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Washington Redskins

Whatever Happened to …. Pat Richter

    He wore number 88 and he played wide receiver and tight end and also punted for the Washington Redskins from 1963 through 1970. However, Pat Richter could have very easily ended up playing baseball for the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Braves, Baltimore Orioles or Houston Colt 45s.
(I interviewed Pat Richter by phone on May 5, 2004)

He wore number 88 and he played wide receiver and tight end and also punted for the Washington Redskins from 1963 through 1970. However, Pat Richter could have very easily ended up playing baseball for the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Braves, Baltimore Orioles or Houston Colt 45s.

Born on September 4, 1941 and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Richter played football, baseball, and basketball as a kid. He became interested in sports at the tender age of 8, 9, and 10. “I use to play football with the neighborhood kids who were a little bit older. We played tackle football. It was a great learning experience because if you couldn’t get close to their ability, they wouldn’t let you play. So you really had to hustle to make it work. It was a great motivator,” said Richter.

His dad inspired him to get involved in sports. According to Richter, his dad was a very good athlete in high school. However, in the late 1930s when he was planning to go to the University of Wisconsin, he suffered an eye injury while playing basketball and lost his sight in one eye. He then decided to forego college and took a job in a foundry. “He didn’t push me but it was something he enjoyed and encouraged,” said Richter.

Richter played football, baseball, and basketball at Madison East High School in Madison, Wisconsin. He was a freshman when another future Redskin, Dale Hackbart, was a senior at the school. During Richter’s freshman and sophomore years at Madison East High he played tackle for the football team and moved to end in his junior year where he stayed for the rest of his football playing career. He played the outfield, first base, and pitcher for the school’s baseball team. He lettered in baseball his sophomore year and lettered in football and basketball his junior and senior years. He was also second team All-American in basketball and All-State in football and basketball.

When it came time for him to consider what college he would attend, he wasn’t interested in playing football. He originally received a scholarship to play basketball at Kansas University. He was also thinking about playing professional baseball and someone told him that it would be better for him to attend a Big 10 school and play baseball. So he changed his mind and accepted a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin to play basketball. Once in school, he asked to play freshman football and then went on to play football, baseball, and basketball his sophomore, junior, and senior years. You might say that he was sort of a walk on with the football team.

He played many memorable games while at the University of Wisconsin but one game stands out for him and just about any fan of football — the 1963 Rose Bowl when Wisconsin played against the University of Southern California. Many sports pundits to this day have called this the greatest Rose Bowl ever played.

“Early in the third quarter we were down to USC 42 to 14. We came back but just fell short. The final score was 42 to 37,” recalled Richter. He caught 11 passes in that game for 163 yards.

By the end of his college career, Richter had led the Big Ten in receiving twice and led the nation in receiving yardage as a junior.

He was selected by the Redskins as the seventh player picked in the first round of the 1963 draft. He was also drafted by the American Football League Denver Broncos. Before signing with the Redskins he explored his worth in Major League Baseball. The Milwaukee Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, and Houston Colt 45s showed interest. But everyone knew by that time that he would play football so no sizable financial offer was made. “At the time with baseball you could have been up and down between the major and the minors and it was a very long season. With football you were at the top level or you didn’t play. You knew what your career was and you could get on with your life,” said Richter.

His first contract with the `Skins was for $15,000 and a $15,000 bonus with an increase to $17,500 the next year.

Bill McPeak was head coach of the team at that time. “I thought McPeak was under a lot of pressure. He was a nice guy but he probably did not have a good staff. It was a much smaller league back then and very competitive. There was not much difference between the top teams and the bottom teams,” said Richter.

Richter got a kick out of the Redskins coaching staff. “They had three fellows who were pretty big in size, Abe Gibron, Bucko Kilroy, and Chuck Cherundolo. We always kidded that when they stood together, you couldn’t see the game.” Richter noted that Ted Marchibroda was also on the coaching staff and he went on to be a successful coach with the Baltimore Colts. Gibran, remembered Richter, went on to become head coach of the Chicago Bears.

Richter roomed with Sonny Jurgensen for five years. He remembered that Jurgensen was a great athlete but had problems with his right elbow. “We would go out on the field and Jurgensen would tell everyone to go out as far as they could on the first play of the game. Then Sonny would just throw it long. He didn’t care if anyone caught it. It was a ploy to make the opposing team think he could throw long. For the rest of the game he would stay in closer because his arm hurt so bad.”

Richter also recalled that Jurgensen would create and draw out the plays on the D.C. Stadium infield dirt. “He was very creative,” quipped Richter. He said that it became a difficult thing when Otto Graham coached the `Skins. “Sonny had called his own plays for so many years before Otto became coach and when Otto played Paul Brown called the plays. So Jurgensen thought he had a better feel for the game than Otto.”

He also remembered that Jurgensen was pretty good to him. “I remember we played the Bears in Chicago in 1968. It was one of the few games we played in the midwest so my family came to the game to see me play. Sonny said to me before the game, `I’ll take care of you.’ And he went on to throw me three touchdown passes. It was the best day I ever had.”

Richter volunteered that there was another game — against the Cleveland Browns that sticks in his memory. “I was punting out of the endzone with the ball on our own 1 yard line. I didn’t feel any pressure and the blocking back in front of me, J.W. Lockett, kept moving side to side and backwards looking for someone to block. I kicked the ball and heard a thump and the ball rolled out to the 2 yard line. I didn’t know what had happened. But when I saw the films later I saw that the punt hit Lockett on the rear end. Lockett seemed to raise off of the ground. It raised hell with my punting average but it was the only punt in my career that was blocked.”

Richter volunteered that there was a lot more to Jurgensen than most people knew. “He brought a telescope to training camp one summer and took it out behind the dorms at Dickenson College and looked at the moon. He was interested in different things.”

Richter was the Redskins player rep for the National Football League Players Association which caused problems with coaches, the owner, and some principals with the league. “Players involved with the Players Association had their careers cut short a little bit,” said Richter. But he remembered that it didn’t phase Vince Lombardi when he coached the Redskins. “I interacted a lot with Coach Lombardi and it was a tremendous experience. He knew that I had my job to do as player rep and he had his job to do but he didn’t want to mix them up. He thought it was important to keep that separate to keep the team together and cohesive.”

“Philosophically what he said and how he said it were great lessons in life,” continued Richter. “No one had doubts that had he been able to coach for a couple more years he would have had the Redskins competing for a championship.”

He also remembered that the `Skins won the first game Lombardi coached. “Everyone was fired up. Lombardi came in and ripped everyone up and down. He knew that when you won a game the players were mentally thinking that that was the most important thing. But actually we had made a lot of mistakes and he called us on them. He knew that if he didn’t catch the mistakes early and get our attention about them then we would make them again the next time and we could lose a game. He was very efficient and had an instant credibility and respect. Everyone knew what he had done. There was a certain awe about him. If you were on the field, I don’t care if he had his back to you, you thought he was looking at you. And he had a booming voice that scared the hell out of you.”

Richter’s career with the Washington Redskins spanned from Bill McPeak to the first days of George Allen. He remembered that when Lombardi died and Bill Austin became interim head coach the team suffered a let down. “It was an abrupt change and we had a hard time adjusting because there was so much anticipation. Bill was a fine guy but he wasn’t Lombardi. No one was.”

By the time George Allen became head coach, Richter wasn’t getting much playing time and Mike Bragg had taken up the punting duties. So Richter asked Allen to play him or let him go. When he was cut, he signed with the Dallas Cowboys but was cut before the start of the regular season. It was 1971.

He finished law school at the University of Wisconsin and practiced law for about six months and then was approached to take a position with the city of Madison, Wisconsin rep’ing business interests. Then he went on to work for Oscar Mayer in 1972. He was vice president of personnel at Oscar Mayer when in 1990 he became athletic director of the University of Wisconsin. He was instrumental in the hiring of Barry Alvarez as the head coach of the school’s football team and upgraded the basketball program to a point where it has been in the NCAA Tournament for six years in a row and won two Big Ten championships and the Big Ten tournament this year. The football team has won three Big Ten championships and three Rose Bowls and has appeared in nine bowl games and won seven. He retired in 2004.

He lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife Rene and he has four sons and has four grandsons and two granddaughters. His oldest son Scott is an attorney in Richmond, Virginia; his second son Brad is a construction superintendent for GP Cohen Co. in Madison, Wisconsin and his third son Barry is playing professional hockey in Europe and has played in the National Hockey League for the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, and Montreal Canadians; his youngest son Tim is an accountant with a bank in Madison.

He still follows the Redskins and recently joined Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff in the radio booth for a game this past season to watch Steve Spurrier coach. “It was a sad thing to watch. Something had to happen. It was very uncomfortable, the body language and such made me very uncomfortable.

“It’s not necessarily the Xs and Os but how you manage people, the team and get the right people for the right spots,” he concluded.

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