Screenwriter and sportswriter Steven Travers treads easily between the inter-connected worlds of sports and entertainment. He went to Fred Dryer's production company and engaged in a serious "bull session" with the former Ram All-Pro and "Hunter" TV star, who has a new film, “Highway 395”, currently in release. Dryer has strong opinions on Georgia Frontiere, blacks in pro football, left-leaning Hollywood, and his favorite author – the controversial David Horowitz.
ST: When did you play at Lawndale High School?
FD: From 1960-64.
ST: What years did "Hunter" run?
FD: From 1984-91.
ST: Who came up with the concept, and what had you done prior to that?
FD: Steven Cannell at NBC developed the pilot. I'd just done odds and ends before that.
ST: Let's go back to a simpler place and time: The South Bay, early 1960s. The Beach Boys were at Hawthorne High. So was Hall of Famer Ron Mix. You were a "beach boy" yourself, living a life of cars, girls and surfing.
FD: I was 6-5, 195. I developed later, but I never found that size made a big difference to me on the field. In high school then, just being tall was considered being big. I wasn't recruited out of Lawndale, where I was primarily a baseball player. I only played varsity for one season. I worked at Rex Trophies for a year after graduation, hung out at the beach, the Hermosa Pier mostly, Twenty-sixth Street in Manhattan Beach, didn't go to school. Then I realized most of my friends were at spring practice while I was at the beach, so I figured I'd better go out for football again. I enrolled at El Camino College, and played for Ken Swearingen, one of the all-time great JC coaches.
ST: Did you need football to give you structure in your life that you didn't have?
FD: No. I just liked the team/family aspect of the game. My father died my senior year at Lawndale , so I gravitated towards sports for family and discipline. Through athletics I saw how discipline and hard work are rewarded with immediate gratification. That's the unique thing about sports.
ST: Okay, tell me about the transformation of Fred Dryer from unrecruited high school player to top prospect.
FD: I played at El Camino from 1966 to '67, and my talent, my technique, my fundamentals and discipline, everything just exploded. Those were interesting times. In the late 1950s, the government had put a lot of money in schools to compete with Sputnik, the aerospace industry was just booming, and as a result South Bay schools were brimming with athletic talent.
ST: Tell me about Ken Swearingen.
FD: Oh, he was just a great coach. Back then freshmen were ineligible to play varsity at four-year schools anyway, so the competition in the Metro Conference was better than anything you'd see playing freshman ball someplace. There were great junior college players playing back then.
ST: Up north, a fellow by the name of O.J. Simpson was running the ball for City College of San Francisco.
FD: Yes, he was. Anyway, after two years at El Camino, Florida State, Utah, Oklahoma was recruiting me, but I chose San Diego State. In those days, San Diego State was one of the best programs in the country and we received fantastic coaching. Don Coryell was the head man, and on his staff he had John Madden, Ernie Zampese, Joe Gibbs and Rod Dowhower. We had a high-powered offense, featuring Dennis Shaw throwing deep to Haven Moses, and we were undefeated in 1968 and '69. Coryell picked up where Sid Gilman left off in terms of developing an innovative passing offense. Coryell had coached at USC and Whittier, we worked out of an I formation, and he was ahead of his time. Anyway, I was now 225 pounds by my senior year.
ST: But you were always considered "small" for a defensive end. What makes some players effective? For instance, Ronnie Lott was an animal on the field. He hit people so hard he jolted their teeth, he just loved to hit. Some players just work themselves into a psychological state where they become animals on the field and play out of their skin. What allowed Fred Dryer to compensate for the 30-odd pounds he did not have?
FD: The secret was that I understood the game. I knew what to do. The interesting thing is that as I understood my ability, I grew within myself, and my skills allowed me to do the things that I thought about. My educational curve allowed me to define myself. I paid attention to the game, to the sounds, to faces', body language. I watched guys', where their eyes were looking, downfield or at a linebacker, and by this I developed an innate sense of where the play would be, a running play or a passing play, for instance.
ST: You had great instincts. So tell me about the transition from San Diego to New York.
FD: The New York Giants made me their first round draft choice, the thirteenth overall pick, and my rookie tear the press was saying, "Oh no, the Giants' did it again," drafting an unknown small school player from California. But Gil Brandt of the Cowboys was quoted saying he'd be more than happy to trade for me.
ST: In New York, you played during an era of change in pro sports and football in particular, and you demonstrated to the New York press that a guy with California ideas could be successful by playing the game intelligently, instead of being a "hateful psycho." I remember a John Vacenta NFL films' clip in which you were quoted as saying, "I'm a bird," and were depicted as this mellow L.A. beachboy guy. Tell me about that.
FD: That was all bullsh-t. The league markets the product, and categorizes its marquee players for top value. Back in those days, we played to sell-outs every Sunday. Baseball was at a low point in its popularity, and pro football was sky high. Part of that was the NFL's--Pete Rozelle's--ability to market individual personalities.
ST: This was a period in which the game was opening up, too. Until 1969, the game was dominated by conservative thinkers, guys like Woody Hayes who ran "three yards and a cloud of dust" offenses and felt that if you threw the ball, three things could happen, and two of those were bad. Joe Namath legitimized the wide-open AFL game, and coaches began to be more innovative. The old Vince Lombardi style gave way to the more flamboyant offenses at Oakland, Pittsburgh and Dallas in the '70s, and the Bill Walsh era after that.
FD: Part of that were rule changes made because the fans wanted to see 41-38 games, not 17-10. Also, a lack of fundamentals has contributed to poor defense over the years.
ST: The late 1960s and 1970s also saw some expose of the N.F.L., the game within the game, as depicted in books like "Out of My League" by Dave Meggysey, "Semi-Tough" by Dan Jenkins, and "North Dallas Forty" by Pete Gent. Can you comment on the extent to which these books (and films) got it right, or wrong?
FD: What was the reality of the game? There is a sub-culture, and these books were an attempt to exploit it, and to destroy some myths people had about the men who play football. Meggysey was kind of a sour guy, Gent had lots of problems of his own--
ST: Which he was very open about--drug use, alcoholism, bi-sexuality.
FD: It's just difficult to explain the football experience to those that never played, or are on the fringes. You would tell it to a writer, and the writers write what they want to write. Jenkins' books were hilarious, but they never translated into film. They became a cliché. In all my years in the sport, I don't believe I ever saw anybody--I very rarely saw the behavior depicted in these kinds of books. Hollywood got hold of guys like Alzado and Matuszak, and tried to say everybody acted like that. Most pro football players are about just doing their jobs.
ST You played in New York City, then you came to L.A., your hometown, and played for some of the greatest Rams teams ever during a period in which Los Angeles was known as the Sports Capitol of the World. What was the better place to be a pro athlete?
FD: New York. It's not even close, it was the best, it was so much better to be a sports star in the Big Apple than Los Angeles.
ST: Memories of Wellington Mara?
FD: Well was a gracious man, loyal to his beloved Giants. We were his family, we wanted to win for him, but they were a .500 team in 1967, '68, '69, which was tough because it had not been many years before that the Giants' were a dominant club.
ST: Tell me about Fran Tarkenton?
FD: I don't know. He had a massive ego, but it was different from most quarterback egos. The team was riding on him, and he had a huge influence on game plans. There was talk about moving me to linebacker, but Tark said to keep me as a defensive lineman and the team listened to him. He was resourceful and cunning.
ST: Now the question we've all been waiting for. Did you and Namath hang out together at Bachelors III?
FD: Well, I was there a few times, and I saw Joe around. I ran into him in the street on occasion, but generally the Giants' and Jets hung out in different parts of the city. The Jets' were Queens guys--
ST: Jenkins called them the "dog-ass Jets," hanging out in Queens.
FD: It just wasn't considered good form for the Giants and Jets to pal around. I did used to see Mike Battle.
ST: He was insane, as was another USC guy, Tim Rossovich.
FD: All the things you heard about Battle were true. Battle was way more out of control than Rossovich, I think he's institutionalized now.
ST: Okay. Los Angeles, 1972-81. You started out playing for Tommy Prothro, and Don Klosterman was the general manager. Was he one of the best minds in football?
FD: No, but he knew football and had people's respect. After '73 we made a great trade, getting rid of John Hadl just in time, for five draft choices. The 1974 team was the best we ever had. The one thing we should have done was trade for a quarterback. Chuck Knox made the mistake of de-emphasizing the quarterback position. People liked James Harris, and he should have been given a better chance.
ST: Was his race an issue?
FD: No. Pat Haden was just too short, and we went through Hadl, Harris, Haden. Ron Jaworski and Vince Ferragamo. The team was picked to win every year, but the sin of Knox, Klosterman and Carroll Rosenbloom was that they allowed the team to go headless with the quarterback controversy. One year we played Dallas, and they were just begging to be trapped, but we sat on the ball repeatedly.
ST: As I say, this was an era in which wide-open aerial offenses were flourishing, but the Rams were stuck in the '50s. I think the '75 Rams set the record for fewest points allowed per game, and in my opinion were the greatest team not to play in a Super Bowl. So this led to the disastrous Joe Namath trade?
FD: We got Namath, but he just couldn't follow through because he was hurt, which causes the ball to tail off, and he got battered. In '77 Minnesota blocked a kick and we just never caught up. We lost 14-7 in the mud one year. We picked up George Allen, but he was never offense-minded, the man went crazy in training camp so they replaced him with Ray Malavasi.
ST: Carroll Rosenbloom?
FD: He was a real rascal. He would do what was necessary. He was the patrician of the league, he wanted titles and you knew you were with a good organization and a good owner. He became frustrated like all of us, so many years getting close.
ST: You were playing old Ohio State-style football while the rest of the league literally passed you by.
FD: What led to our failures, the seed of our disappointment, were a combination of factors. Knox was so limited and fearful, so stat-oriented that he never gave leadership to the quarterback position.
ST: Are you willing to comment on whether Georgia Frontiere may have hired swimmers to poke Rosenbloom with an underwater cattle prod, causing him to die?
FD: No. I'll just say that I think she'll pay for whatever she did somewhere down the line.
ST: How did "Hunter" do at first?
FD: Not well. Cannell went to bat for it, we were opposite "Dallas" so we moved to another night so people could see it, and the show went through the roof. That show could never happen today, they want "Nash Bridges". Not surprisingly, we were not really "safe" until our third year, but you can't ever count on it. Acting came naturally to me, but the business of how to be natural was the result of the need to organize, be disciplined, prepare and study.
ST: Current TV fare is abominable, don't you agree?
FD: The politics of TV has created a very dull-minded product. Advertisers in New York are not thinking about great content, but selling product to a particular demographic. These are the guys you have to approach today to get a show on the air. "Hunter" is doing well in syndication, though.
ST: You have spent a lot of time at the Playboy Mansion. My take is that Hugh Hefner's actually a lonely guy who surrounds himself with people because he's afraid of being alone. What do you think?
FD: Not at all. He's doing exactly what he wants to do with his life, he lives just the way he wants to. He opens his house up to people because he wants to share what he has. I don't hang out with him so much any more, but I've known him for 28 years and had some good times. He's a true host.
He can throw a party, pal.
ST: Do you know Bo Belinsky?
FD: I met Bo in Las Vegas. He had a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
ST: Tell me about your current film in release.
FD: "Highway 395" is set in Eastern California, the road to Bridgeport, and I directed it. Fred Dryer Productions is involved mostly in the foreign marketplace. I look at what's being made these days, and it's all convoluted politics. The liberal bathwater coming out of this town has these people's tainted opinions about what is right and wrong. Look at the sh-t films out there. Whose greenlighting it? Read David Horowitz' "Radical Sun" and "Hating Whitey". Political Correctness is destroying our culture.
ST Have you seen "Any Given Sunday"?
FD: I enjoyed it. What Oliver Stone seems to be saying is that blacks have destroyed the culture of pro football. The league has gone from tradition to thuggery and street rap. Stone is always looking at the culture in the films he makes.
ST Whose the greatest President of the Twentieth Century?
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism