Isn’t it ironic that an NFL All-Pro from a place called Toona Town found his fame and fortune as a country music singer/songwriter?
Mike Reid is the only man in both the College Football and Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. The son of a railway worker, he was an All-American defensive tackle at Penn State who won the 1969 Maxwell Award as the best all-around player in college football. A first-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals, Reid played in two Pro Bowls, started in all 64 of the NFL games in which he played, and was voted All-Pro in both 1972 and 1973. An All-East heavyweight wrestler who had the lead role in a campus production of the musical, Guys and Dolls, while at Penn State, Reid retired after five NFL seasons in order to concentrate on his music. “I had started dreading game days,” said Reid, “and I cared more about my music.”
A talented songwriter, Reid received a Grammy for “Stranger In My House,” recorded by Ronnie Milsap in 1983. He was voted Cashbox magazine “Songwriter of the Year” the following year and was named “Country Music Songwriter of the Year” in 1985. Reid has written over two dozen number-one hits and has had his songs recorded by Anita Baker, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers. He composed the score for The Ballad of Little Jo, a 2000 Broadway musical that John Lahr of The New Yorker proclaimed “the best piece of musical storytelling I’ve heard in a decade.”
Born in the south-central Pennsylvania railroad town of Altoona – Toona Town — on this date in 1947, Michael Barry Reid began playing the piano at six. After graduating Altoona High School, he accepted a football scholarship to Penn State. He starred at defensive tackle, captaining the Nittany Lions to undefeated seasons in 1968 and 1969. As a senior, he led the team in tackles and was voted unanimous All-American. “He was so athletically gifted,” said legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno, “I’m not sure he couldn’t have played fullback for me.” Reid was awarded the 1969 Outland Trophy as college football’s best interior lineman, the only Nittany Lion ever to be so honored, and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy balloting [behind the winner, Oklahoma’s Steve Owens, and Archie Manning, Peyton’s dad]. The Cincinnati Bengals thought so highly of Reid that they selected him with the seventh overall pick of the 1970 NFL Draft, six spots after future hall-of-famer, Terry Bradshaw and two spots behind O.J. Simpson’s getaway driver, Al Cowlings.
Undersized but cat-quick, the 6’3”, 240-pound Reid quickly became one of the most feared defensive lineman in the NFL. In the off-seasons, the Penn State music major played as a classical pianist with symphony orchestras in Dallas, Cincinnati and Utah. A fearsome pass rusher, Reid was voted All-AFC in four of his first five seasons. After the 1974 season, he shocked the football world by retiring abruptly in order to pursue his true passion. Only 27, Reid walked away from NFL stardom and a potential hall of fame career. Upon announcing his retirement, Bengals head coach Paul Brown assured Reid, “We’ll always have a place for you here.”
In 1975, Reid joined The Apple Butter Band and began playing Colorado ski resorts. At first a novelty act, he looked more like a piano mover than a piano player. “People wanted to come in and hear the ‘Singin’ Tackle’.” Reid never looked back. His journey took him from rock to folk to country, from ski towns to L.A. In 1983, he moved to Nashville to focus on writing country music songs. Following his Grammy-winning breakthrough with Milsap, he wrote for Marie Osmond, Tanya Tucker and Conway Twitty. In 1986, Reid was named “Songwriter of the Year” by the Academy of Country Music. He penned 11 songs in the 1980s that rose to number one. Reid began his own recording career in 1990, releasing the album, Turning For Home, which contained the number-one hit, Walk On Faith. The following year, he wrote I Can’t Make You Love Me, which Bonnie Raitt recorded on her Luck of the Draw album. The song immediately rose to the top of the charts. British music magazine, Mojo, ranked I Can’t Make You Love Me eighth on its list of the 100 Greatest Songs of All-Time.
Undoubtedly the greatest football player/singer-songwriter who ever lived, Number 74 is still going strong. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987, was named to the NCAA Silver Anniversary Team in 1995, and was presented a Distinguished Alumni Award by Penn State. In 1997, Reid received the Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre and was later inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Mr. Reid once wrote a football opera, Different Fields, but has since left his former life behind – with one exception. “I would pay to see Aaron Rodgers,” says the self-deprecating Reid. “Now there’s a maestro!”
Happy 70th Birthday to the only man ever to win the Outland Trophy and a Grammy Award.