In Their Words appears Sundays in The Blade s sports section. Blade sports writer Zach Silka talked with Gene Swick, a record-setting quarterback at the University of Toledo who was awarded the Sammy Baugh Trophy in 1975 as the nation s top passer.
Gene Swick is not one to look back with regrets on his playing days.
But it s easy to think about what he could have accomplished in the NFL had he been healthy entering training camp with the Cleveland Browns in 1976.
The Browns made Swick their fourth-round draft choice that year, but a torn rotator cuff kept Swick from being effective in camp. He was ultimately cut before the regular season began.
A native of Licking County, Ohio, near Columbus, Swick became the all-time leading passer in school history at the University of Toledo. He ranked third nationally in total offense as a sophomore, second as a junior and first as a senior.
In his final year with the Rockets, Swick set nearly every passing/total offense record at Toledo and in the Mid-American Conference, and he became the first player ever to post more than 8,000 yards of total offense in a career.
Those records would later be broken nearly 30 years later by Bruce Gradkowski, now with the St. Louis Rams.
Along with the Sammy Baugh Trophy, Baugh earned spots in the Ohio Shrine Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, in addition to being awarded the Youngstown Touchdown Club Ohio offensive player of the year, Football Roundup Magazine national offensive player of the year presented at the New York Athletic Club and Associated Press third-team All-American.
Swick also finished 10th in the voting for the Heisman Trophy after his senior year.
Swick now resides in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, where he is self-employed after working in the manufacturing industry for 25 years following his playing days.
He has been inducted into the Hebron Lakewood High School and University of Toledo halls of fame.
I HAD A pretty consistent career at Toledo for all three years. I play golf with some buddies [from UT] every month. The friendships and the people you met are what you really remember.
My most memorable game was the first game of my senior year. We were behind 24-0 at the half and won 32-31 against [Western] Carolina. That was a pretty amazing comeback. We always had battles with Bowling Green and Miami, and Kent State had an awful good team with Jack Lambert and them playing when I was in school as a freshman and sophomore. Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel were on that team as well.
At that point in time, Toledo was on that 35-0 win streak. Chuck Ealey had been there and Mel Long and all those guys, so we had a good tradition going. For the times, we were somewhat progressive offensively.
I WENT TO TOLEDO because they threw the football, and a lot of the other schools like Ohio State didn t at that time. That s kind of why I initially went there because I knew they would open up offensively somewhat. I had a good [quarterback] coach there, Ed Kline, who came out of a high school over in Youngstown for a couple years, and Charlie Snyder was also there as an assistant receivers coach.
Charlie had coached with Bear Bryant and Chuck Knox and Don Shula, a great group of coaches at Kentucky. He was pretty instrumental [for me] too, I would say, as far as teaching how to throw the football.
We ran some no-huddle and a lot of four-receiver sets. That was a little different back then versus what other teams did. We didn t throw many of these bubble screens and all that kind of stuff. We basically threw the ball 10-plus yards downfield.
AT THAT TIME, offensively Toledo wasn t three yards and a cloud of dust like Woody [Hayes] was at Ohio State. I was from east of Columbus, and they wanted to talk to me. I said I wasn t interested in handing the ball off at that point in time, although [Hayes] was a great, great coach and had a great program. I think Toledo worked for me in the end.
I had good receivers at Toledo. The thing that was the hardest was when I was a senior, I had lost all three receivers [to graduation]. John Ross, [Don] Seymour and [Randy] Whatley were seniors when I was a junior. That was a challenge for me my senior year with three new guys in there.
MY DAD [JACK] was a minister, and we moved quite a bit at that time in my life. I played football at three different high schools. As a freshman at Millersport High School, I started two games actually. As a sophomore, I played at Oak Hill in southern Jackson Country down towards Athens and started nine games there. We went 8-1 with me as a starter. Then I moved up to Hebron Lakewood for my junior and senior years, and we had really good teams up there. We were 9-1 and 8-2 my junior and senior year. I played basketball in high school as well and was all-state. A lot of people thought basketball was my sport, but I knew better than that.
IT WAS A SHORT experience [for me in the NFL]. I had injured my right shoulder, my right rotator cuff right before I went into camp. I went into camp and didn t really tell anyone. They told me I was actually going to be backing up [Mike] Phipps and they were going to trade [Brian] Sipe.
The coaches just told me to relax, so I didn t want to say anything. I really couldn t perform with half an arm, and that was it. It took me like two years for the pain to get out of that shoulder.
I never had surgery. I took a couple years off and then talked to [teams in the Canadian Football League]. I didn t really like the idea of Canada with what was being offered and that type of game up there. So I just ended up going into business.
I SEE GUYS who have played in [the NFL] for a lot of years, like a John Elway and those guys, and they re beat up pretty good. Their legs are pretty much gone. The NFL at that point in time wasn t like what it is today. Guys had second jobs. There was still the notoriety at that time but not the money.
Every once in a while you look back a little. It s a double-edged sword, though. I can look back and say I didn t make it. But I can look back and say it wasn t meant to happen and I ve had a good life and I m healthy. I guess I just appreciate what I had. I don t live life with a lot of regrets.
I was glad when [Gradkowski broke Swick s career passing records in 2005]. They re meant to be broken, to tell you the truth. I was extremely proud they stood for so many years. To stand for 30 years is more than I ever thought they would.
Contact Zach Silka at: firstname.lastname@example.org.