Photos by Dan HOLM
Former NFL player Mike Hull enjoyed a special day back at his alma mater, Crescenta Valley High School.
By Brandon HENSLEY
It was Homecoming last Friday at Crescenta Valley High School. Not just for the students or the Falcon football team, but for one of the area’s most accomplished athletes. And boy, he couldn’t wait to get started. There he was, having arrived before Principal Linda Junge was to meet him, circling the campus, eagerly searching for a parking spot.
There was a lot to see and do within the next 12 hours, and who would want to quell his excitement? If this day were written by author Judith Viorst, it would have been called “Michael Hull and the Awesome, Exhausting, Super Great, Very Good Day.”
Hull and the school were honored with an NFL golden football, as the league celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl this season. Every high school in the nation which has an alumnus who played in a Super Bowl will receive a golden ball.
Hull played in Super Bowl VII with the Washington Redskins, who lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins. He made the first tackle of the game, and you might think making a tackle on the grandest stage in American sports might be the coolest thing anyone could ever grow up to do.
But Hull’s done so much more. In college, he ran and blocked alongside USC legend Mike Garrett. After the NFL, he earned a law degree from Georgetown. Two of his kids, Thomas and Michelle, grew up to attend Harvard University.
But before all of that, he was part of the inaugural Falcon class in the early 1960s, getting his butt kicked on the field by the likes of Hoover and Muir High School.
Hull was never an All-American selection, either in high school or college. He wasn’t the best student, either. His message to the kids in the CVHS assemblies was clear: you don’t have to be the biggest or most talented in life. Persist, persevere and good things will happen.
On stage, Hull was a force of energy. He never stopped talking. It wasn’t rambling, and it wasn’t boring. It was pure enthusiasm for the moment, to share his story and maybe inspire at least a few of the kids who were probably just happy not to be class.
“Everywhere you go, look for an opportunity to excel,” he said. “Nothing can replace determination, hard work and perseverance.”
It certainly looked like his message resonated. Hull spent a long time shaking hands and signing autographs for students after the assembly. The same happened in the school halls later on, as Hull visited classrooms.
“He’s been a big deal since 1960s. But he’s not arrogant. He’s approachable. He’s the real deal,” Junge said.
Perhaps the one thing that could have put a damper on the day would have been losing the Homecoming game later that night to Muir. But not on this night, with this man in attendance.
Hull rode down on the bus with the team, a squad still trying to find a groove this season. The defending CIF champions had two losses already, two huge wake-up calls. In addition, the program was looking to defeat Muir in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1977-78.
Hull gave the team a pre-game pep talk, although “pep talk” may be putting it lightly, based on how others described it. More like fire sermon. When Hull played, Muir dominated the Falcons. So go out there and give it back to them, he said, for me. The room exploded.
The Falcons won, 40-27. Hull was on the sidelines, his 6’3” frame overseeing the action behind the players and coaches. His voice was hoarse by then – the most talking he had ever done in a day, he said – but his spirit was still intact.
Early in the fourth quarter, Hull met with Junge to ask about traffic. He was to take his wife and mother-in-law home, down south in San Clemente. The Falcons had the game in hand. There wasn’t much left to see or do. By the end of the conversation, Hull had decided to stay.
“I talked myself into it,” he joked.
Hull marveled at Glendale’s Moyse Field, which was dirt and rocks back when he played, not the smooth synthetic turf it is now. In high school, the Falcons lost badly in a game which Hull figured he gained 30 yards on 30 carries. But afterward, USC coach John McKay came into the locker room and spotted Hull.
“I just wanted to shake your hand,” McKay told the busted and beaten down running back. “I can’t believe you kept getting up.”
That’s Hull in a nutshell. Live every day like it’s the Super Bowl. If you fail, brush yourself off and fight again.
Now, as the night hurtled toward its conclusion, Hull was struck with contradictory feelings: pride and humility. But there shouldn’t have been anything wrong with that, and truthfully, he didn’t seem to mind.
“I feel wonderful. I’m exhausted and I feel wonderful,” he said, finding enough energy to slap high-fives with players after every score. Some on the team told him afterward they won the game for him.
“That guy, he preaches hard work and never quitting, a prime example of how hard work will get you far,” said senior captain Nizar Abou-Chakra.
Junge said the golden football will stay in the halls of Crescenta Valley, eventually finding a spot in the trophy case in the main gymnasium. It’s a symbol of what can happen when someone from a small place with big dreams never stops fighting.
It’s also now a memento, a reminder of Michael Hull and the inspiring, awesome, totally worth it, very good day.