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In Play with Craig Mattick: George Amundson
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In Play with Craig Mattick: George Amundson
South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame

George Amundson is South Dakota's high school record holder in the discus throw, was a college football All-American for Iowa State, and is a former first round pick in the National Football League.

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When you talk about some of the greatest athletes in our state of South Dakota, you have to mention our next guest, a multi-sport athlete at Aberdeen Central. He has the longest held record in South Dakota High School track and field. He was a football and track star at Iowa state and was picked in the first round in the 1973 NFL Draft. We're very pleased to welcome to In Play George Amundson, and George, a belated birthday because I know you had your birthday back on March 31st.

Yes. I did. Craig, it's so nice to be with you. I love South Dakota. And so, I appreciate the opportunity to get to talk to you.

You grew up in Aberdeen though, you played football and you played basketball. You played baseball, of course, track and field. When it came to football, though, you were like linebacker and quarterback. How good was Aberdeen back then in the late 60s?

Well, I think we won the ESD in my junior year and then my senior year I was hurt for a few games. So we lost, I think, four games and then we were pretty good again, but probably not saying, Yankton was always good back then. Pierre was always good. So it seemed like we were pretty darn good. I get better every year though, when we go back to talk with the guys. We're undefeated.

How about basketball? What did you play in basketball and was your team good when you played?

Well, let's see, as a sophomore, we went to the tournament in Sioux Falls and then my senior year, we lost to Sioux Falls, Washington, the first game but we came back. So we called it getting third. So we did pretty good in basketball too back then.

I'm assuming football was your favorite sport.

Well, it was a patented saying I always had when I was asked, what's your favorite sport? I would always say the sport in season. So track and field was awfully a lot fun. I mean, it was an individual sport where if you didn't do well, you couldn't look at the guy next to you and say, "Hey, I can meet him, make that block or get that interception." It was pretty much on you, unless it's a relay, but in the field events, if you're not doing well, you can't look at anyone else. I loved track and field for that aspect. And you could get to know your competitors in track and field, football, basketball, it's me against you, a team, team. But in track and field, you'd sit around a lot between flights and you got to know a lot of the guys.

So I don't know, in baseball, of course, is what better sport is that? In summertime, it's beautiful weather, you play a double header. We jump into character and the heaters on it, it's 90 out. We put the heaters on and drive out to Richmond Lake and jump in the lake and steam coming off our bodies. I mean, it was a glorious time.

What position did you play in baseball?

I played first base the last three years. First year, I was a catcher and I think I played a little bit of right field, but first base was most of the time.

But when it comes to track and field, you still have the longest held record in South Dakota track and field. And it was the discus 1969 in Spearfish. Take me back to that day. Where were you flighted? I mean, were you the favorite to win that day, that weekend in Spearfish?

I have to be careful how I say this, because you'll think I'm conceited, but I didn't lose as a junior and this was the end of my senior year. So no one had ever beaten me. So I pretty much, if I just do what I do, I would win. But when I got there, I think we had two divisions for the size of school and the track, there was a discus ring just outside the track. So I liked that, that way he made coaches run to see, but because I was throwing and I told threw it far, they moved the A discus to some junior high in Rapid City on a mountain, and we all get up there. And it was probably, I don't know, 20 throwers, a few dads and moms, my dad, of course, and coaches, Ron Stockin, and a few other coaches and two or three judges and guys were throwing the discus into the wind.

And it was just a horrible end right into, some of them just about came back to where they threw it from. Then I started asking around, "Why are we up here?" And I found out from the judges that it was because of me. I said, "I don't care." If there's a road where we were supposed to throw, I won't throw that way. I'll throw it the other way. And he said, "Well, if you get all the throwers to agree, we'll move." So we talked around and said, "Heck. Yeah." Because it was just horrendous condition. So we go back down to the track and now I'm right next to the stadium, right next to my teammates, right next to the coaches. And the wind was perfectly quartering when you want a quarter-inch from the left. And I was on a high just because we got to move back there.

And then the wind was perfect. I remember throwing one. And Ron Stockin was my coach and I love him to death. I still stay in touch with him. He would never ever coach me during a meet. He just knew, don't talk to George, but we would throw, and then we drove down the side of the arc out of bounds. The kids would throw them off to the side. And I was going on, I bent over to pick it up and I'm walking back and coach Stockin was there and he said, "Hey, I think that was pretty good." I said, "I don't know. I don't see any mark that needs to glow." Here's 200 and something that was about 37 feet further. That was the first time I knew that something might happen.

The longest throw in the discus before the state track? What was yours?

Oh, mine, I think maybe close to 190 is all.

190 feet. And on that day, you had one throw, 211 feet, four inches. Nobody in South Dakota had ever thrown that far. In fact, it was a national record as well. Was it on your first, second or third throw?

I'm not sure. I think it was on the second one because if I recollect, I was feeling so good on that first one. It's sort of golf, if you take a nice, easy swing and you usually hit your best drive. And then when you try to swing a little harder, you hook it or dribble it. So I think I did that the first one, and it probably only went 200 or whatever until that next one, I just relaxed and it just... I could do anything I wanted to with that discus that day. I probably could have hit, a beach ball out there, put it anywhere you want. That's how comfortable I was that day knowing what the wind was, how to turn the discus is either way to the left or to the right. Oh gee, it was shift. Was one of those if you're a basketball player, if everything you throw up goes in, that's how I felt throwing the discus that day.

It was a national and state record, but it was not nationally recognized because they said uneven terrain. So was it uneven?

It didn't seem uneven to me, it was just a big old field. And the next weekend, in Aberdeen, I threw 201 or 200 feet, one inch and the high school federations don't except AAU marks. So it was an AAU track made in Aberdeen, but yeah, there was nothing different when that field of any other field with throwing in except maybe Pierre where I threw it over the railroad tracks.

Track and field was pretty important for you. By the way, how heavy was the disc? Because they've changed the weight of the disc. I think they've gone heavy, haven't they?

Oh no, it's the same one and a half kilos. Three pounds, four ounces. So anyway, it's one and a half kilos. College it's bigger and the Olympics, it's a two kilos, so it's four something. And then three something in high school.

Could you have tried out for the Olympics at the discus?

It would have been perfect timing, the 72. I didn't spend the time with track and field. I was too busy doing other things elsewhere.

I was doing football. Prior to the senior summer, Rapid City, there was a meet called the Gold Westpac meet out in California, but they invite the top eight kids from every event, hurdles, miles. Steve Prefontaine was there and I won that. I threw 196 something. And so, then that was the last time when I threw in high school was out there.

George Amundson joins us by the way. He lives now in Texas, is from Aberdeen, and one of the great athletes in South Dakota High School. Of course, you went on to play football at Iowa state. How serious was Iowa state? How early were they serious in you?

Well, the reason I went there, I wanted to be an engineer, number one, and I wanted to stay in the Midwest culture. My dad agreeing mattered to me and Johnny Majors was in the second year of his coaching tenure. And they're all young coaches, Jimmy Johnson food, Joe Avezzano and I wanted to be a part of a program, it was on its way up as opposed to the '71 Nebraska Cornhuskers or '71 Tennessee Volunteers. And as freshmen were not eligible back then to play varsity in football so that's a wash. And then my sophomore year, they moved the quarterback from the starting quarterback to defense because I going to start. I'd made a deal with Johnny Majors that I could run track and field and play football, of course.

How did you do that?

So, for example, the Kansas relays on a Saturday morning. And as I competed and I finished throwing, I'd jump in a car with, a grad assistant and would drive me back to Ames and in the spring game. And so, my arm was a little bit worked over, I hear I'd be throwing a football as harder as you can, and then discus, which is one and a half kilos. Oh, well, then as a sophomore, I was quarterback. During the year, everyone got hurt. I went to Vegas and that's my story. Anyway, I think he tells it differently, but I was running back my junior year and we went to our first bowl game with the full history and then...

You had the single season rushing record that year, 1,300 yards and you played in the Sun Bowl.

Yes. And then the next year we went back to quarterback and we went to the Liberty Bowl. So first two bowl games in the school's history, which is pretty neat. Back then there was only 12 bowl games. 

And then, you had to make a decision if you want to go pro, what was that decision like? It's a lot different than the NFL Draft today, but by golly, Houston called you, what was that process like back in 1973?

Well, we certainly didn't go to New York city and sit around and they call your name and you walk out, put their baseball cap on sideways or backwards, was pretty much just a call. And really there was no decision to make, certainly, I mean, what would you rather do? Play games for a living or get in the real world. So it was no decision to whether to, or not to go on to play football in the NFL.

They called you and said, "We might be thinking about you." Or was it a total surprise that day? Because the number one pick that year was John Matuszak and we all know how great of a player he was, but Houston had another pick in the first round. And that's when they picked you.

Yeah, he was one. And I think they call me one A, but I played in all those bowl games. I played in the East–West Shrine game in San Francisco, and then I played in the Hula Bowl. And then I played in the college all-star-game, of course, by the college all-star-game we knew where we were drafted, but people would come up to talk to you and you had a pretty, pretty good feel that they were interested in you. I mean, I didn't know for sure, that's certain when I was going to be drafted, but it didn't matter to me. I didn't really care. I just felt if someone wanted me, shoot. If they want you, then let's go for it.

George, you are used to winning. You were used to winning in Aberdeen. You're used to winning at Iowa state. It wasn't that way, that first year in the NFL with Houston. What was going through your mind at that time?

Well, it wasn't a difference to be very honest. I remember watching Monday Night Football in college, and it was Houston Oilers against someone, and they were just getting trounced. They'd only won one game and they ended up one in 13 that year. And the camera, it's in the Astrodome. Camera comes right down into this guy. Who's got the landing on the chair with his feet up, pat over the eyes and looks up. And I guess he sensed the camera and he just sticks up his finger at the camera.

And Dandy Don Meredith said, "No, there's the fan that takes these teams number one." Certainly that's the one I get drafted by. So by first year, we only won one game again.

You had a coaching change too, because you had Bill Peterson as your coach. And then Sid Gillman came in there afterwards.

Yeah, Bill Peterson was the coach. And then Sid Gillman was the GM. And he was the puppet master because Bill Peterson made Yogi Bear props junior high. I mean, he could do some mixing up with the words and one time we're at halftime or no, before the game. And before we go out, they'd always say, "Take it on the knee." And that always meant, we'd say the Lord's prayer and kick it on the knee. And Bill Peterson says, "I'll do it." He says, "I'll do it." And he goes, and it's just quiet as a tack, maybe some breathing, a guy's ready to go. And he goes, "Now, I lay me down. Our Father, Who art in heaven-"

I mean, how are you going to go out now, kick someone's rear end when you got a coach doing that. So one time we go out to warm up and Oh, that was fun warming up, no pads on, nothing during the Astrodome warm ups. I get fined, was it $25? Anyway, and we're walking back and we'd walk back into the locker room, get your pads on, say the Lord's prayer, and then go back out and play. So after we'd warmed up the first time, we're walking up this long ramp underneath the Astrodome and I'm kicking my feet on the ground, I'm tossing a little bit and coach puts his arm around me, "Hey, George, what's wrong?" I said, "I'm just practicing for after the game." So they couldn't figure out why I wasn't serious about the game and I don't know why they felt that.

They didn't really use you a lot in Houston. Were you kind of frustrated with that?

Oh sure. That first year I was begging to do specialties. Before I got there, being a quarterback, maybe a little running back and I'm too good for special teams is what my mentality was. And by halfway through the year and not getting to play much running back, that really was fullback of all places, not running back so that they could get onto the specialty. But I started my second year and shoot the first game against the Chargers. I scored three touchdowns in the first game. I led the league for at least a week anyway, that was about it. I think, I scored maybe one or two boards.

What happened after that?

I think the most ball I know, the most I ever carried the ball in the game was nine times. I need to touch the ball 20, 30 times. Any back will tell you that, Houston had a really horrible lines.

But then you went to Philadelphia in 1975 and that wasn't any better. What was it like in Philadelphia with the Eagles?

Well, McCormick liked me, Mike McCormick. So I figured the next year, maybe, that was halfway through the year or so I got on, then he goes off, he takes another coaching job. And then, Dick Vermeil comes in and he brings all his guys, and I start the first game under Dick Vermeil pre-season, and then I was gone within a week.

You tried out for tight end, wasn't it for singles?

Yes. Yes. I really enjoyed that because I'm the kind of guy that... I'll do anything. I mean, just give me a shot. You want me to play tight end, I'll play tight end. So I tried that and my first year there, J.V. Caine was the other tight... Well, J.V. Caine and Jackie Smith were the other two tight ends. And they were thinking about keeping three. So I'm thinking, "Well, okay. Maybe this is where I turn around and great things happen." And two days later, they became tears as Achilles. So now, they bring in all these other tight ends. I come back the next year, bigger, faster, stronger after they ended my career, but I had the whole year of rehab. Shoot, I came anyway and then J.V. Caine comes back and from Achilles tear and no one ever comes back after that, rarely anyway.

And I'm sort of the jokester. And I would pretend like I got hit. And when you run by those towers that hold the camper man up there, but then I get clothesline and we're running, I think seven, six, or whatever it is right next to it, he falls down on the field. But his head hits the ground. So I know it's something serious because you wouldn't let your head hit the ground. And he dies on the field. And then Jackie Smith was, I think traded to Dallas and he's now well-known for the missing end zone. And I guess the super big game. Yeah, darn it. I thought maybe that's St. Louis, but then they said, "You're too old, 27 or 28, whatever. Get another job."

Did you have a full-time job and play in the NFL?

No. Uh-uh. Shoot the first off team, and then I went back. I started with we're on a quarter system, so it was perfect time for winter. It was one of the quarters. So I come after football, go there and then go back to training camp. And first year, I was all excited. I had 15 hours, I ended up with three and then the next year, I went back. I'm single, of course. Then I started the same way. I ended up with six, so that's not even a full year yet. And then I got married and that's the hardest I've ever worked in my life. I studied every night, I'd saved all the technical paper writing class and the double Es, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering and saved all that stuff because putting it off and heck I think I studied every night, but I was married and Terry helped me.

Yeah. You moved to Houston after you played football, after football was all done. And pretty much that you've been a Texan since football, right?

Yeah. Since the 80s, we purchased the house in St. Louis and I met a guy down here in Houston and said, "Hey, I'm starting a little something, why don't you come down?" In fact that was in the Astrodome after the game, Terry, my wife was in St. Louis. So I'm down here in Nashville playing with the Cargill and Terry's folks come and two brothers and sister. And my friend said, "Hey, call me, I've got something going on." And I'm sure he thought maybe in the summer I would call him. But a couple of weeks later I was in touch or whatever. And so, I gave him a ring and he came down to start his little construction company.

Well, you've had success wherever you go, George, you have, of course, in Aberdeen, playing football, basketball, baseball, and track and field, state track, discus record that's still sitting there. And, of course, you get to play in the NFL, played at Iowa state, went to a couple of college bowl games. What is one thing that you haven't done that you've always wanted to do, but haven't done yet?

I'd like to move back to South Dakota and live there full-time

What's preventing you? We've got space open.

I still have a place on Pickerel Lake that I've had for 50 years, and then I go up there every summer. I just love it up there, the people are so wonderful. I am so dang proud to call South Dakota after Aberdeen my home. It's a special place, and it would be nice to be able to get up every day living there.

You're 70 now, right, George? Just had a birthday on March 31st. Are you feeling good?

Doing well. Feel good. I golf all the time. Still, can't do that very well. I keep thinking I'm going to get better but I don't.

What do you think about the current state of the NFL?

Well, I'm old school and I don't know if old school is the right word. It turns my stomach when we try to make political statements out of sports. Sports or entertainment, granted, it's a job for the ones doing it, but it's just the sport. Now on the bright side, the athletes are getting bigger, faster, stronger. It's fun to watch. Sports are sight lighted. It was a way I got a great education. And many of these athletes have had that opportunity too, whether they take advantage of it or not. I still watch it, but then when I see some knucklehead thing on it.

I would wonder what your touchdown dance would be though, George.

Well, I had it prepared, of course, Billy White Shoes was down here by second year when I was playing full-time. So he sort of took the thunder with that little Billy Johnson, White Shoes.

Anyway, so we're in the Astrodome and, of course, they played baseball right up while we're playing preseason games in the first game of the year or whatever. And there was skin on the infield, of course, right? Dirt. So they would take plywood with wood nailed to it and put it over that for the Sunday Football games. So it was my first time actually, it was a swing pass from Lynn Dickey. Cornered on the side that I should say, I ran over three guys, but I didn't, I was often remanded and as I'm getting ready to cross the goal line, I said, "Okay, I'm going to slam this ball so hard." Because up until now, you could never do that.

It's college, there was a penalty for spiking it. So I got it under my arm. I crossed the goal line. I raised my arm up, I'm just going to slam at it, it's going to hit the top of the goal posts. I hit those plywood boards. I start bouncing like I did, it burst, boom, boom. And I go to throw the ball and all of a sudden my feet go out and I come down and I land on my bottom, take the ball at the same time. That was my big flight.

Last question for you, George. 1969 in Spearfish, that discus throw, 211 feet, four inches. When you hear that, what comes to your mind?

Well, I do remember something that I'd never felt. Up until then was when I stood up on the podium to get the medal. Gosh, it had the stadium there and there were tears up on the side of the Hill where it was like a parking lot or parking. And there was cars all lined up. And I remember looking up there and everybody I saw was standing up on the parking lot in their cars and waving and such. Oh gosh, a neat feeling for a young guy to get some positive feedback from an athletic event. It was pretty neat. A big standing ovation as a high school kid was pretty neat.