It all started for me in the streets of Akron, Ohio. We played football in my neighborhood every chance we could get. It was telephone pole to telephone pole. Any available field, anytime and it was game on. I was too big to play pee wee or bantam football because of the weight limit. My football career did not start until 1970 when I was a sophomore at Akron East High. Since I always played QB I tried out for QB. Very few Black Americans were allowed by coaches to play QB in the 1970′s. They were moved in high school to another position. If they were recruited as a QB’s, chance were pretty good they would move to another position in college. The first coach to recruit me was Don James at Kent State. I really like coach James and he helped me get my first job a Warner Cable. Cable tv was new in households and my job was to connect the cable at the pole and in the house to the tv set. This job sparked a life long love of technology in me. I did not go to Kent State and Don James later on took the University of Washington coaching job and won a national championship. Michigan started recruiting me and it was game over. I received a full scholarship to the University of Michigan in 1972. Glenn Edward “Bo” Schembechler was my head coach. I was not prepared in high school to go to college. Looking back now, I wish I had worked harder in high school towards a successful college education but I cannot remember a high school teacher mentoring me in preparation for college. I know they were aware that I was getting college scholarship offers but really by the time you get to your senior year, it is too late to properly prepare for college. My parents David and Viola Holmes were lucky if their generation completed high school and they had no idea about college prep or AP classes. I was the first in my family to go to college.
I showed up in Ann Arbor an eighteen year old naive football player. Football players get to school two weeks before the regular students. We are released from practice for just enough time to go register for classes then get right back to practice. I signed up for all the required classes and when I went down to the football building and my coach looked at my transcript and he asked, “who do you think you are, Einstein.” He made me go change most of my classes so I could have an easier load that first semester and I still struggled. Actually, I went on probation.
My best friends at Michigan all came from similar backgrounds. Tim Davis (Warren, Oh), Gordon Bell (Troy, Oh), Greg Morton (Akron, Oh), Calvin O’neal (Saginaw, Mi), Al Wheeler (Cincinnati, Oh), Frank Moore (Detroit, Mi). Bob Wood (London, Oh), Les Miles (Elyria, Oh) and Don Dufek (Ann Arbor, Mi) Dufek’s parents were college educated. In fact, Don senior went to Michigan. Bob Wood our field goal kicker was not on scholarship his first two years. This really was an advantage for him because he was focused on school. He interned at Dow Chemical every summer and was hired by Dow soon after graduation. He later became a Dow executive. Don Dufek was from Ann Arbor and his parents were college educated so I believe that it helped him in more ways than I could ever imagine at the time. The home support combined with parental collegiate experience are keys to successful football players.
1972 was the first year freshmen were allowed to play varsity football. Archie Griffin was the first freshmen star collegiate player. He went on to be the first 2 time Heisman trophy winner at Ohio State. I played QB and FS on the freshman football team. The next spring football practice I realized that I was not going to play QB. Dennis Franklin was the starting QB and was a junior. Dave Brown was the starting SS and was an All American. I had no chance to play either position so I moved to DE on the practice squad. I spent the whole year learning how to play DE and lifting weights. I worked up to the 3 DE my junior year and started my senior year. My senior year coach Schemblechler hired a high school coach named Bill McCartney to coach the DE’s. Dan Jilek and I were the first players coach McCartney coached in college. He soon got the Colorado job and won a national championship. He later became famous for founding the Promise Keepers.
My last game at Michigan was the 1976 Orange Bowl. It was Michigan vs Oklahoma for the National Championship. It was my 3rd year playing DE and Michigan was talking to me about a red shirt possibility. An extra year playing DE would have been helpful for my career.
Michigan did not offer me the red shirt. They just kindly said goodbye and I was just another senior out the door. Sad but true. Once your college career is over, the university needs to get to work with the incoming class. Your services are no longer needed and the university moves on. It is not personal but it is a fact.
Gordon Bell got drafted by the New York Giants. Dan Jilek was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Calvin Oneal, Bob Wood and Greg Morton all got red shirted. Al Wheeler dropped out of school after his sophomore year and joined the Navy. Frank Moore was murdered in Detroit at a Christian Revival tent. Tim Davis was told he was too short to play in the NFL although nobody could block him in college football.
Michael Holmes, Tim Davis and George Przygodski signed on to play for the Pontiac Arrows Semi-pro football team in Pontiac, Mi. We hardly practiced and just showed up for the games to collect our checks for $200. We won the league. I signed a free agent contract to play for the new expansion team Tampa Bay Buccaneers. My contract was for $25,000. I was so happy to have my chance to play professional football. Jim Brown was my hero. I wanted to play professional football all my life. I was working hard ever day. Bud Ashley the GM at College Dodge in Ann Arbor offered me a job selling cars with the opportunity to continue training for the Buccaneers. I took the job. One day a Saudi Prince came into the dealership and we met and became close friends.
Prince Khaled ordered a custom van from me that I sold to him for $14,000. My commission was $2500. That was an amazing commission in those days. He traded in his new 1976 Jaquar XJS which was worth $20,000. We gave him $14,000. It was the biggest commission I ever earned. Prince Khaled invited me to his cousins house for a party and I met him there. He introduced me to three other Princes who were his cousins and I had the best time. The Prince’s house was the most beautiful house I had ever seen. It had an indoor swimming pool.
After hanging out with the Princes I was quickly getting out of game shape. I explained to Prince Khaled that my dream was to play in the NFL and I had signed a contract to play for Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Prince Khaled asked me to think about working for them because they would go back to Saudi Arabia after school and start their business. They asked me to travel with them to Europe on a stopover on their way home to Saudi Arabia for the summer. I said ok because I had always dreamed of going to Europe. I had never flown on a plane unless it was to a Michigan football game. We flew first class from Detroit to London. I was drinking Champagne all the way. We touched down at Heathrow airport and a private car picked us up at the 747 on the tarmac and took us to the VIP lounge where customs agents stamped our passports. We took a Rolls Royce to the Dorchester Hotel. I was in awe. I had never seen anything like this before. We enjoyed London for a week then took a lear jet to Nice, France. We checked into the Negresco Hotel and I quickly discovered that tops were optional at the beaches in the south of France. Wow! We took a limo to Monte Carlo and did some gambling. After one week, the Princes went home to Saudi Arabia and I returned to Ann Arbor.
Before the Prince left to Saudi Arabia he gave me the van. I named it the Blue Falcon. Mo Pads in Detroit customized it. When we first met I asked Prince Khaled what was his hobby in Saudi Arabia and he told me he was a falconer. I asked Mo Pads to air brush a falcon swooping down into the desert on both sides of this powder blue van. I put two dark blue tear drop windows in the back panels at the end of he air brush. It was a show piece and now it was mine. I decided to work for the Prince and I never showed up in Tampa for rookie camp. I was hooked on the good life. It was truly a life of Royalty. Everywhere we went, everything we did was all first class.
One day there was a terrible snow storm in Ann Arbor. The Prince and I went outside and we could not find our cars. He looked at me and said “Mike lets move to California.” I said OK. We moved to La Jolla, Ca. It was August 1978 when we arrived in San Diego.