Clipped From Del Rio News Herald
SAK ANTONIO.(AP)«* By the time his came down around him he weighed 300 pounds and had tb start each morning with two! or three stiff shots of whiskey before he could shave or dress himself. He had gradually been destroying himself. But when the fall came, it came suddenly and in every area of his life. He was a professional football player and a former All-America, but he was fired from the San Diego Chargrs and no one else wanted him. He had been a successful businessman, but he invested everything he had in a venture that left him bankrupt when it failed. He was married to a beautiful girl but she left and took their 4-year-old daughter with her. Broke and alone, his future hopelessly ruptured before his eyes. He wandered back home to Texas for awhile and stayed on his father's ranch near Brady, doing not much of anything. Then he drifted to San Antonio and got a job as a fry cook at a fast-food restaurant. He was drinking a quart of bourbon a day. "My world was self, was ego," Scott Appleton remembers today. "I had money, girls, fun, and fame. Then I had a beautiful wife and daughter, a Cadillac and a beach apartment in California. When he lost it all, it was 1968. "I had been cut from the team, lost all of my money, lost my family by divorce, and I was hopelessly addicted to alcohol," he said. By the time he was frying hamburgers, the man who had once lived in a beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean found himself living in a "dump" on West Craig Street here. "I could barely hold a job. All areas of my life were out of control. I was desperate," he recalled. Today, Scott Appleton calls that period of his life "the pit." How he fell and how he ultimately clawed his way out is the story he tells. Perhaps the story begins in 1963, the year the name Scott Appleton really hit the limelight. It was his senior year at the University of Texas, he was an All-America defensive tackle and that was the year the Longhorns won a national championship. "When we won the national championship, it was the highlight of my life up until then," he said. "Oklahoma was number one and we were number two and we beat them and became number one." A Dallas sportswriter who covered that Oklahoma-Texas game remembers it this way: "Scott Appleton was an All-America defensive tackle for Texas and his counterpart was Ralph Neely, an All-America offensive tackle for Oklahoma. It was an interesting sidebar to the main story, How that duel would turn out. Came the day of the game and Appleton ate his lunch." The Longhorns held onto their top ranking throughout the season, finally beating Roger Staubach and Navy in the Cotton Bowl. Ralph Neely went on to become an All Pro for the Dallas Cowboys. For Appleton, the story would be much different. Already his troubles were starting to brew. But no one knew it at the time, least of all Appleton. He was a fair-haired boy and a sure bet for the future. AtipMonfroni football star to ftv cook _••»>* >.-••• i/ i/ ... . . ...... gf •/ He was a winner. "1 was on top of the world, really on a trip at that time. I thought I was the world's greatest football player, "he said. Scott Appleton was the No. 1 draft choice of both the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Oilers. He enjoyed having the two teams bid against each other, but he had a "preconceived notion" of going with the Cowboys. tn 1964 Dallas was establishing itself, but Houston was a ragged collection of over-the-hill misfits and might-have-beens struggling at the beginning of their franchise. Appleton wanted top dollar, but he wanted to go to Dallas. But then Dallas traded the right to negotiate with Appleton to Pittsburgh. "I didn't know it at the time," he said, "but Dallas didn't really need a defensive lineman then. They already had Lilly, Pugh and Cole. I didn't want to go to Pittsburgh. It was too far from Texas, and at that time they had one of the worst losing traditions in football." So he ended up in Houston where he pursued a lackluster career. Frustrated and bitter, Appleton is cautious as he talks about his years with Houston. But the picture he paints is bleak. For whatever reason, his talents were squandered. "It was a real disorganized situation down there. One week they would tell me to gain 20 pounds 'cause I was going to play in the line. The next week they'd tell me to lose 20 'cause I was going to be a linebacker. We had three different coaches during my three years with the Oilers, and the most games we won in any one year was four. Plus there was a lot of friction, animosity, and bitterness with those old guys down there because I was making more money." Appleton accepts a lot of the blame himself, but it's clear he believes he was mishandled in Houston. It takes a while for a lineman to start excelling in the pros. "You rarely see a defensive lineman come in and start tearing it up the first year," he says. "Those old guys you're playing against are big and strong, they're tremendous athletes. I had very little upper body strength. Houston didn't have any sophisticated weight training program, they had nothing. "The main reason certain teams like Dallas, Oakland, Miami are consistently winners is because of their organizations. It's the organization that makes a good football team, the coaching and the training." Almost from the outset Appleton bugged Houston to be traded. Finally Wally Lemm traded him to San Diego. "I was delighted about that," he said. "For the two years there, I was back on top of the world. "My first day there, Lance Alworth came up and welcomed me. He said, 'You're just what we've been needing.' During my entire three years at Houston no one had ever said anything like that to me. It was a beautiful bunch in San Diego. We had winning seasons and a lot of fun. It's a beautiful city. "I was making a lot of money and I was making more in the stock market than in football,, which I was kind of proud of, It kind of distinguished me in a sense. It wasn't just being the stereotype professional athlete, but I think football teaches discipline. During my senior year at UT, our team had a higher grade point average than the student body. "Anyway, things were going beautifully for a while. That's when alcohol began to adversely affect all areas of my life. I was drinking a lot of whiskey and vodka in the off-season and starting to have discipline problems. "I was becoming sick and tired of football. It finnally dawned on me that there had to be a better way of making a living than putting on IS pounds of padding and going out in the hot sun and beating on people sometimes twice a day. By 1969 I'd been playin football 17 years and I didn't really want to go back for another season. "The coach, Sid Gillman, knew I planned on retiring soon and when he threatened to bench me I left the team. I told him I would not sit on the bench. That's the sad thing about living on your ego like I had done for so many years. When something like that happens it shatters you. "My plan then was to make a million dollars in Minnie Pearl fried chicken. Lance Alworth had made $660,000 market value on a $5,000 investment in a couple of years. This was going to be my ticket out. of football. The market crashed, Minie Pearl went from $66 a share to $4. It tumbled that far in just a few months. I lost all my money plus money I'd borrowed from the bank." He was broke, out of football, and then lost his family. "The divorce had everything to do with my drinking," he said. He was drinking two fifths a day for awhile, then he managed to hold it down to a quart a day. By late 1969 he was drinking in the mornings. He ballooned up 40 pounds over his normal playing weight of 260. He worked in California Diary Queens for a while before he went home to his father's ranch. There he stayed drunk and got into gambling. "We'd play poker there, it was pretty slim pickins but it was one thing I was real good at, better than the people around Brady, anyway." Then Appleton came to San Antonio. He was broken and desolate. He fried hamburgers, drank, and lived in a flop house. Pie knew he had tumbled to the bottom of the pit, but he didn't know which way to turn. "I had heard about a doctor, Richard Hall in Eden, Texas, who was supposed to be able to help people in my condition," he said. "I went to him and told him my entire story. When I finished he looked me in the eye and asked 'Do you have a minister?' Of course I said no, I didn't. "Dr. Hall contacted Jimmy Allen, who was pastor of the First Baptist Church here then, and he called on me and we began having these weekly Bible studies. I didn't want any part of the Bible then. It was something I wasn't interested in, but he was persistent and I was desperate. I was so desperate I'd try anything whether I liked it or not. I felt the world had given up on me. "Jimmy Allen got 6 lot of people praying for me and suddenly I started feeling a little of the spirit of God, Just a tinge. That was my initial response to the power given me by all those people praying, so 1 called Jimmy Allen up and told him I wanted some spiritual growth. "After a few months of studying God's word, I was totally set free from alcohol addiction. I quit almost at once. God's spirit gives me the wisdom to realize that I can't drink anything, and the beautiful part is I don't want to. "In the Bible there was a blind man who had been blind from birth. Jesus healed him so he could see. The Pharisees, who were the rich and proud and egotistical people of that day, could not believe what Jesus was telling them. "So they said to this fellow, 'Jesus is a sinner. Only God can heal.' The man answered and said, 'Whether he is a sinner or not I don't know. One thing I do know was whereas I was blind, now I see.' "That's how I was at this stage. I didn't know what was going on but I knew that for the first time since I'd been sick with this disease which almost killed me, that I was free from it." The Baptist Church runs a restaurant called the 4th Street Inn. Money from the venture finances free meals prepared for winos and transients at a center downtown. Three years ago the manager's job at the 4th Street Inn came open. Scott Appleton took it. "I've been in full service of the Lord ever since," he said. "It really is my whole life." The restaurant is located in a building that was built in 1885 as a general store and wagonyard. Today Appleton calls it a mission. Proceeds from the inn feed 50 transients a day, six days a week, at another mission on Alamo Street. The inn also sponsors Friday Night Alive, a singles activity that offers food, entertainment and fellowship. Appleton is spending more and more time these days traveling, giving testimony and sermons to churches and organizations around the state. "I'm doing more and more preaching, although I dislike that word because it doesn't seem very natural to me. I testify to the reality of Christ and his experience in my life." Appleton works with the church's programs, feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, and he works with his own ministry. The message he delivers is his own story. The "Living Proof" as he calls it. Appleton still follows football but is not a big fan. "I follow Texas pretty close. I liked Houston until Bum Phillips left. And I liked the 49ers this year," he said. He is involved with the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He keeps in touch with some former teammates, like Phil Harris and Clarance Bray, and he corresponds with Roger Staubach. Today, Scott Appleton is busy preparing to visit his daughter, now 15, whom he hasn't seen in 11 years. And he's busy delivering his message. In his mind, it's a Christian one: the "Living Proof" of how one man fell from starry heights to the pit and came back again stronger and healthier than before.