Super Sunday for Former Jet Involves All Types of Football


Published: January 29, 2008

Darrol Ray said he was ready for Sunday’s big game. Make that games.

“Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Fox Soccer, GolTV, a few games off the bird,” Ray, a former defensive back for the University of Oklahoma and the Jets, said in a telephone interview from his restaurant, Smokehouse BBQ & Grill, in Oklahoma City. “We’re red, white and blue all the way, but I won’t equivocate; it’s more enjoyable to watch 90 minutes of soccer action.”

To some, that is borderline blasphemy coming from a man who also played high school football in Texas.

Ray, 49, spent his formative years in Belgium, Germany and France while his father, Harold, served 23 years in the Army. He and his family returned to the United States, and Ray went on to play quarterback at Killeen High School in Texas.

“I made sure in high school that no one knew I liked soccer,” he said. “I didn’t want to be mocked or put down. I grew up in central Texas, and that’s one of the things you have to keep to yourself.”

At Oklahoma, Ray was switched from offense to defense, but he used some of his soccer skills as the Sooners’ punter and kickoff specialist. He was drafted by the Jets in 1980, No. 40 over all, the same year they took receiver Johnny Jones, better known as Lam Jones, with the No. 2 pick.

Ray’s best run with the Jets came after the 1982 season, when he returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to set an N.F.L. postseason record in a first-round playoff victory against Cincinnati. But the closest Ray got to playing in the Super Bowl was two games later, when he spent an afternoon in the mud at the Orange Bowl. The Jets lost to the Miami Dolphins, 14-0, in the American Football Conference championship game on Jan. 23, 1983.

“At the time, we thought that we’d get it next year,” Ray said. “Now it’s 25 years later, wow. It was a nice opportunity and we never had a chance to do it again. A. J. Duhe goes down in history and sends Miami to the Super Bowl. But we were a better matchup for the Redskins. The bottom line was that it was a muddy day, and it was their deal.”

In that game, Duhe intercepted three Richard Todd passes. Miami then lost to Washington, 27-17, in Super Bowl XVII.

“For so long, my life was football,” said Ray, who spent five seasons with the Jets. “I went to the ’94 World Cup in Dallas, and the last few years, with more games on TV, I’ve developed a really nice appreciation. I watched all the N.F.L. playoffs on TV, and if you got ‘SportsCenter,’ you can see every play ad nauseam. But soccer is about the minutiae, the pass, the dummies, and you won’t see that on American TV. I love players like Joe Cole, John Terry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The hard-nosed guys with a lot of slash.

“I’ll be watching the Super Bowl, but it’s like July Fourth — you may not set off any firecrackers yourself, but you’ll still open the door and listen to what the neighbors are doing. But before the game, I’ll watch four or five soccer games, starting at 8 a.m. and ending just in time for the game.”