When Life Gives You Footballs, You Make Touchdowns

The Texas Story Project.

“They called my name, “Elmo! Elmo!” and I turned around just as the ball hit me in the mouth. As a result, I couldn’t play my tenor saxophone anymore. My band director gave me a whipping in front of the band the next day and it was such a traumatic situation that I quit the band. Within the next couple of days, the football coach wanted me on the field where I found myself being a wide receiver because I had a natural talent.”

It all began in a small high school in Brazoria, Texas called George Washington Carver at a seemingly mundane band practice when an unfortunate football to the face changed Elmo Wright’s course in history. This monumental event put Elmo on the field where he found himself playing wide receiver –and he has never looked back. “ I could see myself dreaming of catching footballs. One of my secrets, it’s hard to believe this right here… I never remembered dropping a ball in my dreams. I caught every pass. It was amazing…in my dreams. I always had a feeling I could catch it with that confidence.” Elmo found himself winning state titles with those dreams, becoming a U of H football Hall of Famer, and then being drafted first round in the NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Family was always and still is a priority for Elmo. Growing up in Brazoria County as the second oldest among six siblings, Elmo believes his family has inspired him to be what he is today.

“I was always motivated to be the best that I can be, because I always thought I had to be successful for my family. I always wanted to be an example. At that date, I wanted to show them that, yeah, we can do this. I mean if I can do it, you can do it.”

During Elmo’s freshman year at UH, two significant incidents pushed him to break an N.C.A.A. record for touchdowns making the legendary UH career record of receiving yards (3,347) and becoming the #16 draft pick in the 1971 NFL draft. At the beginning of his college career, his older brother died in a car accident. He barely had time to grieve before he ended up breaking his finger.

“When I was playing my freshman year at University of Houston, I broke my finger. Literally broke the finger off, it was dangling. The bone looked like a chicken drumstick. I knew that I couldn’t catch the ball because my finger was broken, but I also knew that I could run. During the summer when I was home, I would run one sprint, back up into the next one, and when I got into the third one, I would turn sideways for 100 yards, turn sideways again for 100 yards, sprint for another 100 yards, then backup for another 100 yards, and I did that for 2 ½ miles. What actually made me do it was when within my first week at U of H my older brother was killed in a car accident. I was grieving during that period. When I went home for the summer and was running because I had broken my finger, I would get to this church. At this church, I was just about to quit because I was so tired. I looked over behind this church and I could see my brother’s fresh grave. I just couldn’t imagine quitting at that point. I just couldn’t do it. I kept running and I found out I could run even when I thought I couldn’t. I was so tired, but my legs kept going.” Elmo did not know if he could play because of his broken finger, but when he returned back to the University of Houston, he was in such good shape and ready to play, “I didn’t want my brother, my family, my school, or want anybody to see me quit, so I just kept on going. I did not know when to stop. I was probably in better shape than the whole team. I asked myself the question, who was in the best shape ever. That is what I had to do because I can’t catch.”

Amongst all his famous achievements, Elmo will be widely known in history as the father of the touchdown dance. His love for entertaining started in third grade during his band days. He brought his love for performing into his first game of junior year against University of Florida and started the ongoing famous trend known as the touchdown dance. We now see Gronkowski with the spike, Michael Irvin with the Zorro dance, and Chad Johnson with the Irish Jig, but it all started with Elmo and his high-step dancing.

“They threw a little down-and-out pass and I caught it. Steve Tannen, a defensive back from University of Florida, dove at my legs, tried to tackle me at my legs and I came up high stepping away from it towards the end zone. Even when I was in the end-zone, I was still high stepping. People started booing me, because they thought I was high dogging. I was just happy because I was able to get way from the tackle. I was thinking they loved me, they really do. So when they were booing me and throwing things at me, I was imagining them throwing flowers at me and wanting to do it again. My teammates were shocked that I danced in the end-zone because that was the first time anyone had seen anything like that. And it had never occurred to me to call it an end-zone dance because I was just happy to get in the end zone. Once they were booing me, there was something inside of me that said you know what, I’m going to do this again. I scored 3 touchdowns that game and each time, found myself pumping my legs up in the end zone.”

Moreover, Elmo Wright played football during the Civil rights era. “When I played, I had the burden of needing to be successful, because it would imply that African Americans couldn’t play on the big stage. I wanted to show I could play. I just wanted to be the best I could be.” U of H was one of the first colleges to integrate. In Texas, football is always a big deal. When he was playing, he wanted to share the fame and experience with his family and with his hometown, Brazoria. Anybody that wanted to see him play, could watch him. “U of H used to be a small school, but I knew Houston was going to be one of the great cities of the world. If I was going to be a player who did well, I might as well be in a city that would help you prosper.”

Alex Gee is the son of Randall and Sabrina. He is currently a sophomore at St. Mary’s University, studying Finance and Risk Management. He is part of the Deans Scholar program, Investment Club, Gamma Iota Sigma, and competes for St. Mary’s men tennis team. He was born and raised in Houston, Texas.

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