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By Terry Frei
The Denver Post
My story on Greg Ploetz, the former Texas defensive tackle from the Longhorns’ famous national championship team in 1969, is in the Sunday paper and here.
I quote Greg several times in the story, simply noting he was speaking in 2001. Perhaps some wondered why I didn’t credit or explain where those quotes came from. I left that unanswered in the story and this is a more appropriate spot to confirm what many reading the story might have known, anyway: The 2001 quotes from Greg in the story and much of the material about his background were gleaned from my interview with him while researching my book, Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming, about the 1969 Texas-Arkansas game in Fayetteville. That’s not meant to be a plug; it’s an explanation because the book came out in late 2002, not last week. I spent much of the summer of 2001 in Texas and Arkansas, then made return trips to Austin and Dallas in the fall.
Before speaking and having dinner with Deb Ploetz and Greg’s former roommate and teammate, David Richardson, on Tuesday, and then meeting them to see Greg in the Arvada memory care assisted living facility on Wednesday, I again listened to my 2001 interview with Greg. I pulled the cassettes out of the huge carrying case devoted to the HHNC interviews, again smiling about (and also being proud of) the line in famed sportswriter Blackie Sherrod’s column, where he noted I “must have worn out a dozen tape recorders” researching the book. (I actually made it through with just one; the major frustrating experience has been repeatedly realizing others have not been reluctant to, um, appropriate and run with the book’s revelatory material about what was going on around those teams and the 1969 game.)
I’m sad that Greg and I weren’t able to significantly chat again during my visit with him Wednesday.
As noted in the story, David presented Deb with a $14,000 check from the Longhorn Support Group, led by former Longhorns halfback Billy Dale.
Greg Ploetz’s former roommate and teammate, David Richardson, presents Deb Ploetz with the $14,000 check from the UT Lettermen Support Group in Arvada in 2014.
A total of $25,000 was raised by teammates on two fund drives.
Many in the LSG still are shaken by the September 2013 death of , the charismatic Wishbone wizard and the father of former Rockies pitcher Huston Street. Street died of a heart attack. Also, James Saxton, the Texas running back who finished third in the 1961 Heisman Trophy voting (behind Syracuse’s Ernie Davis and Ohio State’s Bob Ferguson), passed away at age 74 last week after a long battle with dementia. At least one other prominent player in the Texas program from 1969-72 also is fighting dementia.
In communicating with Dale during this process, and telling him how much I respected how the LSG has responded to help Ploetz and other former Longhorns and their families, I mentioned that my father was the head coach at Oregon during that period, and I’ve been reminded again and again over the years about how the bonds between teammates — and between coaches and players — last. The latest was when three of my siblings and I were present as our father posthumously was honored at the Oregon spring game on May 3, tying it the military appreciation theme of the afternoon because he had been a decorated P-38 fighter pilot during World War II … and never allowed that to be included in his coaching biography. (He was an Army Air Forces contemporary of Ploetz’s father, Frederick Ploetz, the P-40 fighter pilot, also in the Pacific Theater.)
I feel comfortable with sharing what Dale wrote me about the teammates’ bonds issue:
“Bonding only occurs when the respect of a teammate is earned. We all respect each other. We struggled through the mental anguish of trying to be a starter for the Longhorns. We shared victories, losses, work-outs, fellowship, sorrow, pain, and joy together and now that most of us are entering the 4th quarter of our lives, we huddle again as a team to help each other. The teammate bond is not broken and the respect for each other remains years after our glory days at UT have ended.”
Greg Ploetz, Former Texas Football Player, Dies At Age 66
David Richardson (Greg's roommate during college) wrote to his teammates the following letter:
AS MOST OF YOU KNOW I REPRESENTED LSG AND DELIVERED THE CHECK FOR $14,000 TO GREG PLOETZ. BY NOW, MOST OF YOU HAVE READ THE ARTICLE WRITTEN BY TERRY FREI FOR THE DENVER POST CONCERNING GREG’S SITUATION AND THE POSITIVE IMPORTANT ROLE THAT MEDICINAL MARIJUANA HAS PLAYED IN GREG’S LIFE.
ALL THE TEXAS NURSING HOMES WOULD NOT TAKE CARE OF GREG UNLESS THEY COULD KEEP HIM MEDICATED AND CALM. DEB WAS AT HER WITS END UNTIL SHE FOUND THIS PLACE IN COLORADO AND HEARD ABOUT THE MARIJUANA TREATMENT.
WHAT AN EYE OPENER IT WAS FOR ME AS AN OUTREACH MINISTER FOR VICTORY BAPTIST CHURCH. NOT THAT I APPROVE OF IT IN THE RECREATIONAL SENSE BUT IT DOES HAVE SOME VALUE MEDICALLY. AFTER ALL, WHERE DID WE FIRST GET OUR MEDICINES? FROM PLANTS.
OVER ALL IT WAS A VERY GOOD TRIP. GREG IS IN A BEAUTIFUL PLACE, THE MOUNTAINS ARE ONLY ABOUT 10 TO 15 MILES FROM HIM. HE CAN GO OUT IN THE BACK YARD AND ENJOY THE BEAUTY. THERE WAS STILL SNOW ON THE MOUNTAINS. HIS NURSING FACILITY IS MORE LIKE A HOME THAN CARE INSTITUTION. THE WORKERS ARE NICE, AND THEY ARE GENUINELY CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR PATIENTS.
WHEN GREG FIRST ARRIVED HE WOULD HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYONE AT THE NURSING FACILITY BUT NOW WITH THE HELP OF MEDICINAL MARIJUANA HE HAS CALMED DOWN AND HIS ANGER HAS SUBSIDED.
I WAS HIS ROOMMATE, BUT GREG DOES NOT KNOW ME. HE KNOWS DEB AND THEIR DOG BEUTTER.
GREG KNOWS HE IS NOT AT HOME BUT HE WANTS TO BE. THIS FRUSTRATES HIM AND HE CAN STILL GET AGITATED VERY QUICKLY. HE GOT UPSET WITH ME WHEN I TOOK A PICTURE OFF THE WALL TO ASK HIM ABOUT IT. HE LOVES HIS ART; I ASKED HIM ABOUT THE ARTWORK HANGING IN HIS ROOM AND HIS EYES LIT UP AND HE EVEN SMILED. HE LIKES TO WALK OR PACE. HE DOESN'T TALK MUCH, JUST MAKES SOUNDS. DEB SAID THAT SOMETIMES AFTER SHE HAS GIVEN HIM HIS DRUGS HE CAN PUT A SENTENCE TOGETHER.
IT'S VERY HARD FOR DEB TO GET HIM TO DO ANYTHING. SHE HAS TO MANIPULATE HIM AND THIS IS VERY HARD ON HER; SEEING HER HUSBAND IN SUCH A STATE. HE HAS LOST A LOT OF WEIGHT AND JUST DOESN'T LOOK THE SAME. THE DRUGS HAVE GIVEN HIM AN APPETITE AGAIN SO MAYBE HE WILL START GAINING THE WEIGHT BACK.
DEB ADMINISTERS HIS MEDICINE TO HIM IN THE MORNING AND AGAIN IN THE EVENING. SHE HAS A LICENSE TO BUY AND TO ADMINISTER THE “DRUG” THE NURSING HOME EMPLOYEES ARE EXCITED ABOUT HOW THE “DRUGS” HAVE HELPED GREG, AND THEY HOPE BE ABLE TO ADMINISTER THE DRUG TO THEIR PATIENTS IN THE FUTURE. THERE IS A TOTAL OF 10 MEN WHO RESIDE IN THE HOME.
HER LIFE IS BETTER, BUT NEEDLESS TO SAY HER SITUATION IS STILL VERY DIFFICULT. FROM MY OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH MY DAD WHO HAD ALZHEIMER’S, I CAN TELL YOU THAT THIS IS HARDER ON THE CAREGIVER THAN THE PATIENT, BUT THE LONGHORN FAMILY HAS COME THROUGH AND MITIGATED A VERY DIFFICULT SITUATION.
PLEASE KEEP GREG AND DEBRA IN YOUR PRAYERS.
I WAS HONORED TO DELIVER OUR HEART FELT DONATION TO DEB. DEBRA AND TERRY FREI WERE OVERWHELMED WITH OUR OUTREACH. IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTION PLEASE CONTACT ME.