After the NFL: Houston Oiler Bo Eason Transcended the Safety Zone

The more personal the story, the more universal it is

Courtesy Bo Eason
In 1969 at the age of 9, Bo Eason mapped a 20-year plan to be the best football safety in the world and to play in the Super Bowl. Despite all odds -- he was small, slow and overshadowed by his older brother Tony -- he made it to the Houston Oilers as a safety. He was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, and four games into the season busted his knee for the seventh time. The 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl that year. It was 1989.

Eason has turned his life into a one-man play "The Runt of the Litter," and a career as a corporate speaker, trainer and coach to individuals learning to tell their personal story. With 1.2 million high school kids playing football and only 0.08 percent making it to the pros, Eason's tenacity was so inspiring that four of the 27 kids on his scrappy California high school football team went pro.

At what point in your career did you start thinking about your future, after football?

I even started in college. I was doing it immediately. I kind of knew I was going to play pro ball, but I started to sneak over to the drama department at UC Davis and I would take performance classes. I would take theater classes, acting classes. I never told anybody I was doing that. If I did, my teammates would just crack up.

When I got drafted for the Oilers, in the off season, again I wouldn't tell anybody and I would take acting classes of all kinds -- voice, movement, improv acting scenes, all that stuff. So I knew that was going to be the next step. And once I got retired, I moved to New York City.

How much did you make playing football?

I spent five years in the pros. My biggest salary was $250,000. We thought that was a lot of money.

How long have you done your one-man show?

I haven't stopped doing it. I was 37 or 38 the first time we did it and I'm almost 53 and I haven't stopped doing it.

I was studying and really training for the theater. What happened is presidents of companies and CEOs of big industry kept coming backstage after the play. They got dragged to the theater by their wives and they're the ones who inevitably knocked on the stage door after the show. For years they'd say to my wife Dawn and myself: "Hey, can you bring this to my company?" and I'd say "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't do that." Six or seven years straight.

We kept noticing all these guys who owned their own companies and one said, "Man, I'd love to have you bring this to my company," and we said, "No" and he said "Oh, that's too bad. We'd love to bring your whole family over to Hawaii for a week, which is where the event is and this is how much we pay our speakers" ... and Dawn and I looked at each other and said "Oh yes, we do do that!"

That must have been six or seven years ago. Then I did half a speech, half the play and that just took off from there. Everybody started hiring me for their audience. Now we're taking jobs in 2015 because 2014 is all booked up. I just had a speech with President Bush two nights ago in Washington, DC. He opened the conference. I closed it. It was surreal. It's really blown up beyond my wildest dreams.

How are your other teammates doing? Are they successfully transitioning?

Most of them, no. It's really a difficult transition because you don't really have any perspective. You've been doing one thing for 20 years and you get really good at it. Then you're faced with starting at the bottom.

You think you've arrived because you're the best at what you do in the world. You think that that skill crosses over to other occupations. It does to a certain extent, but you have to start at the bottom again.

I'll never forget the first play I did was a children's play in Sacramento, CA. My brother (Tony Eason) who was a starting quarterback in the NFL, and my college roommate Kenny O'Brien, who was with the Jets, came to see it. I was like the mayor of some elf city. There were 100 children not paying attention to me. I was horrible and they were laughing. Afterwards, I'll never forget their faces. They came over to congratulate me and shake my hand.

They said, "Wow, six months ago you were signing autographs on an NFL field and now you have 100 little kids not paying attention to you." But I knew I had to start. I knew I had to start there. I knew it wouldn't take me long. But I had to master it. I think that's where the rubber meets the road, right there. That's where most of us are not willing to do the work.
Eason Second Act Football
AP/Pat SullivanEason in 2001 rehearsing in his Oilers uniform


Broncos or Seahawks?

I don't watch much football anymore. It is weird. I was thinking about this the other day. The Super Bowl is not really broadcast for players. It's broadcast for fans and fantasy type players. No ex-players I know watch the Super Bowl. Of course it's not made for us. It's for the commercials and the commentary and the halftime show. It's very odd that way. So I end up seeing a series or two, but I'm not like a football fan who watches the whole thing.

You know how when you know a little too much about a subject ... They'll never talk about what's really going on.

Which is?

Just the injuries. What it takes to play hurt. Schematically what they're doing offensively and defensively to beat each other and adjust to each other. That would be too complex for the commentators to get into. That part would be fun. Wow, that's what really happens.

If you're watching the ball in any sport, you don't understand the sport. You must look away from the ball to see what's really going on. They trick you. They make you watch the ball. The ball always lies to you. The truth is really away from the ball. That's where the game is really played. The real good stuff is happening 20 feet from there.

That's what I love about the game and obviously it's complex, so it would be too difficult to explain to someone watching for the first time.

What has stayed with you from your football career?

I don't care what my occupation would be. I've been a writer, speaker, performer, and in between a father and a husband. The dedication that it takes to be great at something ... showing up day after day after day. That kind of discipline just becomes a part of your molecules for that many years.

I always equate me being a good father and good husband to catching 1,000 balls a day. I didn't always feel like catching 1,000 balls a day. And I don't always feel like being a father or a husband. I always credit that kind of discipline and dedication to my writing, leading, speaking ... I know how to show up and how to come through for myself when I have to.

That's what football taught me the most. You're going to have to come through for your team at the tightest moment. When the clock is ticking and the fans are booing and that's what I could always count on. I trust myself to come through for myself and it started when I was 9 years old.

Every athlete has that innate strength. They just don't know how to apply that discipline to the next endeavor to their marriage or their husbandry or their parenting.

The ones who can do it and apply it to whatever the next job is, they're the ones who are successful. Ultra successful. I just wished we all realized that.

Master one thing and you master all things.

Experience a little bit of Bo Eason in the following clip from a live appearance he made in 2011.

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