It’s not often an NFL record stands for 45 years, but Fred Dryer still owns a piece of football history. On Oct. 21, 1973, he did what no one had done, or has done since, when the defensive end scored two safeties in the same game.
Even more impressively, he did it in the same quarter. Dryer was responsible for the final four points in the Rams’ 24-7 win over the Packers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which is once again the temporary home of a team that in those four decades since Dryer’s record game has relocated to St. Louis and back again to Southern California.
So rare is it for players to record safeties that Dryer’s two in that game were the only two of his career — and that still ties him for the most safeties in a single season. (Jared Allen, Doug English, and Ted Hendricks share the record for most safeties in a career, with four apiece.)
But his place in the NFL record books might be the least interesting thing about Dryer. Here’s what else you should know about the “Sultan of Safeties” — and why Ted Danson (and maybe even Don Johnson) should send him a Christmas card every year.
The native Californian started his NFL career in New York
In 1969, Dryer was drafted by the New York Giants and spent three seasons there before he had enough — especially of losing. He was traded to the Patriots (briefly) before landing back in his hometown of LA and with the team he always dreamed of playing for one day.
During his playing career, Dryer had a reputation for being a stereotypical California surfer dude. When he was traded to LA, one headline read: “The Rams hire a hippie.” Sometimes, he leaned into that — he, at least at one point, lived in a Volkswagen van that he owned for years.
Other times, he seemed to resent it a little, suggesting it was more of an act than he was letting on.
“All that stuff about me being a free spirit is so wrong,” he said in another interview.
But it was clear he was more than just a football player. He was known for having a sly sense of humor throughout his football career, and once he was back in LA, he took an interest in real estate — and then began acting lessons.
He was almost cast as Sam Malone on Cheers
His first credited role was in 1980 — while he was still in the NFL — as a guest star in an episode of Laverne & Shirley.
He retired from the NFL at the beginning of the 1981 season and took a job as a color commentator for CBS. But that just one season — he was ready for a career away from the football field.
When pilot season rolled around, Dryer auditioned for a show that would eventually become one that everybody knows its name: Cheers.
Just like it’s hard to imagine Matthew Broderick as Walter White, or Jon Cryer as Chandler Bing, or Alicia Silverstone as Angela Chase, try to picture anyone but Ted Danson as Sam Malone. Can’t do it, right? Danson was Sam Malone. He owned that role.
But Dryer came really close to landing it.
As originally conceived by the Charles Brothers, Sam Malone was a former football player for the Patriots. Fred Dryer was more who they had in mind. And he was a finalist for the role (along with William Devane).
Ted however, was so charming and there was such chemistry with Shelley Long that they decided to cast him instead. But Ted as a football bruiser is only slightly more believable than me as an NFL lineman so they made Sam a baseball player instead.
While Dryer lost out on that role, he did appear a few times on the show as sportscaster Dave Richards, a former teammate of Sam’s.
And eventually, that helped lead to ...
His biggest role was the lead on the ‘80s show Hunter
Before the 1984 TV season and with a couple more years experience as an actor, Dryer was still trying to nab a starring role. He auditioned for Miami Vice but the 6’6 Dryer was declared “too tall” to be James Crockett (famously played by the Don Johnson, who is 5’11, according to Google).
However, that year Dryer was cast as the lead in Hunter, one of those ubiquitous “male-female partners, solving crime!” shows of the ‘80s like Moonlighting, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Remington Steele, and Hart to Hart.
Rick Hunter was an LAPD homicide detective who didn’t mind breaking a few rules to get a bad guy off the street. “Nobody could throw a guy off a building like me,” Dryer told Matt Ufford about his character in a 2013 interview.
Each week, Hunter and his partner, Dee Dee McCall (Stepfanie Kramer), chased down the worst of the worst criminals, sometimes in a cherry red Dodge.
Here’s a description of a random Season 3 episode, in case you were wondering just how ‘80s this show was:
Hunter and McCall attempt to break a cocaine syndicate apparently being run by one of Hunter’s most trusted ex-partners.
The show ran for seven seasons and later returned for three made-for-TV movies. In 2003, way before the reboot trend hit TV hard, NBC tried to revive the series but it didn’t last.
The name “Hunter” has followed him around, before and after the show
Today, Dryer hosts The Sports Lounge with Fred Dryer on CRN Digital Talk Radio. He still acts here and there, including in a Season 2 episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He played Hydra leader Octavian Bloom:
As it so happens, Bloom was killed by a character named Lance Hunter.
And now back to Dryer’s record day in 1973. His second safety came when he took down Packers backup quarterback Jim Del Gaizo in the end zone, but his first was against the starting quarterback: Scott Hunter.
His college football career overlapped with Carl Weathers, Don Coryell, and John Madden
In 1967, Dryer transferred from El Camino College to San Diego State after he found out he was a few credits shy of being able to attend Florida State. At SDSU, his head coach was Don Coryell, who would help usher in a new era of the NFL with his pass-heavy “Air Coryell” offense with the Chargers a decade later.
Briefly, his defensive coordinator was John Madden, but he left before the season to take a coaching job with the Raiders.
One of his Aztec teammates was another football player-turned-actor: Carl Weathers. Although Weathers’ NFL career was short, he went on to notable success onscreen, including in the movie Predator, as Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies, and as stew-lover Carl Weathers on Arrested Development.
He recently sued the NFL
In 2009, Dryer joined a few former NFL players in a lawsuit against the league, specifically against NFL Films, over using retired players’ likenesses.
“I played in the league for 13 years,” Dryer said. “While I did, they had my rights. I never received any money for that. I never asked for any. It was part of the promotion of being a member of the National Football League.
”But when my contract was up in August of ‘81 ... I no longer work for you. You can’t use my likeness continually to promote your business without compensating me directly. They don’t feel that way.”
The NFL reached a settlement with the group of retired players in 2013. Dryer was one of three former players who opted out of the settlement and tried to continue the fight. A court later sided with the NFL.
He knew way before we did that the Super Bowl Media Day was a farce
We know that Super Bowl Media Day is all about entertainment, nothing more. No one should ever expect anything resembling Journalism with a capital J. That’s totally fine — unless you fancy yourself a serious-type reporter covering serious-type events like ... the biggest spectacle in American sports.
It may seem like a recent phenomenon, that as soon as we started memeing everything, the Super Bowl Media Day became a joke. Not so. Dryer, and teammate Lance Rentzel, were way ahead of the curve, all the way back in 1975.
Before the Steelers and Vikings clashed in Super Bowl IX, Dryer and Rentzel — whose Rams bowed out in the NFC Championship — were sent by Sport magazine to cover the event. They decided to have some fun while they were at it.
Inspired by the movie The Front Page, starring the Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and, huh, Susan Sarandon, they came up with plan to dress up like reporters from the 1920s. They really committed to the characters they created to play, Scoops Brannigan and Cubby O’Switzer, complete with wrinkled suits and cigar-chomping.
In 2015, they recounted the story to Grantland:
Fred: I’d rather go to a funeral of an enemy than I would attend one of these things again. It was the most boring, full-of-shit group I’ve ever seen in my life.
Dick Young opened up the Q&A by asking the three-part question on AstroTurf. As soon as that happened, you could hear groans from the front of the room to the back.
Lance: What triggered it for me was the three-part question on AstroTurf. I said, “Freddy, I think they’re running out of stories.”
Fred: Chuck Noll took the AstroTurf question seriously and started answering it! When that happened, everybody left the room almost. I’m way in the back, way in the fucking back, and I’m yelling at Lance, “This is fucking terrible! Somebody has to ask a question!”
Lance said, “Dig into your question box and figure something out.”
I start going through questions, all this stuff I’d scribbled down while I was drunk. I said, “I’ve got one!”
The moderator said, “Yes, you in the back!”
I stood up and I said, “Do you think the zone defense is here to stay, and if not, where do you think it’s going?”
Some real reporters were amused enough that Dryer and Rentzel became the big story leading up to the Super Bowl. Others were less so, including New York Daily News’ Dick Young, who yelled “We wouldn’t suit up to play football!” at them on the press bus.
NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was also not a fan of their antics, which he made clear to both (some things never change).
Dryer would eventually get to Super Bowl for real five years later when the Rams faced ... Chuck Noll and the Steelers. The Rams lost, 31-19.
Unlike his two-safety game, his sack numbers aren’t in the NFL record books
Dryer was tall and he was fast, but he wasn’t bulky.
“Well, when he was with the Rams, they listed him at 230, 235. But Fred still weighed 225. So, whenever they were gonna weigh him, he’d tuck a little five-pound weight under each armpit, and then wear a T-shirt, and the scale would read 235! He was never over 225 in the pros, and when I saw him the other night, he was still as skinny as he was at State!”
He could still get after the quarterback, though. Sacks didn’t become an official stat until 1982, so Dryer won’t find his name on the NFL’s career sack list. The internet credits him with 104 career sacks, which is more than players like James Harrison and Howie Long.
But safeties have counted for as long as the league has been around — and when it comes to the most in a single NFL game, Dryer’s name stands alone.