.

Raiders trainer George Anderson said it was ``amazing he could play so well despite the liquor and wear and tear. His last season, at age 36, it caught up to him.''

Drinking was a staple of NFL life. After a road game, players were handed beers and an ice pack as they got on the plane. After a home game, there were cocktail parties.

Hendricks spent five years in Baltimore and one year in Green Bay, then moved to Oakland, where his drinking accelerated with ``the hard-living, hard-drinking Raiders,'' said his ex-wife, Jane Hartman-Tew.

Training camp was in the Napa Valley, and Hendricks and Matuszak led expeditions to the wineries.

``Ted would come in the huddle with purple teeth and tongue from the red wine,'' said ex-linebacker Phil Villapiano, now New York manager for a shipping company. ``His drinking was a joke. Then we tried to talk to him about it. (Owner) Al Davis finally said, `Teddy, you got to get help or you got to go.' ''

He decided to go. Hendricks retired after the 1984 Super Bowl and moved back to Miami Springs.

Audrey Matuszak wants him out of there. ``I've offered him my house as sanctuary,'' she said. Hendricks calls her frequently since John Matuszak died of an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers last June.

``I would like to hide him away here in Wisconsin, where he could walk around and clear his head.''

ON HIS OWN: Bad business deals

Once Hendricks had the athlete's infrastructure: curfews, rubdowns, playbooks, adoring fans. He had everything done for him. Agents negotiated his contracts.

Inevitably, the cheering stopped. Most pro athletes ``have to grind through a tough transition,'' said ex-kicker Errol Mann, now a stockbroker in South Dakota. ``Show me something with the same type of return, emotionally and financially.''

Other Raiders found a niche: Art Shell coaches the team; Gene Upshaw heads the players' union; Marv Hubbard runs a drapery business.

Hendricks still drifts, burdened by a series of bad business deals. His biggest investment, Crooked Creek golf course, has been overgrown and idle since '83.

There have been other dubious ventures: a limo service, a 300-acre ranch in Florida (``the environmentalists got me''), a gold-mining claim on the Yuba River in California, the former O.J.'s Lounge in West Dade and a quarter horse whose best finish was 10th. Hendricks traded him in for the feed bill.

He estimates he has lost close to $1 million in all.

``I figured the world was like a football team,'' Hendricks said. ``You trust the people you play with. I depended on people who just wanted to play with my money. I guess I listen to everybody without doing things on my own.''

Hendricks lives day to day. He put off a hernia operation until recently. ``I can't plan a vacation. Something better might come along.''

His income is from ``bits and pieces'' of investments. County records paint a bleak picture: About $114,000 in taxes are overdue on the golf course, his house and a Springs condo he rents out.

Hendricks muses about what to do. He considered becoming an engineer, or working for NASA. He was interested in dentistry, ``but would you want these big hands trying to fit into your mouth?''

``I could be a pilot, or a CIA agent,'' he said. ``I had a new one today, going through the list of possibilities - counseling. But I have enough problems of my own.''

Wilcox said he has ``tried to get Ted interested in different jobs, teach him the golf-cart business. But he's got too much pride to ask for a job, not in 100 years.''

Hendricks has no endorsements, either: ``I thought about the Lite beer commercials,'' he said, ``but I hate to influence kids that way. They might grow up to be like me.''

THE LAMB: `A heart as big as he is'

Hendricks' favorite poet is William Blake. He quotes Blake as affirmation of his own philosophy that ``excess is best.''

``The cistern contains; the fountain overflows. Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.''

Hendricks introduced Blake's work to Matuszak.

``There are no in-betweens,'' he said. ``Just like with Tooz and I. When you're up, you're way up. When you get depressed, you go way down. We aren't Keats people.''

That must have been a sight, a 6-foot-7 linebacker and a 6-foot-8 defensive end poring over poems. But Theodore Paul Hendricks has never been your typical jock.

He was born in Guatemala. His parents, Angela Bonatti and the late Maurice ``Sonny'' Hendricks, a native Texan, met there while working for Pan Am.

Hendricks speaks Spanish fluently. He has read books on Mayan culture. He graduated 72nd of 1,400 in his '65 Hialeah High class.

At the University of Miami, he majored in physics and took electromagnetic theory and differential equations, but he never went back to finish 12 hours for his degree.

``He could be anything he wants to be, that's the kind of potential he has,'' Hendricks' Miami coach, Charlie Tate, said once. ``Why, he could even be governor.''

Hendricks has a copy of Blake's ``The Tyger'' pasted to the first page of his football scrapbook:

``When the stars threw down their spears,

And water'd heaven with their tears

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?''

The Lamb in Ted made him the last one out of stadiums because he signed so many autographs. He visits children's hospitals around the country and stops by Miami's Veterans Administration Hospital. He plays an endless string of fund-raising sports events. He has coached Special Olympians.

``He uses his body like a big Jerry Lewis,'' said Tom Romanik of Cloverleaf Lanes.

Hendricks let Eddie Barwick, who lived in the garage apartment behind his house, skip rent payments when Barwick, an Eastern mechanic, went on strike. ``He has a heart as big as he is,'' Barwick said.

Ted the Lamb will pick up your tab, open the door for you, kiss the back of your hand, present you with a yellow hibiscus flower from his back yard.

THE TIGER: Trying to maintain control

It is 11:45 a.m. on a fall weekday at Mike's Lounge in Miami Springs. Hendricks has agreed to a luncheon interview. The Tiger in Ted is throwing down peppermint schnapps. His breath is like a blow torch. He mumbles the answer to a question, and is asked to repeat it.


Everyone is staring. ``Teddy, people are trying to eat,'' a waitress says wearily.


Another question. He responds with an off-color joke and a spine-jarring pat on the back.

``Let's get OUT OF HERE.'' Hendricks has decided to continue the interview at his house.

He leads the way, driving his '72 Mercedes rapidly down a back street, but under control. There are two old newspapers on his front steps. Inside the Florida room, he pops in a Who tape. He turns up the volume until conversation is reduced to shouting. He's singing along, imitating the guitar licks.

The visitor slips out the back door to the patio and walks, at first casually, then quickly, to the car. He's 6-foot-7, the visitor is 5-foot-7. End of interview. He doesn't seem to notice.

Suddenly, Hendricks comes through his front door. The visitor rolls down the window to say good-bye and he reaches in, trying to grab the keys in the ignition.

``DON'T LIKE MY MUSIC?'' He is not smiling.

``Ted, please call when you want to talk.''

He hesitates, withdraws. He stands in the driveway, with the front door open and the Who playing, shrinking in the rear view mirror like the fadeout of a movie.

Hendricks has an idea of his behavior when he's drunk.

``My mind is still working, but I'm a monster on the outside,'' he said. ``I've got to learn to tone myself down. I wish I could keep that control and still have a good time.''

Hendricks' ex-wife, Hartman-Tew, said there were times she and their two sons were afraid of him when he arrived at their Orinda, Calif., home after an evening out.

The boys - now 17 and 20 years old - say they are still concerned about their father's ``phases.'' But when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, they will be there. So will an 8-year-old half-sister they have never seen; Hendricks had his daughter with another woman after he and his wife split up.

``When he's got his head screwed on, he's a great father and a loving, kind, sensitive man,'' Hartman-Tew said. ``When he drank, I couldn't get in there to touch the person I knew. He'd say, `It's my life. I'm having a good time.' He didn't recognize what was crumbling around him.''

THE ALBATROSS: Crooked Creek

Nothing captures Hendricks' frustration more than his golf course.

At the corner of Southwest 104th Street and 97th Avenue a low brick wall advertises ``Open to the public.'' Below that are chips off letters that once spelled Crooked Creek Country Club. In fact, it hasn't been open since 1983, when Hendricks shut it down for lack of business.

He is here on his tractor to mow fairway No. 5. The neighbors have complained again about the snake-infested overgrowth. ``It's a jungle out there. I call this my estate, all 110 acres of it.''

Hendricks estimates he has plowed $600,000 into the golf course.

His makeshift office is the former pro shop. The bar is covered with dust. Next to the unused cash register, a spider web undulates. There are holes in the ceiling, golfing cartoons on the walls. A sign says: ``Sorry, no rain checks.''

Heavy rains in '83 finally forced Hendricks to close the course, which had deteriorated under his former business partners while he was in Oakland. He came home one time to find ``all the employees out by the pool looking at girls in swimming suits. There was $45,000 worth of carts that turned to junk.''

He decided to build houses, but Crooked Creek's neighbors stood behind a deed that requires the land to remain a golf course through 2066. ``They didn't want to listen to a solution,'' he said. ``So let them look at my eyesore.''

Neighbors filed an injunction when Hendricks started hauling away topsoil to sell it. He says they use it as a dump, and when he finds clippings and old tires, he throws them back into their yards.

Said neighbor Gloria Kreider: ``A lot of people won't cut one blade of grass if it belongs to Hendricks.''

He often says that selling the course will remove a weight holding him down. After many attempts to sell, he hopes to close on a joint venture with a Chicago company. ``I just want to finish this deal so I don't have to spend my days in a bar.''

THE MAD STORK: Comedy routine

Last summer, Hendricks was the life of the party during a charity golf event at ex-Dolphin Earl Morrall's Arrowhead course in Davie, Fla.

He was performing a slapstick routine, pretending to whiff his shots, stomping his opponents' balls into the ground, cracking jokes. He and the rest of his foursome had a full stock of beer.

Hendricks took a swig and laughed, and the wet spot on the front of his shorts grew into a patch.

He looked down. ``Don't make me laugh,'' he said. ``It'll only get worse.''

``Ted is in fine form today,'' one man said, chuckling.

And so it went, Hendricks in his long-brimmed ``Mad Stork'' hat and stained shorts, hitting an occasional brilliant shot, his partners lucky to be paired with such an entertaining celebrity.

The charity event represented one of the setbacks since Hendricks got out of rehab.

One morning in spring 1989, after five drinks, he began shaking uncontrollably. He asked his neighbors to take him to South Miami Hospital.

``When he was in the hospital,'' Raider trainer Anderson said, ``I asked Ted, `Is THIS enough to scare you?' He said he'd wait and see when he got out.''

``I figured they'd give me an injection and I'd calm down,'' Hendricks said. On the third day, he wanted to leave. Doctors said no.

``I threatened to call the Miami Springs police, which was insane,'' Hendricks said. ``Then they brought in 15-20 interns. I looked at the odds and went back to bed.''

His mother called that night.

``She said, `I want you to stay in there - for me - for 28 days,''' Hendricks said. ``I did her a favor. But I'll never do it again.''


Can't brainwash this brain

The Interliner is the meeting place for a recent weekday interview. Hendricks is, as usual, fidgety - constantly tugging at his mustache, tapping his fingers together.

He and his golfing partner play Joker Poker. BIG TED is recognized on the video screen for his high score. ``Jokers are wild,'' he said, ``just like the characters in here.''

Hendricks orders a Budweiser. Then a Bud Dry. Then three Bud Lights. When he finishes, the bartender taps the empty can on the bar. He nods. In two hours, he drinks nine beers.

He is reminded that at a previous interview here, after a round of golf last fall, he was chugging club sodas.

``That must have been when I was on the wagon, when my tolerance was low. Now, I'm sticking with beer. I can control it.

``I don't want to be some bombed-out guy. My mom asked me, `Do you crave alcohol?' I said no. It's just fun. To stop, all I have to do is look in the mirror and THINK. Can't brainwash this brain.''

Miami Springs Police Lt. Robert Miller said that ``Ted has made a change for the better - if he makes mistakes, he'll 'fess up.'' Hendricks has not been arrested by Springs cops, but they have shown him the door on many occasions.

``It's always tough to live down a negative reputation,'' Miller said. ``Recognizing you have a problem is half the solution.''

Before he died last June, John Matuszak recognized his problem, and was trying to get Hendricks to confront his own. ``The last time I saw Tooz, he said, `I hope you make it,''' Hendricks said.

Hendricks was a pallbearer for Matuszak. He resented the obituaries depicting his friend as a drug- and alcohol-addicted wild man. He remembered him as the 6-foot-8 Santa Claus who visited hospitals.

He saw himself in Matuszak, another football player fighting to reconcile the tiger and the lamb.

Audrey Matuszak sees the resemblance, too.

``These boys have been idolized since high school. What happens after that?'' she said. ``They're like children - they need lots of love, real love.''