Every boy grows up with dreams of NFL stardom, fast cars and beautiful women, however most never realize all those dreams.
Such is not the case of former Houston Oilers star quarterback Dan Pastorini.
Born May 26, 1949 Dante “Dan” Anthony Pastorini became an NFL star, a hero to many, had a career racing top fuel dragster, dated Farrah Fawcett, appeared in movies, married a Playboy model, developed his own line of food products, and recently added the title of author to his list of accomplishments.
John McClain has covered sports for the Houston Chronicle since 1978 and was there when Pastorini was the sexy face of the franchise, and lived the birth of ‘Luv Ya Blue” shared some memories of those days.
“Dan Pastorini lived the kind of life that every full blooded American male would like to live, at least one weekend,” said McClain.
“He lived life to the fullest, on and off the field dated some of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, and overcame tragedy on and off the field,” continued McClain. “One of the biggest mistakes in franchise history came when (then Oilers Head Coach) Bum Phillips traded him to the Oakland Raiders after the 1979 season.”
McClain closed with this thought about the former quarterback.
“Earl Campbell may have been the heart of ‘Luv Ya Blue” but Dan Pastorini was its soul, the team was never the same without him.”
It began for Pastorini and the Oilers when the franchise selected him third overall in the first round of the 1971 draft. Pastorini was selected just behind fellow quarterbacks Jim Plunkett (Boston Patriots) and Archie Manning (New Orleans Saints).
During his time with the Oilers, he along with Heisman Trophy winning running back Earl Campbell helped the team capture the imagination of an entire city, and made the phrase “Luv Ya Blue” as recognizable as any in sports. That tandem led the organization to heights that would not be exceeded for twenty years.
In a recent phone interview I had the chance to ask Pastorini about those days, and his life after football, including his new book.
Q: You lived through the golden era of football, tell us how “Luv Ya Blue” came about and what that meant to the city and team?
Pastorini: “Luv ya Blue” started back in 1978 on a Monday night game with Miami, and I think that game became one of the most popular games in the history of Monday Night Football. I remember being introduced at the beginning of the game and running out onto the field and seeing all these blue pon-pons in the stands, it was incredible; I mean the place was packed and everybody had a pon-pon and this “Luv Ya Blue phenomenon began. It played thru for the rest of the years in Houston when the Oilers were here, but it’s something that people remember to this day, and the excitement in 1978 and 1979 going to the AFC Championship Game both years and fortunately we ran into the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
“When we returned home after those games it was the reception we got was like we won the Super Bowl. It was totally incredible, and when we came from the airport, which was about 30 miles away and coming down the main airport drag and down the loop and then down the (interstate) 45 into the Astrodome, people were parked side by side with their lights flashing and outside their cars all the way down the side of the road the whole 30 miles. There wasn’t a car going or coming on the freeway except our busses and our escorts. Pulling into the stadium it was packed to the rafters, it was like everybody in this city was out to great us and welcome us home. Luv Ya Blue was a phenomenon that will last as long as the last Luv Ya Blue fan, and the last Luv Ya Blue Oiler is alive, which we’re all kind of falling by the wayside here pretty quickly so it’s not going to be around much longer I don’t think.”
Q: Tell us about those great Steeler teams in 78-79.
Pastorini: “They were a class organization from the owner on down to the players. I enjoyed playing them and every time we played them it was a bloodbath. They were a very physical football team, but they were a respectful football team. They didn’t talk any trash or anything like that, they just beat ya, and we had some pretty historic battles with those guys, and the seems to even in the years when we weren’t that good, we always seemed to play them good because they were kind of the perennial power.”
“We had a lot of respect for them and I think they had a lot of respect for us and a lot of people thought that in 1978 and 1979 the AFC Championship Games were truly the Super Bowl because those were the two best teams in football and I have a tendency to agree with them.”
Q: How much would winning one of those AFC Championships changed your career?
Pastorini: “It would have changed it tremendously, I mean it I wouldn’t have left Houston, I’d have finished my career here, and possibly would have had some (NFL) Hall-of-Fame ramifications, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be because those guys are pretty good and we had that play in 1979 that would have tied the game with Mike Renfro catch in the corner of the end zone late in the third quarter, I don’t know if that would have won the game, it certainly was changing our momentum and we had them on their heels a little bit, when we got away from the running game and unfortunately I was banged up and Earl (Campbell) was banged up so we were kind of playing like the walking wounded, but they had their injuries too, but we were able to move the ball on them but after not getting that touchdown kind of took the wind out of our sails because getting points against those guys was not easy.”
Q: Have you talked to any of those Steeler players since that game about the Renfro play?
Pastorini: “Well when we do run into each other which has been frequently, but when we do they admit it. There’s footage after that game if you want, I think it’s on Youtube and you’ll see the crowd coming on the field after the game in 79 and Dwight White is on one side of me and Joe Green is on the other side, and they were almost apologetic because they agreed that it was a touchdown and you guys beat us. After that game, when you look at some of the interviews in their locker room you could tell they knew they played a good football team that day and they knew that they were very lucky to be going to the Super Bowl.”
“They were a fortunate team, they had the “Immaculate Reception” and they had the (laughter) “Immaculate Non-Catch” for us, but the wound up going to the Super Bowl both years you can’t argue with that.”
Q: How did you get into drag racing?
Pastorini: “I was always kind of a motorhead all my life. I always like the fast cars, and I had a quarter midget when I was eight years old and that thing was just my pride and joy and I think I’ve made this comment before but I think if I could have made a living racing I may have never stepped on a football field, or baseball field, but unfortunately never had that opportunity until after my career in football and it’s just something I’ve always loved and always admired, followed and enjoyed and had the opportunity with my name recognition too be able to put a team together and get into the NHRA drag racing series and it was a very tough road to hoe and Bobby Rowe was from Memphis Tn. was my first crew chief. Bobby and I had worked together on the Quarterback Sneak drag boat and I met him when I was playing football here and we had the drag boats that we raced and he wrenched on both of those boats that set world records.”
“We were struggling kind of early in the drag boat series because you know we always had everybody’s throw away equipment and we were starring out and pretty hard to buy the good stuff when that stuff is pretty expensive and we didn’t have sponsorship dollars yet. My roots kind of started there in Memphis, Tennessee and then I moved back to Houston and opened up a shop here and then raced on the series for about five years and finished seventh in points in 85 and 86, but soon after that we lost the sponsorship and had to get out of racing.”
Q: What were your thoughts when you found out the Oilers franchise was moving to Nashville?
Pastorini: “I was disappointed; I was really disappointed because with that move created the Oilers as an anomaly, and then when they changed their name to the Titans we really don’t feel any allegiance to the team because there’s no identity for us. I kind of wish that Bud (Adams) would have let the name and moniker go so that the Texans then would then become the Houston Oilers phase two, or whatever, but at least the history and legacy would have continued.
“Right now I live in Houston and I’ve got to say that I live in Houston and I follow Houston teams, I’m kind of on the other side of the fence and it’s kind of uncomfortable because I’ve got some dear friends in that (Titans) organization in Mike Reinfeldt and Bob Hyde for a couple to mention there and their dear friends but we just don’t have that tie with the Titans anymore because our moniker is gone. I’ve never been to their stadium over there, I’ve never been invited over there to come in for anything, reunions or anything like that whereas the Texans here have opened arms to us and have a lot of the players as ambassadors here and you know, we just don’t feel that connection with the Titans because we’re Oilers and Houston Oilers.”
Q: So is it safe to say you will be cheering for the Texans on Sunday?
Pastorini: “Well I’m kind of a mixed bag you know, when you’ve got friends on both sides of the fence, you know it’s hard to root against your friends. You know (Titans Head Coach Mike) Munchak and (Titans offensive line coach Bruce) Matthews are good people and are good, dear friends of mine, they did some great stuff around here but I just respect the game of football and I like to see a good football game and these guys are gonna play a good football game because they have that rivalry and I think it’s healthy and it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Q: Tell us about your new book “Taking Flak; My Life in the Fast Lane? How did it come about?
Pastorini: “Well actually I’d been approached about it for years and I had a lot of people approach me and said why haven’t you written a book, why haven’t you written a book? I said I haven’t lived my life yet, I’m still living it.”
“I never really felt that my life was that interesting and John (Co-Author John Lopez) convinced me quite contrary, so I had a friend in New York approach me first and he came up with the title Taking Flak and then we just never got around to putting anything together to write it and what-not, and John approached me down here (Houston) and he said, “Look, I’d like to write it,” and I said well, it’s kind of convenient with you here locally and I know you and trust you so ok.”
“We got together and collaborated for about 42 hours and had the interviews and what-not and then he finally took of one day, came back in a couple weeks later and had the first manuscript, we went through it, did a couple rewrites, did a couple rereads and finally sat there about five months later and said, I think we are ready to go, so we ordered the books and we published them ourselves through Author House and it was a cathartic experience. You know there were some things I talked about and I told John, don’t ask me any questions unless you want to know the truth, and I said I’m going to be blatantly honest so just be prepared, so we did.”
“It is the truth, you like in the fast lane for being a celebrity or quarterback or you know, any kind of player sometimes isn’t quite what it seems, and a lot of people think because you are a pro athlete you got the world by the tail and that’s not necessarily so. There are a lot of heartaches, a lot of problems and all kinds of things that go along with it and we covered all that in the book, and I’ve been blessed so far that everybody whose read it has been very complimentary in comments on Facebook, and reviews on Amazon I’m very pleased. The most pleasing thing, the most rewarding thing for me is that I’ve had people contact me on Facebook, and I’ve had them e-mail me and I’ve had them contact me and come and meet me at the book signings and pull me aside and thank me for being so honest, (in the book) that it’s given them the courage to face their demons and their addictions and to help overcome it, so it’s motivated these people to take that step. That to me if I had just one person, but I’ve had many people come up to me and thank me for that, so I guess my honesty paid off there, and for that I’m glad I was honest.”
“I was a little scared at first, but now I’m glad that I was honest and that it has helped some people.”
Q: You’ve been a star athlete, drag racer; have your own line of food products, now the book. Where do you go from here? What’s next?
Pastorini: “I’ve got some things I’m working on like the food business and we are putting Proforma together to bring on investors and expand the line a little bit to promote the products, and I’ve been doing some for Insperity, which is a PPO company here in Houston that I’ve done some work with in the past and I’ve been working with them for about a year and a half, and I really enjoy that part of it, but I think the food business is going to be the focus from here on out and see if I can grow this and make it something prosperous and maybe something I can hang my hat on and retire one day.”
Q: Are your food products currently in stores, or are they ordered online only right now?
Pastorini: “Right now you can order it online, most people can order it online that are out of state (Texas). It’s just here locally in some local markets in Houston, but you can go on Dan Pastorini’s Quality Foods thru dpqualityfoods.com and you can order there online. Right now we just have the rub products but we’re coming out with some different sauces and other things. So that will probably be in about another month or two.”
When I started researching the possibility of doing this interview I chose Pastorini because of his star status among the Houston Oilers, and also because he lived life in the fast lane yet proved to also be human in dealing with a racing boat tragedy that took the lives of innocent people, and battling his own addictions.
When I initially contacted him, I wasn’t sure of the reaction that a stranger, from a small, somewhat unknown publication might receive from a celebrity, but what I found was a very friendly, honest and genuine man who was more than willing to talk to a stranger about his life.
I have not read the book yet because when I tried to find it locally it was unavailable, but one thing John McClain told me was easily apparent from my conversation with the quarterback.
“I’ve never seen anybody open up in a book like Pastorini did, it’s unbelievable,” said McClain.
John, you’re right, and I can’t wait to read the book!