An ex-NFL running back's stories of college recruiting, Cris Carter, concussions – and cold warnings

November 2, 2013

Vince Workman not only came ready, donning a red Ohio State windbreaker and matching sneakers, he even beat the bosses of the event to the dinner location. Now a personal trainer in Connecticut, Workman charmed the guests of our first-ever Meet and Greet event. From the cold of Green Bay to the laughter at the line of scrimmage, Workman gave some first-person accounts of a life in football. Here are the highlights:

On getting recruited

For me growing up there I had always been a Buckeyes fan. I started getting notoriety, success. My high school coach had been recruited by Woody Hayes at OSU. He did a good job of guiding me through this process. He helped me there. He didn’t give me any recruiting letters until my senior year after my season was over. He wanted me to just focus on my senior year. I wanted to keep an open mind, with scouts coming around. I visited Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame [in addition to Ohio State].

Former ex-Buckeyes and Packers running back Vince Workman
Former ex-Buckeyes and Packers running back Vince Workman

I got a good story about [current Alabama head coach] Nick Saban who was at Michigan State. He was working for [head coach] George Perles. He was recruiting me. He came to my high school. He came to my house and everything.

And I will never forget it, [Saban] told me, he said “you can start as a freshman, don’t believe what you hear about Lorenzo White – he’s really not that good.”

Now, I am not the brightest guy in the world but I’m not that stupid. White was a Heisman trophy candidate – an All-American – and you are trying to tell me I can come in as a true freshman and start? But [Saban] wanted me to play defensive back. He was defensive backs coach. So he was doing anything to get me there.

On Buckeyes teammates Pepper Johnson, Keith Byars, Cris Carter and Chris Spielman

Pepper Johnson and Keith Byars were seniors when I was a freshman. Keith being a senior running back – he got hurt his senior year – helped me along there. I got to play because he was injured. Pepper was one of those guys where everyone was terrified by. He was big and athletic.

We used to have a joke among the freshman, “if you could choose to fight Pepper or jump off the plane which would you choose?” I would say “give me the parachute I’m jumping.” He was very intimidating but the nicest guy.

Cris Carter was a great athlete and pushed others a lot but he was an “I” player. He had great hands. He made all the great catches. He worked hard in practice. Cris was very vocal. If he wasn’t getting the ball thrown to him he would let the coach know. But he was a competitor. He wanted the ball.

Chris Spielman was a football player. He wasn’t the prettiest player. But he made the plays. He was smart. He was tough. He wasn’t very fast but he was always was in the right position. He wasn’t the biggest but he always made plays. I hope he gets a chance to get in the football hall of fame. It’s funny when we played against each other – he was with the Detroit Lions and I was with the Packers – before the game he wouldn’t say nothing. He wouldn’t come up to talk to you. He was that into the game. Now after the game, if we would win, same thing. He would come over, give me a hug and say “good game” and walk away. That’s it. But if they’d won — he would want to talk. He would be like “how’s everything going?” Man, I don’t want to talk…

On Green Bay cold and his rookie year with Sterling Sharpe and The Majic Man

My rookie year I will never forget I was watching TV. So I hear the beep, see the crawl come across the bottom of the screen. I see “Cold Warning: Don’t be outside more than 14 minutes unless it’s an emergency.” I said “what in the world?” Yeah, [Green Bay] gets cold.

Sterling Sharpe was my roommate my rookie year when we traveled. So I remember it was my first cold game. And I had sleeves on and I remember [Sharpe] said “oh, rookie, you can’t go out there – you gotta take them off.” So I was like ok. So it started to warm up and I was taking kickoffs in pre-game and I was catching…oh, you know…and I took anyone one…and then I was like, forget this. I ran straight to the locker room to get my sleeves back on. Forget that.

Workman-packer endzone arms winged
Vince Workman in his #46 jersey

We finished 10-6 that year [1989]. It’s one of those years where the breaks were following our way. We had the Majic Man [Packers Quarterback Don Majkowski]. He had the blonde mullet going. We had a good team that year. What I remember most about it was that whenever we were behind, we always had the confidence we would come back to win.

I remember the famous “after further review” play in Chicago. Now what they don’t tell you about that drive was a rookie running back who didn’t think he was going to play…now I just played mainly on special teams that year. I don’t know what the coach [Lindy Infante] was thinking but he sends me in on a 4th down and 1 to run the ball. And I am thinking “man, he must be out of his football mind.” So I will never forget I got the ball and I went to dive over the pile but if I had just stayed on my feet – because I just wanted to get the first down – I could have ran for another 10 yards. I got two yards and the first down. And two plays later was that Majkowski touchdown pass. That was a fun year.

On a Monster of the Midway and a Purple People Eater

I got into a fight with [former Chicago Bears defensive end] Richard Dent – but I did the best I could. I remember he came around the bend and I was supposed to just chip on him. So he was on the ground so I gave him the forearm in the head. On the next play I was supposed to chip him again and he went by the tackle so fast and it was just me and him one on one. I went to cut him but he ran me over.

Two years later I am playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Bears and my job was to just cut the end – which just happened to be Richard Dent. So I cut him and I get up and I was just walking off and all of a sudden — bam! I get hit from behind. And then Dent dives on me. He’s on top of me and we are going at it. So I pull him in by his face mask so he can’t hit me. So on the next play the coach calls the exact same play. I was like “are you kidding me?” So I do the same thing but I just kept running. I said “you ain’t hitting me again.”

One of the guys I liked playing against was [former Minnesota Vikings defensive end] Chris Doleman because he would tease you but not in a degrading way. I remember when I first went to Tampa from Green Bay and we were playing Minnesota for the first time. I remember I was in my stance and he is in his stance – right before the play – and he looks up to me and says “Vince, what are you doing over there?” I couldn’t help but laugh.

On Concussions

If you got a concussion, you didn’t really diagnose it. If you were falling out or couldn’t remember your name, they took you out of the game. If you were fuzzy, you just sat out for a while and then they just sent you back in to play. And I would say more times than not, the player himself would go into the game. It wasn’t that the coaches sent you back in there, the player felt like it’s your job so if I don’t go back in, I might lose my job.

I thought I didn’t have a concussion but looking back, I probably did. I have walked back to the wrong huddle. I have walked back to the wrong sideline before. I had gotten blurry vision after a big hit.

I like the fact that the NFL is aware of it, taking it serious. But at the same time I think some of these rules are taking away from the game. I can see if the guy is up in the air and clearly the ball is out of play and you get hit, it’s one thing. But if the guy as soon as the receiver touches the ball and [the defensive player] hits you and it’s called a penalty, that’s to me a just a football play. I don’t feel morally right to say that I was deceived by the NFL about concussions.

There is that old saying you are one play away from ending your career. If you were a backup you are one play away from being a starter. That’s always been the same. Did I know about what the long term injuries are? No. But I knew that one time down the road I may have to be taken out.

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