Today Mike Purzycki is running for mayor of Wilmington, Delaware. In the sixties, Mike was a standout wide receiver for the University of Delaware Blue Hens and later a New York Giant. TheAthleteBook.com requested an interview to learn more about how a man can go from athlete to Wilmington’s Riverfront Development Corp. Executive Director to Wilmington mayoral candidate. The below interview is the first of a two-part series. Part one, the gridiron glory days; part two, covers what it’s like to actually run for Mayor of Wilmington, Delaware.
Q. When you were playing, Tubby Raymond became the head coach. Can you tell us what that was like?
A. Yes, I came at the end of the Dave Nelson-era, and during that time Tubby had been an assistant coach. His last year was 1965. He was a player’s coach as an assistant. He was a player’s coach while working as an assistant and not so much as the Head coach. As happens, when you are leading a team you can’t be friends with all the guys.
Q: You held the reception record when you attended UD. When you graduated, how was the stage set for the next level?
Well, it’s funny how I found myself thinking about the game in broad strokes. Coach Dave Nelson was really part of a generation before. The game had changed so much and it’s hard for people today to understand this. There was a great article written by George Will, about two or three years ago. He described the championship team of 1966, my senior year. The line averaged 170lbs the biggest guy was 230lbs. What he was trying to say, is what is the big mystery of all the head injuries we have today, that we didn’t have back then. Everyone was so much smaller.
Lineman basically held their hands to their jerseys so they wouldn’t hold, so the game has changed.
Now you are literally grabbing. You can imagine how different the game was, the blocking was different.
Q: You guys ran the wing-T, How was that offense received by other teams?
If you could see it, you could defend it, but it confused the heck out of defenses that had never seen it.
We had tackles that were 185 lbs, Dave’s last year was my junior. I was the same size as the guys on the line. Tubby’s first year we were bad, the next year Tubby recruits some bigger kids. One guy Ted Gregory and one kid Conway Haymna. Those guys were between 205 and 260lbs. Conway played O guard and man could he pull. It changed the game for us instantly.
Then Tubby started to throw the ball. So what happened was my years playing I caught 20 passes as a sophomore, 30 as a junior, and 42 my senior year. 36 receptions were the past record, so 42 was the new record, but it got beaten in 5 minutes. Because then they started throwing the ball.
The game was changing before my eyes.
It wasn’t just the difference between Dave Nelson and Tubby’s style. The rules were loosening. All of a sudden my senior year they had a guys playing bump and run.
Oh, and by the way, my senior year, we had no African American players. In 1963, their national championship they had Mike Brown and Johnny Wallace. They were both back. Mike Brown was an All-American. When you think about the world of 1963, there were places that Mike couldn’t go. There were places that Johnny couldn’t go. It was a different world. It was not a pretty world. The freedoms we take for granted didn’t exist at all then. It was a different time.
Q: You then tried to make it at the Professional NFL level. What was that like?
It was a remarkable experience, because what happens in those days is that there is no free agency yet. So, people tended to stay in the same place forever. So, I knew the entire Giants roster when I got there. I grew up in Newark NJ, so it was our home team. I wanted to get autographs more than anything. My idols were Del Shofner all-pro wide receiver. So I go into camp, I got hurt over the summer, but I played really well until I blew my knee out.
In the course of the year, I did very well, instead of having some kid from Bucknell cover me 15 yards out, I had Clarence Childs defending me and Henry Carr, who was a two-time gold medals at the 1964 summer Olympics championship. Haha, these are the guys covering me. I was always good at getting myself open.
One day I was back in the locker room and Del Shofner is there. He’s 6’3″ 165 and he’s skinny as a rail. And he say’s to me… “Hey, Slim” which is pretty ironic, given that I fact I’m larger. Anyway, he say’s “Hey slim the secret to being a successful receiver in the NFL is to be able to run a good out pattern. Slim, you got a good out pattern.”
I thought, damn it’s all good now. At the time, having my idol tell me this was one of the greatest things I could hear.
How did it end
One day we were in shorts in pads, one day coach said can you run a cross pattern, I’m in shorts I dive for it, I roll, the cornerback rolls over me and I tore it. Posterior ligament and I never played again.
Q: What was the mindset, once the game was over?
Wait, first I have to tell you my favorite experience from my time in the NFL. I go home and I’m not playing football anymore and I’m sitting around the table with my father and I say, dad, I think I should have been paid. And he says “you’re crazy” and I said no I really think so, I didn’t get cut, I got hurt. We didn’t have a phone in the house, I walked down ocean avenue to the pay phone and call the New York Giants and asked for the owner Wellington Merra.
haha I mean it cracks me up every time I think about it. They put me through to Wellington Mara. He gets on the phone and I say. “Mr. Mara, Hi mike how are you doing. I said , can I come up and talk to you, because I feel I should get paid.”
I mean, you talk about a different time!
So, Wellington Mara gets on the phone and I say,
“Hi Mr. Mara, it’s Mike Purzycki, I was hoping I could talk to you about my contract. I hurt my leg, but I think I should still be getting paid.”
And he say’s
“you know what Mike, why don’t you come up to my office and talk to me, there is another guy I’m talking to who hurt is back and we are having the same conversation.”
So I get in my car and drive to New York city. I go to 10 Columbus circle and I walk into Wellington Mara’s office. I sit down for twenty minutes in his office and at the end he says,
“I understand what you are saying, let me think about it and get back to you. ”
He never got back to me, but he started sending me checks. I got my entire years season paid out. It was only fifteen thousand dollars, but let me tell you in 1967 the house on the beach block in point pleasant was $8,200. Back then you could buy a lot with $15,000!