By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000
TAMPA -- Long before running backs coach Tony Nathan became a star with the Miami Dolphins, something happened in a cotton field in Union Town, Ala.
There, under a scorching summer sun in 1971, Nathan and his siblings learned that nothing valuable comes easy. Even at the age of 14, Nathan knew what hard work was all about.
"I tell you one thing -- I didn't think much about playing football or didn't know what I wanted to do at that time," Nathan said. "But I knew what I didn't want to do. I didn't want to pick cotton any more. No, sir."
Nathan's years of toiling on the "several acres" of grandfather William Nathan's land helped shape a boy -- who went on to star at the University of Alabama and play nine seasons in the NFL -- into a man.
"It made him a better man, made him creased and hard," said William Nathan II, Tony's father. "Working down on my daddy's farm was not easy. But it made you appreciate every little thing. Made Tony a better father. A better person."
William Nathan II said his children spent almost every summer at his father's farm and their duties ranged from picking cotton to tending the animals. He said Tony enjoyed the work but would from time to time "come home seeing stars."
"My grandfather would be up at 4 a.m., and by the time we got up and got out there, he had already done all of his chores," Tony said. "We would work the fields, and then my aunt would bring down lunch for us. We would eat and then get back to (filling) the sack."
Those cotton-picking days, however, did have an impact on Nathan's football career. It was on the farm, between rows of trees, that aunt Erma Gean taught Nathan how to run.
"Erma used to run him up and down and all over those fields," said Nathan's mother, Louise, Erma's older sister. "When she was done with him, the back of those little legs would be sore. She was a bit of a tomboy."
Q: Tony, what else do you remember about that time in your life?
A: It's funny, but it was all about baseball and basketball at that time, no football. We played a lot of baseball in the neighborhood, there on 36th Street. As soon as we came home from school, we would take to the streets to play. It was a carefree time. I didn't have a worry in the world.
Q: Was there a person you admired a lot?
A: I had a picture of Dr. J (Julius Erving) on my wall. I really admired that brother. I admired the way he handled himself on the court and off of it, too. You never heard anything negative about him. Everybody wanted to be like Dr. J.
Q: If you could impart some wisdom to the Tony Nathan of that time, what would it be?
A: I would tell myself to work harder in school. Do what you need to do to get your education. Don't put everything in one basket.
Jan. 17, 1971
Colts 16, Cowboys 13
MVP: Chuck Howley, Cowboys linebacker (two interceptions, one fumble recovery).
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