Mutka: Gary native Gerald Irons has sparkling resume from the Steel City
By John Mutka email@example.com April 28, 2013 6:00PM
Gary native Gerald Irons is being inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame after playing in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns. | AP Photo
Updated: May 30, 2013 3:16PM
How many football Hall of Famers out there have met the Japanese emperor, had a school named after them, written a book and produced three sons who played Division I ball? Gerald Irons presides over that one-man fraternity.
It’s been a long, adventurous journey for the Gary native, who was gainfully employed as an NFL outside linebacker with Oakland and Cleveland for 10 years. On Sunday, May 5, Irons will be inducted into the Indiana Hall of Fame at the Avalon Manor in Hobart.
The youngest of seven children, Irons weighed 14 pounds at birth. He was the son of a steelworker who migrated from Mississippi. Growing up, he slept on a fold-away cot in the hallway of a modest wooden-frame house on West 25th Avenue.
In high school he was encouraged by his future wife, Myrna, a positive academic influence, and Roosevelt coach Leonard Douglas. With their help he earned a scholarship to Maryland-Eastern Shore. There he developed into a third-round draft choice in 1970.
“I played defensive end in college, but Oakland converted me into a linebacker because of my size (6-4, 240) and speed,” said Irons, who was always a long-distance admirer of the Raiders. “I loved their silver and black uniforms and the mystique.”
The pirate eyepatch on their logo didn’t hurt, too.
Controversial owner Art Davis and coach John Madden obliged Irons, who roomed with Carl Weathers — boxer Apollo Creed in the Rocky series of movies — and tight end Ray Chester, who played against him at Morgan State.
“I had to learn to back pedal, cover running backs and zone coverages, but it was a smooth transition,” Irons insisted.
Those were exciting times for the Raiders, who won five AFC West titles during his six years on the coast. They never reached the ultimate goal, being denied three times in the AFC championship game, posting a 58-20-6 record over that stretch.
“Remember the Immaculate Reception?” he asked, referring to Franco Harris’ controversial catch which earned Pittsburgh a trip to the Super Bowl in 1973. “I was on the field for that one.”
In the following season Oakland snapped Miami’s 18-game winning streak, 12-7, but the Dolphins avenged it in the AFC playoffs. The Raiders were 23-5 in his last two years, but the Bills and Steelers ousted them in AFC championship games.
That was it for Irons, who departed (not by choice) for Cleveland in 1976. He learned about the trade while working on his MBA at the University of Chicago, which took five summers to complete. His response was typically positive.
“I told my wife, ‘You know, I think I can help them,’” he said.
In his first year the Browns, coached by Hall of Famer and former Green Bay Packers player and coach Forrest Gregg, were 9-5. A year later Irons was elected defensive captain. He retired after the 1979 season, relatively injury-free except for the usual bumps and bruises.
Before leaving the Browns he developed into a super-volunteer who was named man of the year by the jaycees and a national spokesman for the United Way. Eventually, he was named one of Cleveland’s top 100 all-time players.
Thirty-three years ago Irons moved to the Woodlands, a small town in Texas which grew from a population of 10,000 to 100,000 in three decades. They raised Gerald Jr. (Nebraska), Jarrett (Michigan) and Grant (Notre Dame), who also played for the Raiders.
While working to develop the Woodlands, their industrious dad served 22 years on the school board for the Conroe Independent School District and championed the naming of an elementary school after General Colin E. Powell, who also served as Secretary of State for President George W. Bush. A grateful community later named a junior high school after Irons.
So where does the Japanese venture come in? Thought you’d never ask. While promoting commercial development of the Woodlands, Irons visited a Japanese consulate office in Houston. He took some of their officials to a golf luncheon and was duly impressed with their language skills.
“They all spoke good English and I mentioned it to Myrna,” he said. “I thought it would be a good idea if I learned it.”
His boss believed Spanish would be more appropriate, but Iron persisted. With the help of a hired tutor he became fluent in Japanese. When the consulate brought in a busload of executives from Japan to tour the Houston area, they were impressed.
Several weeks later Irons was invited to an all-expense paid trip to Japan by the Osaka Junior Chamber of Commerce along with representatives from nine other countries. During a whirlwind month he met the emperor, the crown prince and princess at their moated palace.
“Got my picture taken with them,” he said.
Currently the vice president of Business Development for the Woodlands Development Company, Irons also found time to write a book entitled “When Preparation Meets Opportunity.” His former teammate, Weathers, provided the forward.
Irons plans to attend the ceremonies at the Avalon Manor, a trip which he thought he might have to skip because of his wife’s precarious health.
“Myrna had a triple bypass, open heart surgery,” he said. “It was touch and go for a while, but she was released from the hospital on Easter Sunday and is gaining strength every day.”
Others who will be inducted are Hobart’s Deal brothers, Mike and Mark, and Craig Buford, Gary’s Randy Beisler and Hammond’s John Boyajian.
Mark is currently an assistant athletic director at Indiana University. His brother coached at Illinois, Texas and Davidson. They were coaching colleagues at Wabash and Kansas State. Mike also served as head coach at Crown Point, Chesterton and Knox.
Buford spent his entire coaching career at Hobart. He was offensive coordinator from 1990-99. In that stretch the Brickies won eight sectionals, four semistates and state titles in 1991 and 1993.
Boyajian was an all-state quarterback at Hammond, where he earned 10 letters. He was a two-year starter at Wisconsin (1966-67), once completing 10 passes in a row, a Big Ten record for nearly a decade.
Veteran official John Goss will receive a certificate of merit.
Festivities start at 5 p.m.; dinner is at 6:15. The program begins at 7 p.m. For more details, contact former Valparaiso High School coach Mark Hoffman at 242-6328.