(Photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
Talk of Fame Network
Long before he was an assistant coach, Ken Norton was a star linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. In fact, he’s the only player to win three Lombardi Trophies in succession.
Norton not was a rock-solid player who was tough and resilient. In the last 11 years of his career he not only missed only one game; he never missed a start in his last 10 … and credit those Jimmy Johnson training camps in Dallas.
In fact, Norton, who appeared on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, said there’s no comparison to what his players experience today in the NFL and what he went through in the early 1990s under Johnson, then the head coach in Dallas.
“I tell my players today the way the training camps were," said Norton, now the defensive coordinator for Oakland. "The way Jimmy Johnson pushed us ... Sometimes, we’d have eight scrimmages consecutive days. Houston would come in. The Raiders would come in. The Chargers would come in. The padded practices were back to back.
“Nowadays, you can’t have back-to-back padded practices. There were fights. I remember the Danny Noonan (former Dallas defensive lineman) fight. I think he hit (offensive lineman) Nate Newton in the head with a helmet. It was a melee. It was offense vs. the defense. It was just all out wars. And that’s the way we knew how to play.
“You just found out. You knew once you got a guy out on the field. If you weren’t sure the type of player he was, you just get him to the field, and we’ll see. We’ll find out if he’s tough or not. Nowadays, there’s walk-throughs. There’s no contact. There’s no scrimmages. If you’re not a tough guy, you can hide in this league for a few years before they find out.”
Norton switched sides in 1994, joining the San Francisco 49ers as an unrestricted free agent after the 49ers lost consecutive conference championship games to Dallas. And with the additions of defensive free agents like him, Deion Sanders, Gary Plummer and Rickey Jackson, the 49ers won a fifth Super Bowl.
But first they had to overcome Dallas in a third straight conference championship game.
“I don’t know if it was weird,” Norton said of playing his ex-teammates in the ’94 conference title contest. “It was almost like playing against your friends … your best friends … your brothers that you had grown up with playing football.
“I had a whole season to really get over the weirdness of it … of playing in different colors. But seeing Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman and all the guys (that) you’d help build the Cowboys with … seeing them on the other side of the ball … it became more personal. It really became a personal competition to see who was really the best and get that third Super Bowl.
“I know they didn’t want me to get it. I didn’t want them to get it. So it became a really good competition and those days… those were the good old days of old-school football.”