The football gods were kind to Joe Ferguson. 17 NFL seasons (plus, a couple weeks on a Canadian Football League roster), and the former quarterback isn't struggling with everyday mobility or cognitive awareness. Today, at 68, the former Buffalo Bills signal caller in Orchard Park, New York for a dozen seasons ('73-'84) “keeps busy” as […]
The football gods were kind to Joe Ferguson.
17 NFL seasons (plus, a couple weeks on a Canadian Football League roster), and the former quarterback isn't struggling with everyday mobility or cognitive awareness. Today, at 68, the former Buffalo Bills signal caller in Orchard Park, New York for a dozen seasons ('73-'84) “keeps busy” as a real estate agent for Lindsey & Associates based in Rogers and Fayetteville,Arkansas.
Calling it quits after the 1990 season with the Indianapolis Colts, Ferguson enjoys following the game that he thrived in, beginning as a teenager at Woodlawn High in Shreveport,Louisiana where he followed Terry Bradshaw as the school's star passer.
“I'm doing great. No issues,” says Ferguson, who was selected by Buffalo in the third round of the 1973 NFL Draft. ” Everything has been good for a long time. The doctors are shaking their heads.”
Other than having undergone surgery for a left shoulder replacement, Ferguson's knees are fine, and goes for a jog when he feels like. Proclaiming to have “escaped healthy” from normal Sundays at work that included him being at times slammed to the ground by onrushing defenders, Ferguson's biggest victories since leaving the gridiron has been over cancer.
Twice Ferguson, who after his NFL days turned to coaching including at his alma mater University of Arkansas,has undergone treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. In 2005, Ferguson was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, and then in 2008 with acute myeloid leukemia.
Keeping up with the Bills and the Razorbacks from his college days allows Ferguson to have a “toe” in the game.
“I pay attention,” said Ferguson who threw 196 touchdown passes in his NFL career, including a high 26 during the 1983 season. “I check on how Arkansas and the Bills are doing. My daughter works for the Dallas Cowboys in their marketing department. She's involved with suites (there are 380 suites at the Cowboys' AT&T Stadium). The size of that video screen there, it's amazing.”
Although from Alvin,Texas (hometown of baseball great Nolan Ryan), the two star athletes' paths never did meet. Ferguson's father worked all over South Texas, and when Joe was around three or four-years-old, his family settled in Shreveport.
Long after the hearing a final applause on a Sunday for a victory scored with Buffalo, or in Tampa Bay, Detroit, or with the Colts during his pro career, it's the memories and friendships that Ferguson values most.
“When I think back, I'm proud for being healthy for that long (17 seasons), and the great friendships I've made. It was the Lord's blessing that kept me in great condition,” explains Ferguson, who led the Bills three times ('74,'80,'81) into the playoffs. “I stayed out of danger.”
Among his former teammates that Ferguson keeps in touch with include a few from his days slinging passes in Western New York. Steve Freeman, Lou Piccone, Reggie McKenzie, and Kay Stephenson are among the group. There was even a conversation with O.J. Simpson, a teammate of Ferguson's with the Bills for five seasons, 3 months back that lasted 30 minutes.
One of the NFL's greatest moments involved Ferguson and Simpson, back in 1973, during a game between Buffalo and the New Jets at Shea Stadium. In that game, during a snow storm, Simpson went over the 2,000-yard mark rushing in the season. This was a first in NFL history. Ferguson, a rookie, handed off to the 1968 Heisman trophy winner, to complete the amazing ground game that season. Back then, the NFL season was 14 games.
The pro game has changed tremendously since Ferguson left it nearly 30 seasons ago. There are times when Ferguson thinks “what if” he was able to be in the NFL today.
“Everyday I think I was to early (entering the NFL), when I read about the contracts. I am blessed to have lived through the era I was a part of. When I played, there was a real team concept in the NFL.”
As for that 1995 time on the San Antonio Texans' roster (Canadian Football League's South Division), five years after taking off his Colts' uniform for the last time, loyalty and friendship had much to do with that.
Texans' starting quarterback David Archer was injured mid-season, and the team was in need of an experienced backup QB. Stephenson and Ferguson have history. While with the Bills, Stephenson was Ferguson's quarterback coach, and head coach.
“He (Stephenson) knew that I stayed in pretty good shape. I knew his system, and he needed help. I went down to San Antonio, I think it was for two or three weeks, until (Archer) came back.”
Team is a concept that Ferguson is proud of from his NFL years. He tells of Simpson making it a point to share his notoriety, while smashing rushing records with the Bills. Working hard together, and enjoying the success are pleasant memories today for Ferguson. The Bills' offensive line's success brought about the nickname “Electric Company”, for their opening up holes for the “Juice” (Simpson).
“Some of the guys weren't the best athletes, but they got the job done,” states Ferguson.
Today, Ferguson sees the game so much faster than when he played that he suggests the field be enlarged by five yards on the sidelines.
Content with how his career and life has traveled, Joe Ferguson is one of the easy-going, good guys from a game that could use a few more participants like him today.