Ray Nettles -
Linebacker - 1972-76 - Tennessee
Gene Frenette - Jacksonville.Com - 29-09-2009
Nettles, a former Englewood High middle linebacker who went on to stardom
in the Canadian Football League and became the first native Floridian
inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame, died Tuesday afternoon at a Southside
Hospice after a prolonged battle with liver and lung cancer. He was 60.
“Ray is in heaven on his mother’s birthday,” Nettles’ wife,
Bonnie, said. “I praise God for his life and the time I had with him. It
was a gift to be with the true love of my life.”
Nettles, an All-Southeastern Conference linebacker at
Tennessee in 1971, played nine seasons with five different CFL teams. He
played over half of his pro career (1972-76) with the British Columbia
Lions in Vancouver, where he won the Schenley Award as the league’s top
lineman/linebacker and was a three-time CFL all-star. He went on to become
the defensive MVP with both the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton
Tiger-Cats, then played his last two CFL seasons with the Ottawa
Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders.
Ranked No. 51 on the Florida Times-Union list of the 100
greatest athletes of the 20th century, Nettles was an impact player on
Tennessee teams that went 21-3 in his two seasons (1970-71) as a starting
linebacker. At Englewood, he was named to the All-State third team in 1967
and honored as defensive player of the year in Duval County.
In 2005, Nettles became the first football player from
Florida to make the CFL Hall of Fame.
He was later joined in 2008 by former Toronto Argonauts
player/coach and Dunedin native Michael Clemons.
Nettles was drafted in 1972 by the Miami Dolphins in the
sixth round, but he turned down a $5,000 bonus to join the CFL because it
offered double the money, and he didn’t want to be a likely backup to Nick
Buoniconti on the Dolphins’ eventual two-time Super Bowl-winning team.
“It’s not like I was afraid to play in the NFL,” Nettles
told the Times-Union in 1999. “I could have had success there, but I
already waited my turn behind Jack Reynolds at Tennessee, and I didn’t
want to do that again. I wanted to prove myself right away.”
In recent months, Nettles was in the news again for a
Times-Union story that documented his lifelong struggles with alcohol and
cocaine addictions. His journey led to an assortment of personal troubles
that included three divorces, remarrying his current wife, Bonnie, and
then finally achieving sobriety last November after a six-week stint at
Willingway Hospital in Statesboro, Ga.
“I was proud for his accomplishments in football, but I’m
more proud of his accomplishments this last year,” said Bill Battle,
Nettles’ former head coach at Tennessee. “He was fighting a terrible
disease that not many people win. But in overcoming his addictions, he was
trying to send the message that what he did all those years wasn’t the
right way to do it. He wasn’t afraid of death, like he wasn’t afraid of
“Ray came back and fought a fight [against addiction] he
hadn’t been able to win over decades. In doing that, he regained respect
and dignity in himself, which put him at peace.”
Nettles’ former Tennessee teammates and coaches put
together a fund to pay the exorbitant costs of his rehabilitation. Many of
them reunited with Nettles in Jacksonville on August 1 to celebrate his
“What makes this so difficult is I’m losing a brother,”
said former Tennessee linebacker and Atlanta resident Jamie Rotella, one
of Nettles’ closest friends. “If you Google Ray’s name, you see all the
things he accomplished on the field were real, but that’s not what I’ll
remember him for. He was an encourager, a cheerleader. He had an
enthusiasm award named after him at Tennessee. That was the kind of player
he was. He had the ability to get everybody focused and rallying around
“There’s plenty of referees willing to come down on you
just as soon as you mess up in life. Ray didn’t judge people, he lifted
them up. That’s what all those honors and awards don’t tell you about
Nettles, known in his playing days for his motorcycles,
long hair and propensity for fast living, had battled liver problems for
over a decade. Before his passing, Nettles said he was grateful for the
personal redemption of the past year.
“In my mind, I wasn’t suppose to live past 50, so I didn’t
take rehabilitation seriously the first few times I tried it,” Nettles
said in July. “I was always standing on the edge, looking over a cliff,
but stepping backwards. A few times, I slipped and saw a couple of the
rocks fall and God spared me many times. I just never could figure out why
until this past year.”
Nettles’ family, friends and ex-teammates were uplifted by
him achieving sobriety, an accomplishment that allowed Nettles to live out
his final months in peace, despite the physical toll the illness took on
“Ray left a real mark on a bunch of things,”
said former UT teammate Bill Emendorfer. “We’re sad for the way Ray’s
health was near the end, but happy for his life-changing experience.
His whole identity was based on his ability
to play football, be an athlete and be the toughest guy. The whole last
year of his life was based on his Christianity. I’m telling you, that’s
“[Getting sober] brought back so much purpose
and dignity in his life. There’ll be more good things to come out of this
last year of Ray’s life than anybody can imagine. He touched so many
excerpt - Dave Naylor - GlobeandMail - 16-07-2009
Stories of professional athletes
who've fallen on hard times aren't hard to find.
But they are hard to take for fans
who remember them as they were during their playing days.
Such is the case for Ray Nettles, the
former CFL linebacker and 2005 Hall of Fame inductee who's life of
drugs, alcohol and broken relationships is in its final stages.
Nettles, who played wiith B.C.,
Toronto and Ottawa from 1972-80 has stage-4 cancer and was given a
prognosis of one year to live back in April.
Nettles lived in the fast lane, both
during his playing days -- which included his first experience
with cocaine being shared with then-Montreal Alouettes tailback
Johnny Rodgers in a hotel room the night of the 1972 CFL awards
banquet -- and afterwards.
Nettles was the kind of player you
imagined could eat glass. But his anything-goes style caught up
with him first on the field through injuries and then off it in a
multitude of ways.
He underwent 11 surgeries in nine CFL
seasons in order to keep playing the game, and living the life
that he loved. And he paid a huge price for it.
Too often, football players punish
their bodies in ways that we never see. Then they retire into
obscurity but the scars they take with them from the game haunt