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Published: Sunday, 8/28/2005

Football still No. 1 for Fremont's Lytle

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Mark Monroe talked with legendary running back Rob Lytle, who was an All-American at the University of Michigan and scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XII while playing for the Denver Broncos.

Rob Lytle still prefers to be on the football field rather than in the stands. So on Friday nights in the fall, Lytle works the chains at Fremont Ross football games.

Lytle, who played for the Little Giants in the early 1970s, was the Big Ten MVP in 1976 when he rushed for a school-record 1,469 while playing at Michigan. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting that year and rushed for 3,317 in his college career.

Lytle, who helped the Wolverines win three Big Ten titles from 1973-76, is ranked third in school history in yards per carry (5.96) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (34).

The Denver Broncos drafted Lytle in the second round (45th overall) in 1977. Lytle battled through various injuries in his seven-year NFL career with Denver, but rushed for 1,451 yards. During his rookie year Lytle gained 408 yards and scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XII.

After retiring from the NFL in 1984, Lytle returned to Fremont to help run the family business, Lytle Inc. He worked at the men's clothing store until 1990, when he left to work for a trucking company.

In 1995, he became a sales representative for the Turner Construction Co. With Turner, Lytle played a role in building new stadiums across the country, including the new football stadium in Denver and Comerica Park in Detroit.

Now at age 50, Lytle is a commercial loan officer with Old Fort Banking Company in Fremont.

Lytle has been married to his wife, Tracy, for 28 years. She has been a teacher in the Fremont City School District for 20 years.

Both of their children graduated from Fremont Ross. Their son, Kelly, graduated from Princeton and is working in New York City. Their daughter, Erin, is a Miami (Ohio) graduate who works in Columbus.

Lytle said he entertained thoughts of becoming a coach, but said he did not want to put his family through the hassle of moving from town to town. He's now content to work on the chain gang on Friday nights.

"I JUST LIKE TO HANG OUT on the sidelines and talk to the coaches. I love watching the kids play. I love to see the reactions. I love high school football. That is my No. 1 game now.

"[Playing at Michigan] was the best four years of my life. I played for a guy I'd go to hell for. Bo Schembechler's integrity is above reproach. He went to war for you and stood behind you. He never had a problem telling you how things were. And like it or dislike it, he was always right.

"Football is a fraternity. The thing a lot of people don't understand is that there is a lot of camaraderie amongst the Ohio State and Michigan players of that era. They both have a very high appreciation of one another. The programs are so close. You may not have known them personally, but there is a lot of mutual respect out there.

"That game was very, very emotional. It was hard-hitting and clean. It was a game that was fun to play because you knew you were playing the best of the best. At the time it was the Big Two and the Little Eight. We were the two teams everyone else wanted to emulate.

"WHEN YOU GOT INTO THE PLAYOFFS in the NFL that same intensity was there. You're playing against the best of the best. All of a sudden the attitude changes. It becomes a whole new season.

"For 17 years they only had one winning season [in Denver]. I was fortunate my rookie year, we went 12-2 and went to the Super Bowl. The town fell in love with us and they still have not forgotten that 1977 team. I scored a touchdown. [Dallas running back Tony] Dorsett and I were the first two rookies to ever score a touchdown in a Super Bowl.

"WHEN I PLAYED we did not throw the ball 30 times a game. The West Coast offense is no different than spreading the field with the wishbone or veer option like we used to run at Michigan. The lanes are bigger and that, for a running back, is great because all of a sudden guys are not bunched in there. It still comes down to the team that runs the ball the best wins the game."

"I PLAYED AT THE GREATEST TIME of football in general. I got in at the beginning stages of the evolution of football becoming so consuming to people. It has taken over as America's pastime."

"Instant replay in college football has to be there. We can't rely on these poor referees. I don't know how they call the plays they do. Spectators don't have any concept how fast those things happen. I don't get down on referees. The money that is involved in big-time college football and coaches' lives are on the line whole careers are based on the referees' calls. There is too much money on the line to put that stress on those guys."

"A GROWN 18-YEAR-OLD MAN should have the opportunity [to play in the NFL]. They can go to war, they can vote and do everything else. If this is what they are good at and they have the physical ability, pro people can decide if they can come in and play now. If a team wants a kid out of high school, why can't they sign him? Why shouldn't a kid who believes he can do it take the opportunity to do it. What [Maurice Clarett] did was right. But I do think it opens a can of worms. It would dummy down the sport and have a major impact on college football.

"THE GREATEST THING I've taken away from football is the camaraderie with the guys. The game is something I'd still be playing if I could.

"The day I had to admit it was over for me, they could have taken a gun and shot me. That's all I ever wanted to do. It's all I'd ever cared to do. I've been very fortunate."

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.

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