Darryl Grant stepped back on to the field at Rice Stadium for the first time in over 30 years on Thursday, taking up an offer from head coach David Bailiff to speak to the current group of Owls as they wrapped up preparations for Saturday's Homecoming clash with UTSA.
Few former Owls could bring as formidable a list of accomplishments with their message to the current players. Grant beat the odds as a ninth-round pick by Washington in 1981, playing for 11 years in the NFL and capturing two Super Bowl rings. In 2007, he was enshrined in the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame, where he joined former Rice standouts Tommy Kramer, Tobin Rote and Norm Charlton.
But fewer could find kinship with so many of the position groups of players who gathered to hear his message, because during his time at Rice, Grant seemingly saw playing time at nearly every position along the offensive and defensive fronts for the Owls.
Grant arrived on South Main in 1977 as a center, but someone who had excelled on both sides of the ball at Highlands High School in San Antonio. He would letter as a true freshman at that position, then move to nose guard as a sophomore, linebacker as a junior and then flip back to offensive tackle as a senior.
"They (the Rice coaching staff) knew that I could play pretty much anywhere they needed me. I was willing to move, so they placed me wherever there was a need. I always looked at it that they had confidence in me to handle it." Grant said. "It seemed like I was always drawing the assignment against the other team's best player. When I was a sophomore at nose guard and we played against Oklahoma, it meant I was going against Greg Roberts (1978 Outland winner). When I was a senior playing Arkansas, it meant lining up a tackle against Billy Ray Smith (two-time, All-American)."
"I looked at each challenge as an opportunity to be noticed because I knew scouts would be watching tape of those players. My hope always was that I would stand out on film and they would add me to their list of prospects. I always believed that showing versatility would be something that would help me get to the pros."
Grant's hunch paid off when Washington selected him in the ninth round in 1981, announcing his selection as a guard. Grant was part of a draft haul for the Redskins that included Mark May (OT), Russ Grimm (OG), Dexter Manley (DE) and Clint Didier (TE). Each of those players would become a stalwart on Washington teams that would play for the NFC title four times in the next decade. Grant would join them, but only after yet another position change, to defensive tackle.
After a rookie season spent learning the position, Grant became a fixture on the Washington defensive front, along with Manley, Charles Mann and Dave Butz. In 10 seasons in Washington, Grant went to the playoffs six times, played in four NFC Championships and three Super Bowls, winning twice.
But for all his accumulated time in the postseason, Grant's career may be best remembered for the celebratory spike after scoring the only touchdown of his career to cement Washington's 31-17 win over Dallas in the NFC title game.
With Washington clinging to a 24-17 lead with seven minutes left in the game, Dallas quarterback Gary Hogeboom's screen pass to Tony Dorsett was deflected into the air by Manley. Grant grabbed the deflection and deftly avoided tacklers to reach the end zone.
Grant unleashed a fearsome spike of the ball as the Washington fans went into a state of delirium fueled by the knowledge they had vanquished the hated Cowboys and were going to the Super Bowl. The celebration grew so boisterous that sections of RFK Stadium began to bounce and a few began to crash in to each other.
A photo of Grant's spike found its way on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ensuring Grant a lifetime of autograph requests.
"I've easily signed tens of thousands of them," Grant recalled. "And these are not reprints of the cover. These are original magazines with the address labels on them. The funny thing is whenever anyone has one for me to sign, they also tell me they were there in that end zone when I scored, but there is no way that many people were actually in that corner," he laughed.
Ironically, Grant's moment in time allowed him to join a former Rice teammate, Earl Cooper, as two of three former Owls (Frank Ryan, twice as a member of the Cleveland Browns) to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Cooper made two appearances in his career with San Francisco giving the duo three covers, or just one less than the number of wins they enjoyed in three seasons as teammates at Rice.
This weekend, Grant will join with many of his old teammates to reminisce not so much about the scores of games, but of the experiences that bond teammates for eternity, no matter the outcome of contests.
"We held our own in so many games back then, but we did not come out with a lot of wins," Grant said. "But they were great times and I am looking forward to sharing a lot of stories."