Where Are They Now

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Where Are They Now: Wayne Mulligan

Catch Up with the Former Jets Center

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In 1970, Wayne Mulligan's second year in the league with the St. Louis Cardinals, he replaced nine-year veteran and two-time All-Pro Bob DeMarco at center.

"Bob was a good guy, a smart guy, but Bob was very outspoken. I mean, right in front of coaches, he would basically tell them what he thought of them. And they had enough of that," Mulligan said.

"He'd come out of games and say, 'Go ahead, Rook. I'm not playing anymore.' He would just stop playing, and I would go in and finish the game. Inadvertently, he helped me have an audition and they go, 'Well, hell. This guy can play.'"

Remaining there as the starting center over the next four seasons, Mulligan came to realize that playing football in the shadow of the Gateway Arch was less than a pleasant experience.

"We were 4-9-1 four out of the five years I was there," Mulligan said. "I didn't even feel like I was in the NFL because I did a lot of speaking engagements, which I enjoyed, but I was always defending the organization. I wanted to ask for a trade. Not for money, just because I wanted to be in the NFL and I wanted to have a chance to win."

Breaking his arm late in the 1973 season and seeing what he perceived as the team's lack of concern didn't change Mulligan's opinion of the Cardinals or his desire to play elsewhere.

"After the (1974) strike, I went to my first practice and was getting word that they were a little reluctant about signing me. They didn't know about my arm," Mulligan said. "And I'm going, 'Then why they hell didn't they take care of it? Why didn't they rehab it? What do you mean they're worried about my arm? I'm worried about it too.

"I woke up the next morning the exact same way I felt when I went to sleep that night, I'm done. This is ridiculous. I don't want to play here anymore. These people don't care about me.

"As long as I stay healthy, I can start in this league because I'm good enough. I'm one of the best centers in the league. And I don't care what anybody says, I was."

Traded to Chicago during the final days of the 1974 training camp, the Bears turned around and traded Mulligan to the Jets, where as Yogi Berra would say, 'It's déjà vu all over again.' Because as he did in St. Louis with DeMarco, Mulligan would step in and replace 10-year veteran and Super Bowl III Champion John Schmitt at center.

"I facilitated this," Mulligan said. "In those days, there was no free agency. It didn't exist like the players have now, and that's the greatest thing we struck for, is for them to have free agency. Which they should. I should have. Sign a contract, and when it's over, it's over. You could do it any other business, but you couldn't do it in the NFL because they'd have to get compensation."

With the Cardinals, Mulligan was snapping for Jim Hart. And now with the Jets, he'd be doing the same for Joe Namath. Both were veteran Pro Bowl quarterbacks, they just had different personalities.

"When you get in the huddle, OK, it's Joe Namath, but after I met and got to know Joe, I didn't care that Joe was 'famous,'" Mulligan said. "It didn't mean anything. I'm not in New York to be on a team with a guy who's trying to be an actor. I'm trying to be with a good organization who wants to win and is a good judge of talent.

"Jim Hart was a good guy and a good football player, and a decent leader. And Namath was the same. I don't mean this in a negative way, I'm just merely saying from my perspective, when you step in the huddle, if you're good enough to be there and you want to be one of the best there is, you hope that everybody else is the same way. And Namath and Hart were no different."

Posting a 7-7 record during Mulligan's first season in New York, that would be the Jets' last gasp of fresh air before dog paddling to stay afloat in the shallow end of the AFC East pool with three consecutive 3-11 seasons.

"I liked the guys. We were a very close team. We were doing well," Mulligan said. "My first year there, that's when they said 'You're going to go to the Pro Bowl, definitely this year or next year.' We won like six out of the last seven games, and we're going, 'Next year is going to be it.'

"And then they made a bunch of trades which were stupid. They started making bad moves. 'What? What are you doing that for?' We obviously fell apart the next year and didn't play well, and the following year the same thing."

With the Jets for the final two seasons of his career, Mulligan was let go just days before they kicked off the 1976 campaign in Cleveland.

"My career ended not because I wasn't good, I was at the peak of my career. Mentally, I was very constant. I was bigger, stronger, faster, knew the game. But sadly enough, I fell apart. I had a bunch of operations; ankle, knee, arm," Mulligan said.

"So, the Jets released me, and I knew that was going to happen. I talked to a couple teams, but I knew in my heart… I didn't quit, but I knew that I couldn't do what I had to do. I was just physically not able to be the guy I was. I'm very proud of what I did."

Making his home in Charleston, South Carolina, Mulligan is the father of three adult children: Stacey, Kelley, and Patrick; and the grandfather of eight.

"I'll never be retired. I'm a mentor for the student-athletes at the Citadel. And I do some other business things," Mulligan said. "I'm still trying to stay as active as I can because I enjoy it and I feel like I have a lot to give just from the wisdom of living 73 years and being in a lot of different situations. So, I refuse to say I'm retired. Let's just say I'm still looking for opportunities."

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