Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame DT Randy White’s nickname is both apt and one of the most recognizable in all of football, and he wore it like a badge of honor. It was given to him not by an opposing offensive lineman who went to war with him for sixty minutes, but by a teammate who marveled – and rightly so – at his incredible athletic prowess. In the pantheon of truly great defensive tackles in the history of the NFL, his name is there beside the likes of Leo Nomellini, Bob Lilly, Alan Page, Merlin Olsen and Mean Joe Greene. The nickame “the Manster” was given to Randy White by Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl strong safety Charlie Waters who observed during the 1977 season that White was “half man and half monster.”
He was born Randall Lee White on January 15, 1953 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the late Guy and LaVerne White, he rose from humble beginnings in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania to achieve fame as one of the greatest collegiate and professional defensive linemen to ever play the game.
Randy White was born into a close family. He had one brother and one sister. His father was a staff sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division – the “Screaming Eagles” as they were known, an airborne assault division that was involved in some of the key battles of World War II – and fought during the famous Battle of the Bulge. The elder White was a butcher by trade, who earned a fraction of one of Randy’s game day checks, but he instilled in his children an invaluable blue collar work ethic that would prove to be one of the hallmark features of White’s college and pro careers.
Guy White was a quiet man who did not demand much from his children other than to give their very best. Now 60 years young, Randy White still holds his late father as the biggest influence in his life. In an interview given in March of this year, White said his father told him, “If you start something, finish it; never quit.” That simple advice would serve as the foundation of a career that would reach its zenith in 1994 with White’s induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Randy started working at the age of ten helping school custodians clean hallways and classrooms after school. He and his brother would spend their boyhood summers doing the same. The summer Randy turned 12 he began work with an uncle laying bricks; it was there that his blue collar work ethic was instilled further as a young Randy White learned the value of hard work. White said that if it had not been for football and the Dallas Cowboys, he very well may have become a bricklayer by trade.
White’s family roots lay in a tough coal mining town, Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. Those roots were the conduit through which character and fortitude were passed on to White. These would be the driving forces that turned him into one of the most feared defensive players in college football in 1973-1974 and into one of the most feared linemen in pro football from 1977 until he retired in 1988.
White starred at linebacker, fullback and defensive end while at Thomas McKean High School in Wilmington, Delaware. White also starred in baseball, but his father, who played three years of football himself while at Westchester (Pa.) College, wanted his son to focus on football. With that, the younger White pursued one sport and he pursued it with unbridled passion.
Despite his high school accolades, White only received serious consideration from three colleges. He chose the University of Maryland (a school that had a doormat program in the Atlantic Coast Conference at the time). When he arrived on campus at College Park, White was on the depth chart as a fullback (he weighed 212 pounds). Head Coach Jerry Claiborne, a protégé of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, told White before his sophomore season that for him to become a star player he would need to switch to the defensive line.
Under Claiborne, the University of Maryland embarked on a rigorous weight lifting and conditioning program. Following the off-season, defensive linemen on the Terrapins had to run 16 40-yard dashes and each had to be within three-tenths of a second of the player’s best time. These 40’s were run in sets of four back-to-back with a short rest in between sets. It was one of the ultimate tests of conditioning.
Claiborne also ran his players through rigorous agility drills and had them work at different stations to maximize strength and aerobic conditioning. One station involved having players pinned to the ground and having to fight to get free. Players found themselves exhausted and many vomited from the strenuous workouts. While some might have considered these methods draconian, they soon produced dividends for White, who became an avid weight lifter and keen student of conditioning while at Maryland long before he joined the Dallas Cowboys.
Although he did dead lifts and squats, White’s focus was on his two favorite lifts – the power clean and the bench press. As a freshman, White could barely bench press 225 pounds and he ran the 40 yard dash in 4.8 seconds. Three years later, after practically living in Maryland’s weight room, White weighed 257 pounds, was universally recognized as the premier defensive lineman in the nation and his metrics soared: he was able to consistently run a legitimate 4.6 40, his bench press increased to 460 pounds, and he could power clean 400 pounds. He became the strongest player in the history of Maryland football and one of the strongest players in the country.
During White’s freshman year, Maryland only won two games. They were regarded as fodder at the bottom of the ACC, a conference that was known for its elite basketball programs. By his junior and senior campaigns, Maryland had secured a Top 20 ranking in the Associated Press final polls; they reached No. 20 in 1973 and No. 13 in 1974.
With the team’s success came a treasure trove of awards for White in his senior season. White earned consensus All-American honors in 1974. He was named the ACC Player of the Year. He also earned more national recognition by winning the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman, and the Lombardi Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker or lineman.
In the 1974 Liberty Bowl, then 10th-ranked Maryland played the Tennessee Volunteers. Although Tennessee won the game in a defensive struggle, 7-3, White was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Tennessee’s left tackle Tommy West, who had the assignment of blocking White, who played right defensive end, entered the contest with the goal of knocking White off of his feet. During the entire 1974 season, White had never been knocked off his feet. It was West’s singular goal that game to have the distinction of being the only offensive lineman to put White on the ground.
After the game, West realized what the rest of the nation knew: Randy White was no ordinary defensive lineman. Not only did he not come close to putting White on the ground, but West would later say,
“I did everything I could to get him off his feet, including clipping, and I couldn’t do it. I never played against anybody like him.”
Neither did any other offensive lineman during the 1973 and 1974 seasons.
Six games into the 1974 season, the Dallas Cowboys would make one of the most important trades in their history when they sent quarterback Craig Morton to the New York Giants for NY’s first round draft pick in the 1975 draft. The Giants went 2-12 that year; their poor record gave the Dallas Cowboys the 2nd overall pick in the draft. After Atlanta selected strong-armed quarterback Steve Bartkowski from Cal, the Cowboys picked White, the award-winning lineman from Maryland (even though Jackson State running back Walter Payton was still on the board).
And while Payton would go on to have an illustrious career with the Chicago Bears (selected him fourth overall) and be considered not only one of the greatest running backs but one of the greatest football players in NFL history, the Dallas Cowboys organization never once regretted taking Randy “The Manster” White.
Part II of this tribute will be posted later today.
[The author wishes to acknowledge two source materials, without which this story could not be told to the extent it is here. The first is an October 22, 1994 article by John Underwood that appeared in Sports Illustrated. The second is a March 4, 2013 interview of Randy White by Jim Steel, Strength Coach for the University of Pennsylvania, found at startingstrength.com.]