Joe Bock Interview (July 2009)

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Birmingham Stallions Player and Ticket Sales  1983, 1985
Houston Gamblers Player and Ticket Sales  1984


Anthony: What was your first experience playing football?

Joe: I tried out for Pop Warner when I was in the sixth grade, in Pittsford, New York. It’s my hometown where I still live today. Being the leader I thought I could be, I tried out for quarterback and was one of five kids who got cut from the team.

Anthony: I assume you went back and tried again the next year?

Joe: Yeah, and getting cut in the sixth grade was the thing that really made me work hard to become a good player.

Anthony: How about your high school years?

Joe: I attended East Rochester High School. Even though East Rochester is this tiny town among the much larger suburbs and big city -- the high school only had about 300 kids -- it had one of the most dominant football teams in all of the state. The team’s success was all because of Coach Don Quinn. My son’s middle name is Quinn because of the influence the coach had on my life, and he’s the reason I’m a high school coach and teacher today. He always related sports to life, and there was a life lesson to be learned every time we played a game.

Anthony: So you got noticed by the University of Virginia because of the high-profile team you played for?

Joe: No... (Laughs) It’s a funny story. I was 6’4" and weighed 199 pounds as a senior in high school, and was really small as a ninth and tenth grader. My mother was really into the education scene, and to make a long story short, wouldn’t let me play high school sports without straight A’s in every subject. I also had to have a job of thirty hours a week, so I was a dishwasher at the local Italian restaurant. She was really tough and had that Irish discipline.

Anyhow, she only wanted me to go to two schools -- Notre Dame or the University of Virginia -- because of the education factor. What’s funny is that for two-and-a-half years, unbeknownst to me, she would call Notre Dame and Virginia and try to get them to recruit me by speaking with the football coaches. Coincidentally, my high school quarterback (Tony Sidor) was the most heavily-recruited player in the state. Woody Hayes, Howard Schnellenberger and Joe Paterno all came to his house. Tony would put in a good word for me, but everyone said I needed to gain another 40 or 50 pounds -- and no one wanted to wait two or three years for me to gain them. Well, what happened was that during the final week or so of recruiting, the guy that recruited for Virginia was in Buffalo. He was having breakfast and reading about the All-State team. He saw my name listed as First-Team All-State Center, and was trying to remember how he knew my name, then remembered that my mom was the crazy lady who had been calling them every week for two and a half years. He called Don Quinn to ask about me, and Don said he’d better get right over here. He stopped what he was doing in Buffalo and came over to Rochester, and a couple of days later I went to the last weekend visit the school and was offered the last scholarship Virginia had.

So it was all because of mom Bock... She was the reason for that.

Anthony: After college you attended two NFL training camps; with the Bills in 1981 and the Jets in 1982.

Joe: I was mainly at those camps to try out as a long-snapper, but the training camps back then were a bit different than they are now -- a lot more hitting and a lot more physical work. These days it seems more like a country club. I actually failed my physical during the Jets mini-camp in ‘82, because of a little neck injury I received in Virginia, which was basically undetected until I attended that mini-camp. The year before with the Bills, there were originally 50 guys trying out for one spot at long-snapper, and it came down to me and another guy. They went with the other guy, who sucked up to the special teams coach a little more than I did.

Anthony: So how did you stay in shape while you were out of football for two years?

Joe: A lot of hard work, dedication and desire. I told myself I wasn’t going to quit or give up on this. I’d work out for three, four, five, six hours a day.

Anthony: So, of course, the USFL forms the next year in 1983, so here’s a new league with new teams, coaching staffs and everything else. Maybe you can fill us in on how you hooked up with the Washington Federals?

Joe: The USFL set up a territorial system, so if you went to college at Auburn or Alabama, you had to sign up with the Birmingham Stallions. They wanted the fans to know the players and have a connection with the colleges they attended. Your territorial team would be the one you’d have to originally go with. The University of Virginia wasn’t very far from Washington, so I had to give the Federals a try.

Anthony: You weren’t picked up by the Federals, but Birmingham took you in time to play in sixteen games that year.

Joe: A former Redskins linebacker named Dallas Hickman was also in the Federals training camp with me, and I think we were both cut around the same time near the end of the camp. Birmingham picked him up, and they were still looking for a long-snapper. He gave them my name, and they called me the week of the second game. I didn’t get there in time to play that week, but I did play the rest of the season.

Anthony: Did you enjoy the whole "new" feeling associated with the USFL that first year?

Joe: Oh yeah. It was great. Birmingham was a great city to be in, with great people and great fans. The team was like a family. Head Coach Rollie Dotsch was hard as nails, but also like a father, and just a hardcore, old-school kind of guy. It was pro football and we worked hard, but it was a lot of fun and played a lot of golf during our free time. Lifelong friendships between many of the guys.

Anthony: The Stallions had a pretty good year in ‘83, but didn’t quite make the playoffs.

Joe: Yes, we had nine wins and nine losses.

Anthony: Shortly after that season ended, the Gamblers picked you in the Veteran Allocation Draft.

Joe: Right. The league was supposed to go from 12 to 18 teams, and the 12 original teams were going to be able to protect a certain amount of their players each round. It was really like a reverse draft, because if you got picked in a early round, it meant your team didn’t protect you right away; if you got picked in the later rounds, it probably meant you were protected in the early rounds, but it eventually became a numbers thing. Rollie Dotsch told me that he protected me as long as he could, and I think the Gamblers took me in the last round.

Things got a bit ugly at this point, because I had just gotten married a couple of months prior to that draft, and we had moved to Birmingham. She was only 23 years old and had gotten a teaching job at a top-notch high school there. I was going to sell season tickets for the Stallions during the off season. Well, I got picked by Houston on her second day of school, and found out we would have to move. In addition to that, I was no longer allowed to sell season tickets for the Stallions as a player. The way we got around that was for the team to fire me as a player, and re-hire me as an individual. This allowed me to sell the season tickets for a couple of months, and we wound up moving to Houston about a month or so before training camp started.

Anthony: So how were those early days with the Gamblers?

Joe: I didn’t get off on the best foot with the coaching staff. They were working out the team every day at Rice University. The linemen were lifting weights from eight until noon every morning, then they would be on the field from one till five. Kelly was down on one end doing the run and shoot with the receivers, and the linemen were on the other end doing one-on-one pass rushing, with no pads, against 350 pound guys they pulled off the street.

They wanted me to join these workouts for $150 a week. Well, you couldn’t live off of $150 a week in Houston in 1984, so I got my wife a job in the Gamblers front office answering the telephone, and I got a job through Jerry Argovitz selling season tickets in Houston. I’d go all over the Houston area during the day with a shirt and tie on, then around five o’clock I’d arrive at Rice University to work out. Everyone else would just be getting done, and Jack Pardee and Bob Young would see me coming in the tunnel with the shirt and tie on. I’m sure it rubbed them the wrong way, you know, because I hadn‘t been working out all day. But I would work with them until around six, and when they were gone, I’d go lift weights from six till ten every night.

Anthony: In addition to all of this, I’m sure there was no guarantee that you’d make the team?

Joe: No job security at all. If you got hurt while doing one-on-one pass rushes with no pads on, before the season started, you’d be out of luck.

Anthony: Well, you did make the team, in spite of any problems or misunderstandings that may have happened. When did you know for sure that you had made it?

Joe: To be honest, I never felt secure the entire year I was there. The training camp and 18 weeks afterwards wasn’t too great. I used to go out to the training camp practices about 45 minutes early every day, and then be the last one on the field by about 45 minutes at the end. What happened was, the week before training camp ended, I went out there and they had all the linebackers and linemen lined up in two rows, trying to long-snap to each other. They hadn’t told me about it, and right away I realized they were trying to find a long-snapper and cut me.

I got kinda mad and felt an adrenaline surge, and decided to find the coach in charge of the drill. I saw that it was Mouse Davis, so I decided to mess with him a bit. He was working with Ernie Rogers. I walked up to Mouse and asked, "So, you’re trying to teach Ernie how to long-snap?" He had this shocked look on his face when he turned around and saw me, and told me he was. I asked if he’d mind if I helped, and Mouse said he wouldn’t mind. I asked Ernie if he was left-handed, and he was, so I told him, "Here’s what you do. You grab the ball like you’re throwing a regular pass, grab the laces right here, you put the ball on the ground, and you go boom!" I snapped a fastball, left-handed, right back into the guy‘s hands.

It was the first time I’d ever snapped the ball left-handed. I just did it on adrenaline and pure fire. Then I went back over to Mouse and asked, "Hey Mouse, do you know why I can do that left-handed?" He asked why, and I told him, "Because if I ever break my right arm, I don’t want to lose my job." Then I walked away.

The other thing is this. I knew I was in rough waters with coach Bob Young when I didn’t agree to do a few things he wanted me to do, and we had a pretty rough relationship after that. Jim Kelly told me during the first week of training camp that he recommended to the coaches that I be the starting center. I did start the first week, but it was downhill from there, and I believe it was because I didn’t see eye to eye with Bob Young.

Anthony: You obviously endured quite a bit of frustration the entire 1984 season. Then, during the last game of the season, someone decided to put you in at defensive end?

Joe: I basically spent most of the year standing on the sidelines, waiting for Bob Young to put me in. But I got along well with the defensive coaches. So right before the last game of the year, I went up to Ray Alborn, who was the defensive line coach. I said, "Hey coach, I know most of your defensive line is all banged-up and bruised, and I don’t think you’re even gonna have enough guys to line up against the scout team squad in practice today. I played defensive line in college, and I’d love to help you out and run scout team defense today." Alborn thought it was a great idea, and told me to go get a black shirt.

The first play in, I went flying by Tommy Robison, and right as Kelly threw the ball, I smashed him as hard as I could. You’re not supposed to do that with the franchise quarterback, you know? When we lined up for the next play, Robison said he was going to kill me. I went right by him again, and smashed Kelly again. All I remember is the whole line trying to fight me during this big brouhaha, and Kelly was loving it -- he was basically just a linebacker playing quarterback. He was the best, toughest player I ever played with in my life.

Pardee threw me out of practice after the second time, and the first words out of his mouth at the team meeting the next morning were, "Joe Bock, since you‘re such a tough guy, we‘re going to move you to defense full-time." So for the eighteenth week of the season, they moved me to defensive end full-time. I finally got to do some drills with the defense, and had a great practice. In fact, I felt a lot of support from my teammates, and had always gotten along great with all the players on the team.

That whole week, while practicing with the defense, I visualized myself getting a sack in the game. I wanted to do that so badly, just to show them that they’d made a mistake with how they’d handled me all year. On game day, they finally put me in with a couple of minutes left to go. Pete Catan and Cleveland Crosby kept yelling, "Put Bock in!," and Ray Alborn finally did... And I got my sack.

Video of the "Joe Bock Game," played against the Memphis Showboats on June 25, 1984.

Anthony: So did they finally cut you at the end of the season, because they felt they had enough time to find a long-snapper before the next season began?

Joe: No, they had me under contract for 1985, too. I showed up for training camp with Houston in 1985 as a second-string defensive end, behind Pete Catan. They cut me out of nowhere after the first week of training camp, and Birmingham picked me up that same day.

Anthony: Did you go back to center with Birmingham?

Joe: Well, since I had some time at defensive end, they kinda used me wherever they needed me. I was a second-string center most of the time, but I bounced around on both the offensive and defensive lines.

Anthony: It must have been a great ride with Birmingham in 1985. You guys had a great year, and made it to the playoffs.

Joe: Yeah, we got a ring and a bonus for being Eastern Conference Champions, and of course beat Houston in the playoffs. I thought we were going to win the whole thing.

Anthony: Who were some of the guys you were close to during your year with the Gamblers?

Joe: June Jones was a great guy that I used to get along with, and maybe the greatest guy I‘ve ever met in sports. He did a Bible study at his home on Tuesday nights. I roomed with Pete Catan, who was also from Rochester, New York, who is also a really nice Christian guy. I was good friends with Scott Boucher, Kiki DeAyala, Jim Kelly, Todd Fowler. I loved working with all of them. Oh, and I roomed with Toni Fritsch for a while, since he was the kicker.

Anthony: Did you understand a word he was saying?

Joe: A little bit, yeah.

Anthony: You had your first child while in Houston?

Joe: My oldest daughter was born at Rosewood General Hospital on March 1, 1984. I think she was about three weeks old when she showed up at the Dome to watch us play.

Anthony: You played some football after the USFL folded. Which teams did you play for after that? Then, with your teaching degree from Virginia and sales experience, what did you do after your playing days ended?

Joe: I was a last-minute cut with the Cardinals and Bills in their training camps. I did play a little for the Bills during the strike of 1987, then in 1988 I played for the Chicago Bruisers. The Bruisers made it to Arena Bowl II that year, and I suffered a spinal injury in that game. I was paralyzed from the waist down for about four days, then had to wear a back and neck brace for a long time. After a long gap without playing, some guys started a team called the Rochester Raiders, which was a professional indoor football team in the Great Lakes Indoor League. So in 2006, at the age of 46, I tried out for that team and made it, playing alongside a bunch of 22 and 23 year old kids. I played defensive line, offensive line, snapper, and even covered kickoffs.

I just finished my thirteenth year as a teacher in the Rochester City School District, and I work at a very difficult, challenging inner city high school. We’ve won two sectional championships, and have been to the state semi-finals twice. It’s all about teaching these kids discipline and hard work through football.

Anthony: So what else are you doing these days? (Former Gambler) Donny Martin says you’re the one who got him addicted to Golf.

Joe: I’m still playing a lot of golf. I have a son named Bret, and I coach his little league baseball and football teams.

Anthony: Well, I’ve had a heck of an afternoon with you today. Thanks a million for your time!

Joe: Thank you too. Feel free to call or email anytime.