October 9, 2009

Ronnie Lott was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the first round (8th overall pick) of the 1981 NFL Draft.

He wore #42 and became a legend.

The level of skill demonstrated by the 6-foot, 203-pound standout was instantly recognized, and from the very beginning of training camp he had the job as the 49ers' starting left cornerback. In his first season, he recorded seven interceptions, helped the 49ers to win Super Bowl XVI, and also became only the second rookie in NFL history to return three interceptions for touchdowns. His outstanding play resulted in his finishing second for Rookie of the Year honors, behind New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

Lott switched to the safety position in 1985. He had the tip of his left pinky finger amputated after the 1985 season, when it was crushed by tackling RB Timmy Newsome. A 1986 injury sidelined him for the season's last two games, but he still led the league with a career-best 10 interceptions while recording 77 tackles, three forced fumbles, and two quarterback sacks.

In his ten years with the 49ers, he helped them to win eight division titles and four Super Bowls: XVI (1981 season), XIX (1984), XXIII (1988), and XXIV (1989). He is one of five players to play for the 49ers on all four of their Super Bowl wins during the 1980s. The other four are QB Joe Montana, LB Keena Turner, CB Eric Wright, and WR Mike Wilson.

He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, his first year of eligibility, and was also named to the NFL's 75th anniversary team.

Many consider Ronnie Lott one of the greatest defensive players to play in the NFL.

I saw every game he played in as a 49er. In my opinion, he was the greatest.

In his 14 seasons, Lott recorded 8.5 sacks and 63 interceptions, which he returned for 730 yards and five touchdowns. He recovered 17 fumbles, returned them for 43 yards, and gained 113 yards on kickoff returns. Lott also played in 20 postseason games, recording nine interceptions, 89 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and two touchdowns.

He was also named All-Pro eight times, All-NFC six times, and All-AFC once. Beyond statistics, Lott had an uncanny awareness of how a play was developing, which allowed him to break up passes and earn a reputation as one of the hardest and most efficient open-field tacklers.

"When you walk off the field, does your opponent respect you?", said Lott.

Ronnie Lott did not just run into players.

He ran through players.

Ask Cris Collingworth, in Super Bowl XVI. Lott dismantled him, stripped him of the ball and changed the course of the game.

Ask Ickey Woods, in Super Bowl XXIII, when Lott knocked him out cold in the 3rd quarter just as Woods tried to score at the goalline. Woods woke up on the bench and asked his coach what happened and if he scored a TD.

As much as I enjoyed watching the fluid grace of the 49er offensive juggernaut lead by Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Brent Jones and Roger Craig in the 80s; when #42 took the field, my focus was on Ronnie Lott.

But what is the measure of a man?

Is it not what he does off the field as well as on?

USA Today praised him as "one of the most successful athletes at making the transition to business." He manages $2.4 billion in private-equity investments and owns Toyota and Mercedes-Benz car dealerships. He also advises professional athletes who are making a transition to the business world.

The Lott Trophy is presented annually to the college football Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year. IMPACT is an acronym for: Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, and Tenacity. The award equally recognizes the personal character of the winning player as well as their athletic excellence.

The award selection is voted on by members of the national media, previous finalists, the board of directors of the Pacific Club IMPACT Foundation, and The Master Coaches, a group of former college football head coaches. The award is named in honor of USC, College Football Hall of Fame, San Francisco 49ers, and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back, Ronnie Lott.

All Stars Helping Kids [www.allstarshelpingkids.org] was founded by Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott in 1989.

The mission of All Stars Helping Kids is to promote a safe, healthy and rigorous learning environment for disadvantaged children in low-income communities.

As Ronnie Lott said: "In our society, we're starving for people to step up and make a difference. I want to be one of those people. I don't want to walk away from my life feeling that I didn't do enough."

He played a game, but he made it great.