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The Minister of Defense: The Life and Career of Reggie White

You don’t have to be a 40 year fan of the NFL to have seen some of the greatest players league history.  There have been many greats in every decade that the league has been in existence and there are many for each generation.

From the time the NFL has been in existence, you had guys like George Halas who not only started the league but played in it and owned a team.  In later years, standouts like Johnny Unitas, Frank Gifford, Dick Butkus and Bart Starr led the NFL and made it great.  The 80’s saw such great talent as Walter Payton, Joe Montana and Dan Marino who were superstars that led their team to some big wins.  You also had some great defenders with guys like Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary and the subject of this article, Reggie White.

White was one of the top defensive players in the 80’s, 90’s and even into the first year of the 2000’s.  His life story, career in football and even his passing are very interesting and something that should be told.

The following is a chronicle of the life and career of Reggie White.

Reginald Howard White was born on December 19th, 1961 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  He played his high school football at Howard High School in Chattanooga.  He had a spectacular senior year and received several awards and honors.

The University of Tennessee recruited White and eventually landed him.  He played for them from the 1980 season to the 1983 season and started right away.  As a freshman, he had 51 total tackles with 31 solo, two recovered fumbles and two sacks.  He also had a blocked punt.

In his sophomore season with Volunteers White tallied a total of 95 tackles with 61 of those being solo. He had eight sacks, three blocked PATs and seven tackles for a loss.  Some of the honors he earned that season included being named to the Sophomore All-American Team by Football News.  He was also named the best defensive player for the team’s bowl game (against Wisconsin).

White was given academic All-American honors just prior to the start of his junior season but he did not live up to his billing.  He had an ankle injury that kept him from playing as well as he could when he was healthy.  His numbers that year were not as good as they had been previously.  He recorded 47 tackles with 36 solo and he had seven sacks.  White did shine in the team’s Peach Bowl victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes recording eight tackles, one forced fumble and two sacks.

His biggest season in college came in his senior year.  White put up 100 total tackles with 72 solo stops.  He set a record for sacks with 15 that year and tallied an interception along with nine tackles for a loss.  White was honored as defensive lineman of the week for his performance against the LSU Tigers.  He was also received consideration for the SEC Player of the Year, the Lombardi Award and was named an All-American.

Looking at the totals for his college career, White registered 293 total tackles with 201 of those solo.  He had 32 sacks, four fumble recoveries, 19 tackles for a loss and seven passes defended.  He still holds the Tennessee school record for sacks in a season with 15.

Two of his records were recently broken.  He held the record for career sacks (32) until 2016 when Derek Barnett eclipsed that mark.  His school record for sacks in a single game (4) was broken by Corey Miller in 2013.

As White transitioned from college he did not decide to go into the NFL.  Instead, he signed a contract with the United States Football League’s Memphis Showboats.  During his time with them, he recorded 198 tackles, 23 and a half sacks and seven forced fumbles.

The USFL folded in 1985 and being that the Philadelphia Eagles held White’s NFL rights, he went on to play football for them.  It was the start of a stellar NFL career.

White played for the Eagles for eight years.  While he was with them his specialty was sacking the quarterback.  In his time in Philadelphia, White recorded 124 sacks earning him the honor of being the Eagles all-time leader in that category.  His 21 sacks in the 1987 season (which was a 12 game strike season) is still an Eagles record.  A league record he earned while he was with the Eagles was the most passes defended in a single season (13).  That record has been broken since by Houston Texas defensive lineman J.J. Watt.

ESPN named White the greatest player in Eagles history.

Free agency took White to Green Bay where he played for six seasons.  He added an additional 68 and a half sacks.  His record has since been broken by former Packer Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila who collected 74.5 over the course of his career.

One thing that really stood out was the way White became a leader on the team.  His leadership, along with his outstanding play, helped him and the team reach his first and only Super Bowl.  The Packers won that game and it might have been “the” high point of White’s career.

White had another distinction which is historical.  He won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors with both the Eagles and the Packers.  He is the only player in league history win it with two different teams.

White retired in 1999 but he returned in 2000 to play one season with the Carolina Panthers.  He played in and started in every game for the Panthers and in his final NFL season he had five and a half sacks.

The 2000 season would be White’s last ever in the NFL.  It was time to retire for good.

With 198 sacks, White left the NFL as its all-time leader in that category.  That record has since been eclipsed by Bruce Smith who registered 200 total sacks.  He was also named an All-Pro 13 total times out of the 15 years he was in the NFL making the squad’s first team eight times.

White had an interesting life after football.  He got into professional wrestling and started showing up at professional wrestling events.  In May of 1987, White has his first and only wrestling match as part of a WCW event.  White wrestled former Chicago Bear’s defensive lineman Steve McMichael.  The fight was fun according to those that witnessed it (if anyone can find a video of it let me know) but in the end White lost.  His foray into wrestling was over.

His next adventure took him into being a minister.  White got into working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes when he was in college and had even said the might want to be a minister at some point.  Following his NFL career, he began to delve deeper into religion.  He appeared on several news programs discussing his believes and was an active minister in Knoxville, Tennessee for a short period of time.

White was even featured in a movie starring Pat Morita (from the Karate Kid) called Reggie’s Prayer.  There were several other football stars in the film including Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre.

December 26, 2004 was a tragic day for White’s family and the entire NFL.  He passed away following a deadly cardiac arrhythmia.  The reason this happened was because he had cardiac and pulmonary sarcoidosis which is something that the coroner thought he had all his life.

White is buried in Mooresville, North Carolina.

His death was related to sleep apnea.  His wife, along with the Sleep Wellness Institute, helped found the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research and Education Foundation.  This foundation helps people gain access to treatment for their sleep disorders.  This writer is affected by a similar sleep disorder and appreciates the assistance that this provides.

During and after his NFL career, White received several accolades and recognition for what he did playing football.  White was a busy man in 2005.  His number 92 jersey was retired by both the Packers and the Eagles as well as his alma mater, Tennessee.  His greatness was firmly recognized.

In February of 2006, White was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  His wife gave his acceptance speech and she was introduced by their son Jeremy.

Jeremy helped to out out a book about White called In His Shadow: Growing Up with Reggie White.

Finally, there are a couple of other interesting ways that White has been remembered.  In the town of Chattanooga, Tennessee there is a street named after him called “Reggie White Boulevard”.  Near Lambeau Field in Green Bay the Packers have named a street Reggie White Way.

One last thing that you may remember about White was his famous nickname.  He was known as the “Minister of Defense” and some people seem to think he earned that when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles.  White actually got the nickname when he was in college.  He is very well known by that nickname.

White was a guy that was as good on the field as he was off of it.  He set an example for defensive players, in particular defensive ends that could be followed for years.  White made the sack an important and entertaining part of the NFL and it remains a very popular part of the game to this day.

He will always be remembered for his huge smile and his raspy voice.  He was an icon in the NFL and will be thought of as one of biggest stars in its history.  White is known as the “poster boy” for free agency as he was one of the biggest players to move to another team, in its infancy.  He showed that a player could have just as much success in one place as he could in another.  White was also one of the league’s most likable players.

White had a huge impact on the league.  He is one of the NFL’s greats and will be forever imprinted on the fabric of the NFL.

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