The 1979 Detroit Lions: A Tale Of Two Rookies [Video]
I came across a highlights video for a 1979 Lions game. It featured two rookies in key roles, and two wildly different futures.
I stumbled across this video on Twitter (Old Time Football is a great feed), and I was immediately intrigued by the rookie who ran the opening kickoff back 69 yards. I had no recollection of him ever playing for the Lions, and I wondered, how cool is it to have done that. To have one flashing moment of glory, only to never have been heard from again, at least in the NFL.
The rookie was SO unheralded that he's even misidentified in the highlights reel. The announcer called him "Reggie Arnold", but his name was John Arnold, and he led the Lions in return yardage that season.
The Lions were terrible in 1979. (When aren't they?) They wound up 2-14, and were forced to play a lot of young talent because of injuries.
John Arnold was one of them. Quarterback Jeff Komlo was another. Both were rookies, both didn't last long in the NFL following their 1979 coming out party with the Lions. Both wound up taking dramatically different paths in life.
The famous baseball movie "Field Of Dreams" has always left in me an interest in athletes who got just one shot at the big leagues, only to fade away to a regular life.
For John Arnold, that "regular" life meant going back to school, becoming a software engineer, and in his spare time, running a football skills camp for kids in his adopted home town of Long Beach, MS.
He was inducted into the University of Wyoming sports Hall of Fame in 2016.
I'm sure he still wonders if he could've broken that kickoff return into a touchdown, and looks back fondly on his short pro football career, but he seems to have adjusted and moved on.
Jeff Komlo took a different turn. While he disappeared from the radar for a bit, he resurfaced in Pennsylvania in 2006.
He was charged with domestic violence and skipped the country to avoid prosecution, landing in Greece. He worked for a hair transplant company before tragically dying in car accident in 2009.
According to Wikipedia:
Pennsylvania law enforcement initially questioned whether he might have faked his own death to avoid the charges. Five days later, the Acting Chief Chester County sheriff's detective, Jim Vito, stated that the authorities were satisfied that Komlo was in fact dead.
Two rookies. Two lives. Neither dull, just different.