As an athlete in high school, Robertson was all-state in football, baseball, and track, which afforded him the opportunity to attend Louisiana Tech in Ruston on a football scholarship in the late 1960s. At Tech, he played first-string quarterback for the Bulldogs, ahead of Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, the first overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft. When he arrived at Tech in 1966, Bradshaw caused a media frenzy on account of his reputation of being a football sensation from nearby Shreveport. Robertson was a year ahead of Bradshaw, and was the starter for two seasons in 1966 and 1967, and chose not to play in 1968.
In his time at Louisiana Tech, Robertson completed 179 of 411 passing attempts for 2,237 yards. He threw 12 touchdowns, but had 34 interceptions. It was thought Robertson had the potential for a pro career, but Robertson was more interested in hunting. Bradshaw once remarked about Robertson's love of hunting, saying "... Phil Robertson, loved hunting more than he loved football. He'd come to practice directly from the woods, squirrel tails hanging out of his pockets, duck feathers on his clothes. Clearly he was a fine shot, so no one complained too much."
When Paul Harvey approached Robertson with a recruitment to play professionally for the Washington Redskins, he declined because football conflicted with his hunting. Additionally, football was only about holding up his scholarship to him, while Bradshaw practically lived and breathed the sport. Robertson put it this way: "Terry went for the bucks, and I chased after the ducks."
(Editor’s note: One of my classmates at Louisiana Tech back in the late ’60s was Nico Van Thyn who would go on to an outstanding career as a sportswriter for several papers, including the Shreveport Times, Shreveport Journal and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is now retired and living in Fort Worth. While at Tech, he was a student writer under the direction of the university’s Sports Information Directors Pete Dosher, Jack Fiser and Paul Manasseh and he was an eyewitness to the career of Tech all-time great quarterback Terry Bradshaw. In addition to writing Survivors: 62511, 70726, a poignant book about his parents’ experiences as victims of Hitler’s Holocaust, he wrote the following to set the record straight about the myth surrounding Bradshaw’s predecessor, Duck Commander Phil Robertson. It is reprinted below with his permission:
By Nico Van Thyn, Guest Columnist
When it comes to his athletic career, reality star Phil Robertson—the famed “Duck Commander”—is not very real.
But he and his family are really good at spreading myths. Such as (1) he was All-State in football, baseball and track; (2) he was a major-college recruit; and (3) he had NFL potential as a quarterback.
The first part: no, no, no.
Major prospect: doubtful.
The NFL? Oh, please. No way.
Quickly: I pay very little attention to anything ol’ Phil or his relatives have to say.
He is as far-right conservative as one can get, and I don’t travel in that direction. His brand of religion isn’t mine; his social and political views … not interested.
The TV shows, videos and books about him and his Duck Dynasty family … no thanks.
But I checked for one aspect: athletics. That’s because I was around for Phil’s time at North Caddo High—30 miles north of Shreveport—and Louisiana Tech University.
We saw Phil from the opposing side in high school; we compiled the game and season stats in football as student assistant in sports information for most of the three seasons he played at Tech.
But what I’ve seen and heard from Phil & Sons is about as far from true as the length of Terry Bradshaw’s longest pass (that might’ve carried 80-85 yards) or his national-record javelin throw in high school (244 feet, 11 inches).
I wrote about Phil and Terry 4 1/2 years ago, so I will try not to repeat much of that.
So why write this piece now? It is admittedly a nitpicking, innocuous exercise … except it is like finding a resume’ that is greatly exaggerated.
It irks me to read and hear what I know is not so.
Phil’s athletics bio and story-telling are—I saw this term in a book I am reading—“stretchers.”
I wrote some of this two years ago, but held off because I could not verify what I recalled. Now having checked microfilm of the 1960s’ Shreveport Times, I can tell you this:
Phil Robertson not only was not All-State in football, he wasn’t 1-AA all-district. He was honorable mention.
(Fred Haynes of Minden was all-district, having led his team to an undefeated state championship. Then he was a starter at LSU).
Phil might have pitched for North Caddo — as his sons will tell you — and he did make all-district in ’64 … as an outfielder. But the special baseball players in Class AA in our area, the All-State guys—five of them—were at Jesuit (state champs) and Ruston (two, one a future major leaguer).
He did throw the javelin, and he did make it to the state meet. But he was second in the district meet two years in a row (a Minden athlete beat him both years), third in the ’64 regional, fourth in the state meet … and not All-State. He was not Terry Bradshaw in the javelin, not close.
Myth No. 2: A Sports Illustrated “Campus Union” story dated March 22, 2012, says: “… Robertson said he fielded offers to join the football programs at LSU, Ole Miss, Baylor and Rice.”
Can’t disprove it, but it is highly doubtful. He wasn’t that good as a high school QB, and I suspect Louisiana Tech was his best offer.
I can tell you that we had five talented QBs in the 1960s at our school that Phil could envy: three signed major-college scholarships (LSU and Arkansas); the other two signed with Tech. Three were drafted by pro football teams.
One started ahead of Phil at Tech; the other backed up Phil, but went on and won four Super Bowls.
Phil ducked his football career.
A lot of us sensed, early in 1968, that when Bradshaw’s potential blossomed—it soon did—he would replace Phil as Tech’s starting QB. My opinion: Phil sensed that, too. Losing was not fun, and he loved duck hunting.
Myth No. 3: A tryout with the Redskins.
It is so ludicrous, it is laughable. It is a joke. Nothing about it adds up. It is Phil as his BS-ing best.
He talks about this on a Sports Spectrum TV segment posted (March 25, 2013) on YouTube.
A transcript (found through a Google search) of the video follows:
So, Robertson left football and, the following season, he hunted ducks while completing his degree.
A year or so later, though, a former Louisiana Tech teammate, running back Bob Brunet, was with the Redskins and thought Robertson could still make the team. Brunet told Robertson to come up and he would likely be the backup and earn about $60,000.
“At the time, $60,000 didn’t seem like a whole lot even in the ’60s,” says Phil, who worked as a teacher for a few years after earning his degree from Louisiana Tech and then earned his master’s degree in education, with a concentration in English.
“I said, ‘I don’t know about that. I would miss duck season, you know? I’d have to be up there in some northern city.’ I said, ‘Brunet, you think I’d stay?’ He said, ‘I doubt it. You’d probably leave with the ducks, Robertson.’ I said, ‘Probably so.’”
“That’s when (future Hall of Fame coach Vince) Lombardi went to Washington for a few years right before he quit coaching. …What (Brunet) said was, ‘We got this hot dog, Robertson, but you can beat him out easy.’ I said, ‘Who’s the hot dog?’ He said, ‘You’re not going to beat out (future Hall of Famer Sonny) Jurgensen. You’re not going to beat him out, but this hot dog, his backup, no problem.’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ He said, ‘Joe Theismann.’”
Phil paused, smiled, then chuckled, recalling the conversation and how good Theismann became—a Super Bowl XVII champion, NFL MVP, and a two-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection.
“(Brunet) said, ‘No problem, we’ve got him, hands down.’
‘I may do it,’” Phil recalls says. “But I didn’t do it. I stayed with the ducks. But looking back on it, who knows if I’d gone up there, you know, I might not have ever run up on Jesus at 28.”
Now, the truth, the facts:
Lombardi coached one season (1969) in Washington. Brunet never played a regular-season game with Lombardi as coach. In fact, he quit the team.
Robert was the best back (when not hurt) we had at Tech in my time there (1965-68 seasons), a two-time all-conference player. The Redskins drafted him, and as a rookie in 1968, he had the second-most carries on the team. The coach that season was Otto Graham.
After Lombardi came in — having sat out one season following his Green Bay retirement — Brunet did not take to his fierce coaching style.
(The Great Coach was the opposite of the dignified soft-spoken legendary Tech coach Joe Aillet, and the head coach in Robert’s senior season, Maxie Lambright, was a quiet man, too, more intense than Aillet but nothing like Vince.)
So Brunet left and sat out the 1969 season, the time of Phil’s story.
Robert did return to the Redskins in the spring of 1970, with Lombardi still there. But in June, Lombardi’s fast-spreading cancer was found, and he never returned to coaching. He died before the season kicked off.
So, Bill Austin was Brunet’s head coach in ’70, and George Allen came in ’71 (and Brunet was a standout special-teams player for him into the 1977 season).
Jurgensen did not start much in 1971 through 1973. He was injured a lot and then the backup to Billy Kilmer (including a hapless Super Bowl against the “perfect” Miami Dolphins, 1972 season).
Jurgensen and Theismann were on the same Redskins team only in 1974. The “hot dog”—after three years in Canadian football—barely played that year. Kilmer started 10 games (and got hurt); Jurgensen started four (and a playoff game).
By then, Phil had been out of football seven years.
And if I have the timing correctly, Phil’s downward spiral hit in the early 1970s, and he soon was drinking and rowdy and split from his family for a time—not exactly headed for the NFL. Then he found religion.
I Don’t remember religion being a factor for Phil at Tech. His religion was hunting and fishing. In fact, Bradshaw had more of a religious leaning (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) then than Phil.
So maybe Phil and Brunet had a conversation about him playing for the Redskins. But, good gosh, what Phil tells makes no sense.
He’s told it so often, though—and written it—and his sons talk about him being All-State and “turning down a chance to play professional football,” and they all believe it now … and want the world to believe it.
Our lack of success in 1966 and 1967 wasn’t all Phil’s doing; the teams weren’t sound. But the QBs were not difference makers.
As a passer, Phil did have a quick release—Bradshaw has mentioned that often in interviews—and he had a decent arm. But not a great arm, like Terry.
Pro potential? Hardly. Alan, Jase and Willie—the sons—can twist it the way they want and repeat the un-truth.
NFL teams were not going to be interested in a guy who quit before his senior season—“to chase the ducks, not the bucks,” as he likes to say—and who in two years as a starter threw 32 interceptions (nine TD passes) and led his teams to three wins (Bradshaw, as a freshman sub, was the star of the only 1966 victory).
It was nice of Tech to invite Phil back for a September 2013 game, reunited with Terry, and to honor him. But it was for his notoriety (and Ducks success), not for his football past.
Give Phil and the Robertsons’ credit for inventiveness, ingenuity, creativity, self-promotion … and a duck dynasty.
They have millions of reasons—and dollars—to be happy, happy, happy. And I’m happy to provide the truth on Phil as an athlete.
He is out “in the woods” on so much (that’s the name of his new show on CRTV, a subscription-only channel. No subscription here, thank you).
The promotion, which I am not looking for but which is popping up regularly on my computer, says, “… just truth, from Phil’s mouth to your screen.”
Phil’s truth, not ours. If he tells you he was All-State in three sports or an NFL quarterback prospect, don’t believe him.
God-appointed messenger? You decide.
Reminds me of a friend who used to joke, “Any man who says he runs his household will lie about a lot of other things, too.”