Monday, February 15, 2010

Catching Up With John Cannon, Part III

John Cannon, a native of Long Branch, New Jersey, joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the team's 4th overall draft pick in the 3rd round of the 1982 draft. The defensive end out of William & Mary recorded 22 sacks in 9 seasons with Tampa Bay. Cannon retired following the 1990 season, but has remained a fixture in the community. Currently a firefighter and paramedic for Tampa Fire Rescue in downtown Tampa, Cannon recently took some time to reflect on his memorable playing career. The following is the last in a three-part interview with John Cannon.

Q. How did you reach the decision to retire from the NFL?

A. It started with Coach Ray Perkins getting fired during the 1990 season. I can remember it like it was yesterday. After he was let go, I got the phone call. All during the Perkins era, I was the team's chapel leader. Actually, he asked me after his first year if I would be so kind to head up the team chapel on Sundays before games. We had a good Christian following on the team and had a weekly Bible study at different players' homes. So I was honored by that. It kind of put me in a leadership role as well.

So I was very fond of Coach Perkins. Myself and Randy Grimes -- also known as "Bubba" Grimes -- went over to his house in Avila just to console him, you know. It was emotional because we didn't feel he was given enough time and we wanted to show our support.

In the interim, Coach Williamson took over. We struggled and morale wasn't that good. I had suffered some injuries throughout my career and by 1990 I had become a special teams player and a backup. I fully accepted that. There were some younger guys who were bigger, stronger, faster. I don’t know if they were smarter. I know they didn't work any harder. After a long career, the body can only take so much. For a defense that was on the field quite a bit, and for a player who played whistle to whistle and threw his body around, I was beat up. It was time to say goodbye to that chapter of my life and open up another chapter. Not an easy decision, by any stretch of the imagination.

I knew I wanted to remain in Tampa and had entertained the option of playing somewhere else, but I decided it was time to hang them up. Looking back, you always say, "I wish I could have played a few more years." If I did, I might not have been able to do the things I did in retirement. I took some time off, then went into financial planning with Robert W. Baird & Co. and had a nice career there. After my body healed, I was able to find something else to compete in and that was triathlons.

Q. How did you choose to get involved in triathlons?

A. I grew up as a swimmer, doing that competitively until I was ten years old. Part of the healing process was for me to get back into the pool and swim some laps to help my neck and shoulders. I was pretty banged up, so swimming was a great exercise to help me get on track physically. I met someone at the YMCA who asked if I ever did any biking, and if I was interested to come out to Davis Islands for their bike group on Wednesday nights. I showed up with my bike and got laughed at by a couple seasoned bike riders, or roadies as they call them, but that inspired me to work hard and got proficient at that.

The running part was something I'd always enjoyed and before you knew it, a buddy talked me into doing my first triathlon. I ended up winning my first triathlon in the Clydesdale division, which is the heavyweight division. That feeling of winning after being around a losing football program after nine seasons was exhilarating. It became very addicting, too. It was competitive, it was something I could do as a supplement to my career and I met some great people. Had I tried to play football a couple more years, I might not have been able to have endured. My body might not have recovered enough to experience the triathlon world.

Q. And ending your career when you did enables you to do the job you have now.

A. Absolutely. Obviously you have to be in good physical condition to be a fireman. Staying in shape as an older person afforded me the opportunity to get this job. I was 44 when I was hired as a rookie, one of, if not the oldest rookies, the department has ever hired. The primary reason I got the job is because I kept myself in great physical shape.

My old high school recently had a ceremony to retire my jersey. In my little dog and pony speech, I told the head football coach that all his training -- and he was an advocate of running hills after practice -- has paid off even today when I'm running up the flights of stairs in the Bank of America building. I can see him at the top of the stairs blowing his whistle. I said, "Thanks for making me run a little faster and making me more determined to run to the top." That training which we had 35 years ago, has helped me excel as a stair-climber with Tampa Fire Rescue.

Q. Going back to your playing days, one of the most memorable games of your career came against the Green Bay Packers in 1985, a game know as "The Snow Bowl." What do you remember about that experience?

A. I remember it was cold. (laughs) We got our butts kicked, 21-0. It was hard to see. There was even an Alka-Seltzer commercial made using shots from that game of Steve Young getting slammed into the turf and coming up with snow caked to his facemask. (laughs) I certainly remember that. I remember the wind blowing so hard across the field into our bench that looking over at the bench, some of the players literally had their backs to the field and were huddled around the heaters, not even watching the game. When we were on the field, we couldn't even see the defensive signals coming from our coach on the sidelines.

After the game, the showers ran out of hot water. The only good thing was I didn't sweat a heck of a lot because it was so darned cold. The last thing I recall about that trip was just getting out of town. We had an escort because all the highways were closed due to the snow. The airport is closed, because it's snowing like the dickens. We load up on the airplane and the captain comes on and says they are plowing the runways, deicing the wings, and believe it or not conditions are favorable for us taking off even though the airport is closed and we're under blizzard-like conditions. We were like, "What? What is he talking about?"

I don't know if this is fact or not, but I believe one player opted to get off the plane and spend the night. He just didn't feel like it was safe to take off. I think that happened, I don't know proof positive, but believe me it crossed all of our minds. When we took off, I've never heard a commercial or chartered airline so quiet, or a group of people so quiet, as I did during that takeoff. It's still snowing and it's dark outside, so you couldn't see anything. All you could do was pray. It seemed like it took us a long time to get to a safe ceiling. Once we finally did and the captain came on to tell us we were clear, everyone started clapping.

Q. Last question. Is there anyone in your career who you played against -- a Walter Payton, a Joe Montana, a Dan Marino -- who you look back at now and say, "I was really lucky to play against this guy, or it was really fun to play against that guy."

A. Great question. I'm going to start this by saying I feel so fortunate and extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to have experience competing with and against so many incredibly talented NFL players. It still to me is almost surreal. I can't name just one player. I've been fortunate to play against so many good ones.

Walter Payton, God rest his soul. Probably the best overall running back ever to play the game. Joe Montana, a tremendous talent. Barry Sanders, incredible talent. It's safe to say that I probably made his highlight film once or twice. There were many a time he'd juke me out of my jockstrap in the backfield. The guy could change direction and speed on a dime.

Then you have Jim McMahon, Joe Theismann, John Riggins and Earl Campbell, holy smokes. I played against Earl my rookie year in a preseason game, and I went to hit him, and ended up five yards away on my back. He just ran over me. The list goes on and on.

But I think more important than the names I named, without a doubt is being blessed and being grateful for the opportunity to play with, and get to know, the many players of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I have the utmost respect for each and every one of my teammates. That truly is what kept me waking up in the morning and having a positive attitude going to work. There were a lot of guys there that I believed in and enjoyed playing with who helped motivate me, and keep me motivated, throughout my career.


  1. ^ this comment was probably P. Murphy

  2. a very good man you are Mr. Cannon