Categorized | NFL Concussions

Hanratty Has Concerns about the Future

by Vidur Malik

Football Pro; Steelers vs  Minnesota Vikings  1971

Terry Hanratty (5) didn’t duplicate his success at Notre Dame with the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo: AP)

Terry Hanratty is battling the flu, but other than a few throaty coughs, he is in relatively great shape given his previous line of work.

Hanratty, 65, is not suffering from the crippling effects of head trauma experienced by many of his peers, who, like him, played football at a time when concussions were not discussed or even understood. Besides some mild arthritis in his neck and shoulders, there is no lingering pain for the former Notre Dame quarterback who played eight seasons in the NFL between 1969 and 1976.

But Hanratty played a violent game, the effects of which can linger decades after a player takes his final hit. Hanratty is one of more than 4,000 players suing the NFL, claiming the league knew about the potentially harmful long-term effects of head trauma. The players charge that the league hid that information from them both during their careers and in retirement. Hanratty included his name in the suit to support the players who are suffering today.

“Everyone who’s played the game has taken a lot of hits to the head,” said Hanratty, who was interviewed by phone along with others quoted in this story. “Some have noticed this a lot earlier than others. You just don’t know when. I could wake up tomorrow morning and something would’ve snapped in my head.”

Though Hanratty – who is suing for injury and economic loss – is not personally experiencing any lingering effects of head impact today, he can still be part of the case because the suit demands medical treatment be made available for all former players in case any health problems arise in the future, according to two sources with knowledge of the case.

Hanratty said he wants the NFL to establish a fund for retired players who suffer from the effects of head trauma. His second wife, Kelly, is also suing the NFL for loss of marital services, loss of companionship, affection or society, loss of support and monetary losses. Hanratty said she did not want to discuss the case.

Programs for former players do exist today. The Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan, which was established by the NFL in 1961, provides benefits to retired players. The NFL-run 88 Plan, offers financial care for former players with dementia. Hanratty said he did not know much about those programs. He is, however, part of the Connecticut chapter of NFL alumni, which works to increase benefits for retired players.

Hanratty’s own career looked promising during college. From 1966 to 1968, Hanratty and the skill position players in his Notre Dame class – Jim Seymour, Bob Gladieux and Coley O’Brien – became household names and gave the Irish a dangerous offense to go along with a strong defense between 1966 and 1968.

Hanratty and Seymour’s breakout game came against Purdue on Sept. 24, 1966. The sophomore passer – whose teammates called him “Rat” – threw three touchdowns to Seymour and finished with 304 passing yards. Seymour set a school receiving record with 276 yards, which has yet to be broken. The two quite literally became the faces of the team, with their likenesses gracing the cover of the Oct. 28, 1966 issue of Time Magazine.

“I was in awe of Terry,” said Joe Theismann, who took over the starting job at Notre Dame after Hanratty left and went on to play for the Washington Redskins. “He was the big man on campus.”

With its dynamic offense, which led the country in scoring at 36.2 points per game, and a defense which only gave up 3.8 points per game according to sports-reference.com, the 1966 Notre Dame team won the national championship. After two more seasons, Hanratty was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the 1969 NFL draft.

Hanratty was excited to be going back to his home state, but another Terry soon joined him there and became a legend, leaving Hanratty to toil as the backup. Hanratty would trade off quarterback responsibilities with Terry Bradshaw, who ultimately led the Steelers to four championships in the 70’s.

Hanratty said he secretly wanted a trade, but did not want to leave his teammates. The Steelers went 1-13 during Hanratty’s first season, and injuries added to the frustration. He said he played through broken ribs and also broke his fingers and nose. Hanratty and his teammates said the culture at the time was to always stay on the field out of fear for losing a job. Though some of his time in Pittsburgh was forgettable, he was part of the Steelers’ Super Bowl wins in 1974 and 1975.

Hanratty said he got knocked out in a game against the Green Bay Packers in 1969. Backup Dick Shiner went in for Hanratty, who believed he suffered a concussion, though that word was not common at the time. “To use the word concussion back in those days, you probably never even heard it,” Shiner said. “You used to say ‘I got dinged’ or ‘I got zonked.’”

Hanratty was traded in 1976, his final NFL season, to Tampa Bay, where he served as backup for Steve Spurrier. He ended his career with a Buccaneers team that went 0-14 in the regular season.

Though he could not duplicate his collegiate success in the NFL, Hanratty transitioned well to a career in finance. An economics major at Notre Dame, Hanratty said he invested in the stock market while in the NFL and was interested in the field. He bounced around a few firms before settling down at Sanford C. Bernstein in New York City, where he worked as an institutional stock trader for about 24 years.

His second career, though successful, was just as detrimental to his body as football was. Hanratty said he became an alcoholic while on Wall Street, a condition he attributed to the combination of an unlimited expense account and nights out in New York City. He said his problem was at its worst in 1983, when he was downing 10 drinks of scotch a day.

Rosemary Hanratty, his ex-wife, had a different account. She said Hanratty’s drinking problem had an impact on his disappointing NFL career and on their marriage, which ended in divorce in 1980. She hinted Hanratty might remember his career differently than she did – perhaps not because of memory loss caused by head trauma, but by alcohol.

“His memory’s terrible but it’s mostly because he drank,” said Rosemary Hanratty, who served as director of marketing for the Denver Broncos for four years in the 1990’s. “I don’t know, I’m not a doctor but he didn’t have a great memory because he wasn’t particularly sober, even during his playing days.”

Hanratty, though, said his alcoholism grew gradually and that his casual drinking in the NFL did not affect his play. He said he did not want to talk about his ex-wife.

Several of his teammates in Pittsburgh said that Hanratty did not show any signs of a drinking problem. “I never saw him overindulge,” said former Steelers running back Rocky Bleier, who roomed with Hanratty on the road. “I never saw him lose control.”

Hanratty went to the Arms Acres rehab facility in Carmel, N.Y. in 1985. He said he has not had a single drink since the month he spent there. He has been retired from full-time work for five years and now works about 20 hours a week as an independent financial consultant for Cross Shore Capital Management LLC. His attachment to Notre Dame is still strong: he owns a house in South Bend and his son Conor is a junior offensive lineman for the Irish. He said he plans on seeing all of his son’s games this year and was on campus for his coach Ara Parseghian’s 90th birthday celebration earlier this month.

While he is quick to talk about his past, Hanratty is using the suit to focus on football’s present and future. According to Hanratty, the plaintiffs have already won the cultural battle by creating more conversation about concussions and making sure players from the youth to professional levels acknowledge their impact.

“Everybody is more cognizant of head injuries so we’ve gotten that out into the public,” Hanratty said. “Everybody at every level is taking it seriously.”

Leave a Reply