Healy goes from Vandy to NFL

Chip Healy

Sept. 19, 2012

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There have been many great linebackers to suit up for Vanderbilt on game days. Arguably the first linebacker to set that standard of greatness was Chip Healy (1966-68). Healy was an All-American and All-Southern high school player at Baylor in Chattanooga. He received recruiting letters from most schools in the south and as far away as UCLA and Minnesota. Healy chose Vanderbilt who was led by head coach Jack Green.

"Vanderbilt wasn't very good, but they were close to home," Healy said recently from his Nashville home. "I knew that my father wanted to watch me play. My dad was a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech and he also went to Baylor. When I was in high school I was Chip Healy, son of former Georgia Tech All-American Bill Healy.

"I knew if I went to Atlanta I would get the same thing down there. Rather than getting compared to him, I wanted to go somewhere to make a name for myself and I wanted to play in the SEC. My dad was fine with me going to Vanderbilt. He didn't try to influence me to go to Georgia Tech."

Vanderbilt's record was 3-6-1 (1-4 SEC) in 1964, the year before Healy arrived on campus. In this era of college sports, freshmen were ineligible for varsity play so Healy had to practice with the varsity and play on the freshman team.

"Basically, we were used as scrimmage dummies for the varsity," said Healy. "Jack Green was a great man. I loved him to death. He was a great defensive football coach and just as fine a person you would want to meet.

"The losing records didn't bother me and I thought Vanderbilt was on the upswing. I thought we could have a winning record and actually we did in my senor year. That was what I came over here and tried to do. I was part of that group that had a winning record. I felt like I had accomplished something more than as an individual being on a team."



While Healy was playing for the freshmen team, the varsity was 2-7-1 (1-5 SEC). During Healy's first season in 1966 the Commodores were 1-9 (0-6 SEC) with a season-opening victory over The Citadel followed by nine consecutive losses. One of those losses was to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, 42-0. Healy started every game from his linebacker position. Despite a difficult season, Healy was named Second Team All-SEC.

"I was second in the nation to be defensive player of the week when we beat Tulane," Healy said. "I had 28 tackles and intercepted a pass for a touchdown. We got beat 13-12 and missed two extra points in that game. Going through nine straight losses was tough. But being All-SEC on a 1-9 football team was an accomplishment. Then that's when Jack Green left and Bill Pace came in and changed a lot.

"Buddy Ryan was here the year I was a sophomore. Playing for him was a real learning experience. He was obviously one of the best defensive coaches to have been in the game forever. Ryan was there just that one year. He knew a lot about defenses and could put you in the right spot to execute defensively. We played a lot of different defenses that year, which were not normal for everyday college football. He did the same thing when he went to the NFL."

Green had been fired and replaced with Bill Pace. The players knew their coach was in trouble with his job during that season. Though Vanderbilt was 2-7-1 (0-6 SEC) during Pace's first year, there were signs of improvement. Victories came over William & Mary (14-12) and North Carolina (21-7) and they had a tie with Navy (35-35).

"Offensively, we were a lot better than the year before," Healy said. "Pace came to Vanderbilt from Arkansas where he was their offensive coordinator. This was when Arkansas had good offenses and innovative. Pace brought that stuff with him. The next two years we were a lot better moving the football and scoring points.

"He did lift us mentally. You hate to see a coach get fired, but when somebody new comes in I think there is excitement in changing the system and about having new people. You usually have a lot of enthusiasm when somebody new comes in. We didn't really have a defensive coordinator at that time. Bob Patterson was the guy that coached me the next two years."

Healy, 65, broke his ankle during his junior year in the game against Navy. He would miss the final two games against Mississippi and Tennessee. He also missed spring practice before his senior season to rehab and heal the injury.

In Healy's senior season, the Commodores were 5-4-1 with wins over VMI, Army, Tulane, Kentucky and Davidson. The tie came against No. 15 Florida.

"We had some good young players at that time," said Healy. "We had guys that were already there with me that matured. We had Neal Smith and Christie Hauck that were a year behind me. We had veterans in Rex Raines, Mike Giltner, Paul Gillespie and Bob Asher who played for the Cowboys and Bears after he left Vanderbilt. And we had Pat Toomay who won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys.

"I would say beating Kentucky for the first time was a highlight for me that year. Tennessee must have felt lucky to beat us [10-7]. Dick Williams intercepted two passes that led to 10 points and he was a defensive tackle."

At the end of Healy's senior year, he was named Honorable Mention All-SEC, Second Team All-American by Sporting News and First Team All-American by Central Press. Healy also played in the East-West Shrine Game, the American Bowl and the Senior Bowl.

"I played against Joe Greene in one of the games and with him in another," said Healy. "He was on the West team in the East-West Shrine and then he was on the South in the Senior Bowl. In the East-West game, I was the only guy from the southeast to play in that game. The rest were from the Big Ten and what is now the Big East. There was also at that time a North-South game in Miami. And most of the guys from the southeast played in that game."

The St. Louis Cardinals selected Healy in the third round of the NFL Draft. He was the 71st player selected overall. Healy said that his coaches for the Senior Bowl were the St. Louis coaches, but he did not have any indication that they were interested in drafting him until draft day. Charley Winner was the head coach for St. Louis.

So what was the first day like in an NFL training camp?

"I was scared to death," said Healy. "You are playing with guys that you had been watching on television. We had Larry Wilson, Jerry Stovall, Jackie Smith, Jim Hart, and Charley Johnson. Every offensive lineman had played in the pro bowl at one time. Roger Wehrli was in the same draft class as me.

"Larry Wilson and Jackie Smith are in the Football Hall of Fame and I played with them. It was intimidating to practice with them those first days in camp. I wondered if I'd be good enough to play. Camp was hard. It was held at Lake Forest College where there was no air conditioning and it was hot and miserable."

Healy played in all 14 Cardinals' games starting in several as a rookie. St. Louis was 4-9-1 during the season.

"In one of the games, we had three defensive rookies starting," said Healy. "Rolf Krueger, Roger Wehrli and myself. We played Cleveland who was good at that time and we tied them 21-21, which was amazing. The whole experience playing in the NFL is something I will never forget. I felt like I had contributed to the team and could have contributed in the future."

In Healy's final season as an NFL player, the Cardinals were 8-5-1. Healy was 6-foot-2 and weighed 235. He played all three linebacker positions inside, outside and in the middle. Healy said in his second season he would sometimes play as a fourth linebacker.

"In my last season we beat Dallas twice and they went to the Super Bowl," Healy said. "We beat them 38-0 on Monday Night Football. There wasn't anything that I didn't enjoy about professional football. I played with a great bunch of guys. In between the second and third year I made a decision to retire and go to work for a living. I'd started a family as my oldest son was born and my father needed some help in his business."

After retiring from professional football after the 1970 season, Healy lived in Chattanooga for six months before moving to Knoxville for 10 more years. He worked for his father in a brokerage business. In 1982, Healy moved to Nashville where his father's business located an office. Healy left the family business in 1987. For the past 11 years, Healy, a devout Christian and recovering alcoholic, has been involved with Transitional Living, Inc., which is referred to as "Chip's Place." In 2010, Healy was named to the Lookout Mountain Hall of Fame.

"Transitional Living is a safe house for men in early addiction recovery to get their life in the right direction," said Healy. "Any addict will tell you their alcohol or drugs become the most important things in their lives. He allowed God to lead him to this spot where he can offer safe harbor to other men. I feel like this place is here for a reason and I know I am not the reason. Too many good things have happened that led me here. I really don't believe in coincidence."

To learn more about Transitional Living, Inc., and Chip's Place, go to chips-place.org.

If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com. Traughber's new book about Vanderbilt basketball history "Vanderbilt Basketball, Tales of Commodore Hardwood History" is due in Nashville area bookstores around October 10.

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