NFL QB Dan Pastorini's Life Wasn't All Glamor


SAN JOSE, Calif. - On the cover of Dan Pastorini's new autobiography, "Taking Flak: My Life in the Fast Lane," the legs of a woman in high heels kick suggestively.

It's a fitting visual for a guy who became a professional drag-racer after a 13-year career as an NFL quarterback, but also was known for dabbling in the Hollywood life, marrying a Playboy model, posing for Playgirl and for his much-publicized brushes with the law.

But, Pastorini believes, you shouldn't judge this tell-all book entirely by its cover.

"What it comes down to is that I never really felt comfortable unless I was on the football field or in a race car," said Pastorini, 62, who was inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday. "Everything else was just difficult for me."

Pastorini, a Bellarmine College Prep and Santa Clara University product, was "as tough a football player as has ever walked on this earth," according to then-Houston coach Bum Phillips. Pastorini quarterbacked the Oilers to the AFC title game twice, was the first player to wear a protective flak jacket and threw the pass that helped lead to the NFL adopting instant replay.

But he also was mockingly cheered by his own fans after breaking his leg while with the Raiders, fought a bitter court battle with Al Davis and was involved in a speed boat racing accident that tragically killed two spectators. His life, he said, wasn't as glamorous as it may have looked.

"The reality is that a career as a pro athlete is not what everybody thinks it is," Pastorini said. "There's a lot of pain and stuff you go through that nobody ever knows. We're human beings and make mistakes. I sure have made my share with a lifestyle that I'm not real proud of."

Dante Anthony Pastorini grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Sonora before coming to Bellarmine as a boarding student. He possessed a freakishly strong arm - throwing a baseball over a 10-story Santa Clara campus building on a dare and later firing a football 85 yards. Following a baseball and football career with the Broncos, he was the third-overall pick of the 1971 NFL draft behind Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning.

He was at the center of an Oilers team that in the late 1970s captured the heart of Houston, then a boom town awash in oil money. Pastorini, whose rugged good looks got him small acting roles like playing a shirtless Spartacus on a TV series, reveled in the scene.

"I try to enjoy life and I've never made a secret of it," he told The New York Times in 1981. "The only difference between me and a lot of guys is I'm honest about it - and I get caught."

But he also played hard on the field. He once suited up with three broken ribs - earning a place in NFL Films' Top-10 grittiest all-time performances - wearing the newfangled flak jacket. (The inventor demonstrated the device in Pastorini's hospital room by having a friend whack him in the side with a baseball bat.)

In the 1980 AFC championship game against Pittsburgh, Pastorini's game-tying touchdown pass was ruled incomplete even though it clearly was a catch; a blown call that contributed to the NFL's eventual use of replay. After that loss, Pastorini was traded to the Raiders for Kenny Stabler.

Pastorini should have been the perfect Raiders quarterback - strong arm, carousing image.

But he was struggling badly with the Silver and Black when in his fifth game his leg snapped while being tackled after releasing a pass against Kansas City at the Oakland Coliseum. Fans applauded his departure. Plunkett took over and led the team to a Super Bowl title as Pastorini watched in street clothes, a forgotten man. He would spend years fighting Davis in court to honor the rest of the contract.

"It broke my spirit a bit," Pastorini said of his feud with the late Davis. "I got out of football and into drag racing. If I had started off in drag racing, I probably never would have played football in the first place."

He won in just his seventh race in an NHRA Top Fuel dragster nicknamed "Quarterback Sneak" and continued to burn rubber at speeds hitting 271 mph until the sponsorship money ran out.

Pastorini long ago had promised that "there'll never be a book" about his colorful career, but he changed his mind. John P. Lopez, the Houston sports journalist who is the co-author, describes Pastorini's story as "North Dallas Forty meets Urban Cowboy."

"He's almost bashful about his life," Lopez said. "He would be talking about posing for Playgirl and wonder if anybody would care. And I would tell him, 'Your life is not normal. Real people don't have Farrah Fawcett call them up in the locker room after a big win and ask them out to dinner."'

For all the attention-grabbing tales, though, Lopez believes the larger theme is how Pastorini took a hard look at himself after a 2010 DUI. Pastorini, who lives in Houston and still has family in the Bay Area, stopped drinking. He cofounded a food company this year and found that writing the book was cathartic.

But even as he's being honored in San Jose for his athletic achievements, Pastorini said he's holding his breath about the book's reception when it's released later this month.

"It was painful to talk about a lot of the things," he said. "I wish I had done a lot of things different. But whether you like it or not, this is me."

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