Mule tales: Ex-senator, former Browns standout helps Streaks in weight room

By JASON SINGER singer@sanduskyregister.com SANDUSKY He won a national championship at The Ohio State University. He won a NFL Championship with the Cleveland Browns and played in seven Pro Bowls. He earned NFL All-Pro honors four times, and blocked for three Hall of Fame running backs.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 23, 2010

By JASON SINGER

singer@sanduskyregister.com

SANDUSKY

He won a national championship at The Ohio State University.

He won a NFL Championship with the Cleveland Browns and played in seven Pro Bowls.

He earned NFL All-Pro honors four times, and blocked for three Hall of Fame running backs.

But standing inside Sandusky High School's fitness center, little about Dick "The Mule" Schafrath screams celebrity.

In the low gymnasium lighting, only a keen eye would pick up the sparkling diamond in his 1964 NFL Championship ring.

His name and the final score, Browns 27, Colts 0, are carved into the gold.

Two hours earlier, in the predawn darkness, Schafrath drove 60 miles from Mansfield to Sandusky to arrive before 6 a.m.

Here, the man who revolutionized the NFL by introducing weightlifting to football, helps the Sandusky team during their morning weightlifting session.

Few of the students -- if any -- initially recognized "Coach Schaff" as one of the offensive linemen who routinely paved the way for legendary running back Jim Brown.

But head coach Mike Franklin says the players quickly learned to respect him and his contributions to the game.

"When we first told the kids about him they said, 'Who?'" Franklin recalls. "But with the Internet now, they just got on there and within in a week, they knew more about him than I did."

Schafrath blends in with the other coaches, which he seems to prefer.

He walks with a slow, tender gait and has heavy wrinkles under his soft brown eyes, but looks no worse for the wear than the average 73-year-old.

Yet Schafrath, who played for coaching deities Woody Hayes and Paul Brown, has lived enough lives for four or five people.

He spent 14 years as an Ohio state senator. He helped President Ronald Reagan get re-elected. He defeated cancer, served in the U.S. Air Force and spent several years wrestling bears in outdoor sporting shows.

He's also worked as a public relations expert for Canada Dry and the Cleveland Police Department, raised seven children and 16 grandchildren, worked construction, sold swimming pools and once canoed across Lake Erie without stopping.

Schafrath said coaching Sandusky's football team once or twice per week is part of his lifelong quest for knowledge and new experiences.

"The game's changed so much since I was in it," says Schafrath, who played from 1959-71. "I learn something new from the kids everyday. It keeps my mind sharp. Someone once told me if you aren't learning something new every day, you're not growing as a person."

Schafrath has a Zen-like quality to him. His laid-back demeanor, quiet voice, colorful shirt and snow-white circle beard are more professorial than professional athlete.

He appears to enjoy discussing the importance of education more than the spread offense or how to properly tackle an opponent.

He also loves to tell stories.

In 2007, some 33 years after winning a NFL Championship and 50 years after winning at Division I national championship, Schafrath re-enrolled at The Ohio State University.

He never completed his final year of college, and wanted to earn his degree and become a teacher.

He remembers one instance when a young female classmate approached him after one of his classes.

"I'm about 70 and she's 18," Schafrath recalls. "She said, 'Mr. Schafrath, are you some kind of big deal or something?'"

"I don't know. I'm just an average guy," Schafrath responded.

"Really?" she asked. "Because my great-grandfather really wants your autograph."

Schafrath laughs about the encounter.

"That one hit me right in the stomach," he says.

Schafrath ended up in Sandusky after Thomas Kiser, a mutual friend of Schafrath and Franklin, introduced the two coaches. Franklin says Sandusky was honored to have someone of Schafrath's caliber join his coaching staff.

"He brings such a wealth of knowledge and wealth of experience," he says of Schafrath before pausing. "And great stories. He's always telling stories."

Schafrath responds by telling a tale about how he wrestled the 11-foot, 500-plus-pound Victor the Bear at outdoor sporting shows in the mid-1990s.

After Victor the Bear died, the director of the show made Schafrath a bear costume, and asked Schafrath to play the role of the bear.

One time near the end of his wrestling career, Schafrath became overheated in the bear suit, and his son stuck a water hose into an opening in the costume. Schafrath squirmed around on stage while water shot from his bear suit.

"I've done some crazy things," Schafrath admits, a wry smile illuminating his leathery face.

While he shares life stories, Schafrath preaches the importance of being well rounded. He admires players like Myron Rolle, the Florida State football player who last year became a Rhodes Scholar.

"If you work at school, work at life, learn how to handle finances, be a good person that gives," he says, "that's what will prepare you for the long run."