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Top 100: Eric Sievers, Washington-Lee, Football, 1976

Generals tight end Starred at Maryland before flying `Air Coryell' in San Diego.

Think about some of the greatest NFL offenses of all time — the Cleveland Browns of the 1950's under QB Otto Graham; the 1983-84 Redskins who eclipsed the all-time mark for most points scored in a season; the Kurt Warner-led St. Louis Rams of a few years ago who moved the football and scored seemingly at will.

And how about the San Diego Chargers of the 1980's, a team with perhaps as much firepower as the NFL has ever known. There was QB Dan Fouts, the brilliant signal-caller who was unstoppable at times; star wide receivers John Jefferson, Wes Chandler, and Charlie Joyner; stellar running backs James Brooks and Chuck Muncie; and

tightends Kellen Winslow and Pete Hollohan.

Then there was another tight end named Eric Sievers. Who?

Well, unless you resided in San Diego where Sievers was quite popular, or were an NFL junkie who followed the sport in depth at the time, you might not have recognized that name.

But Sievers, a steady blocking and receiving tight end for the Chargers from 1981 to 1987, was an integral part of those prolific San Diego offenses. The 1976 Washington-Lee High graduate was the unsung tight end among the trio which included himself, Winslow and Hollohan.

"They were three tremendous players," said current Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders, former positions coach for those Chargers teams and San Diego's head coach from 1986-88 in place of the legendary Don Coryell. "Probably both [Winslow and Hollohan] would say Eric meant as much to their success and careers as did Dan Fouts, Charlie Joyner, Wes Chandler, and Chuck Muncie and some of the other great players Eric played with in those years. He was a constant professional and a gifted athlete."

While Sievers, who grew up in Arlington and graduated from Washington-Lee High School in 1976, may not have ever been a perennial pro bowl player like some of his teammates, he was a steady force with his crisp blocking and timely catches. His hard practice habits, attention to detail and preparation for games were beyond reproach.

"He had a tremendous work ethic on the practice field and was meticulously prepared," said Saunders.

While Sievers might not have ever become a household name across the nation as an NFL player, he did gain NFL immortality of sorts following San Diego's dramatic 41-38 overtime playoff win over the Dolphins on Jan. 2, 1982 in the Orange Bowl.

Following the game, a physically and emotionally exhausted Winslow, the Chargers' star tight end who had played a phenomenal game, could not pick himself off the field due to cramps. So Sievers and teammate Billy Shields, in classic NFL Films footage, lifted their teammate up and helped walk him off the field. That image will forever be etched into the minds of longtime NFL fans. The game, considered one of the best in NFL history, ended in overtime when Rolf Benirschke kicked the winning field goal.

"We [Winslow and Sievers] had both been on the field goal team. So there he was, laying behind me [at game's end]. I helped him off and, lucky me, I'm immortalized by helping him," recalled Sievers, with a chuckle. "He just had a tough time getting off the field."

Sievers will never forget how quiet the Orange Bowl was when the game finally ended and the home team Dolphins had fallen.

"We made the field goal and their fans were in disbelief," said Sievers. "We were out there in a pile of [celebrating teammates] and reporters were swarming the field."

OVER THE COURSE of Sievers' 10-year NFL career, most of those seasons with the Chargers, he played in 122 games, caught 214 passes for 2,485 yards, and caught 16 TDs.

"I played with the best players back then, I blocked and pass blocked. I knew what my role was," said Sievers who, incredibly, never gave up a QB sack while pass blocking.

Sievers has fond memories of the San Diego teammates he played with. One of his favorites was receiver Chandler, who knew how to enjoy his time on the football field.

"He was one of the most fun receivers to watch and play with," said Sievers. "I've never seen a guy who had so much fun on the football field. He'd come to the huddle laughing."

Sievers played at a time in the NFL when teams stayed together longer. It was the NFL prior to free agency and teams could grow together and reach their potential together.

"I think being part of the NFL back then was special and you don't see that anymore with free agency," said Sievers. "We had guys who played together [for years]."

Fouts is considered one of the top signal callers to ever play the game. "He was the leader out on the field and commanded the attention of the offense," said Sievers. "After a sack [allowed] he'd get right in your face.

"He was kind of arrogant but fair in the way he [spread the ball around]," said Sievers. "He expected you to do what you were supposed to do."

Sievers said Fouts' balls were easy to catch.

"His balls were all fairly soft and didn't have a lot of velocity on it," he said. "The trick was he had a quick release. He would [move] straight back, watch the defense and scan the field and know what he would do."

Coryell, the legendary Chargers' coach, was the builder of those great offensive Chargers teams, with the help of his talented staff which included Saunders and Ernie Zambese. Football fans remember Coryell always being deadly serious and totally wrapped up in the game.

"He was the most intense guy on and off the field," said Sievers. "It wasn't until after he retired that he'd get emotional."

Sievers said one of the best opposing NFL players he ever went up against was 6-foot-8 inch Ted Hendricks, who played with such teams as the Colts and Raiders.

"You never knew what he was going to do," said Sievers. "You couldn't game plan him. He'd line up wherever he wanted. They called him `The Stork.'"

Throughout his entire football career at all levels, Sievers was highly motivated to play well for fear of letting his coaches down.

"My biggest fear was letting someone down or having a coach tell me I didn't [do well]," he said. "I didn't think I was any good. Maybe that's what drove me."

Sievers was a popular community figure as a player in San Diego. He received numerous honors and awards for his involvement in the city. The perks of being a Charger, he said, were nice — free use of a car, being able to play on any of the local golf courses for free, and taking part in offseason sea cruises.

He was in NFL United Way commercials and a willing guest speaker. Sievers said he had always been shy by nature, but learned to be more outgoing during his years as an NFL player as a result of speaking engagements to youth and civic groups.

As an NFL player, he had opportunities to meet famous entertainers such as Frank Sinatra and Charleton Heston, and even played golf with Fred McMurray one time. He even presented President Reagan with a football jersey during a campaign stop.

"Football afforded me to rub elbows with celebrities and athletes in all sports," said Sievers.

Following his career in San Diego, Sievers spent a brief time with the Rams before playing in New England in 1989 and 90. He was the Patriots' leading receiver in '89 with 54 catches and earned the club's team `Unsung Hero Award.'

Sievers struggled with injuries throughout his playing career, making it quite remarkable that he played as long as he did in the NFL. He underwent eight knee surgeries and 17 surgeries altogether throughout his football career.

"Injuries ended my career," said Sievers, who earned the 1987 Ed Block Courage Award, given to the NFL player who competes through injury or pain.

SIEVERS GREW UP in north Arlington in a house his parents moved into in 1963. Extremely active as a youth, he played soccer, swam at the Fort Myers swim pool, cut grass at Donaldson Run, caddied at the Army-Navy Country Club, and was part of Boy Scout Troop 167. He also loved to ride his bike.

"I pedaled around Arlington every single day of my life," said Sievers, who attended Page Elementary where he was captain of the safety patrol.

He attended Stratford Junior High School from seventh through ninth grades. There, he played basketball and competed in track and field. Initially, he did not think he was a good enough basketball player to play on the junior high team. So, despite making the squad, he elected to play Arlington rec league instead until his ninth grade year.

At Washington-Lee, Sievers played JV football his sophomore year before playing varsity the next two seasons under coach Bob Rimmer.

"When I started playing football, I knew nothing about it," he said. "I started playing in high school. I had the desire and probably had the tools, but didn't know what I was doing. But we had excellent position coaches [at W-L] who knew what they were doing. Coach Rimmer was great — like a psychiatrist and great teacher. He knew what buttons to push. He wasn't a yeller or screamer."

In his first varsity football season in the fall of 1974, the Generals went 7-3.

"That was at a time when [coaching greats] Ed Henry, Bob Hardage — all the power coaches were still coaching," he said.

His senior year, W-L reached the region finals where they lost to Hardage's Annandale squad at Woodson High. Sievers, a tight end on offense, linebacker on defense, and his team's kicker, caught 46 passes for 800 yards and 14 TDs his senior year, leading W-L to a 9-1 record.

"He was simply the best tight end ever in Northern Virginia," former Madison and Falls Church coach Chuck Sell once said of Sievers. "No one compares."

Throughout his high school football career, Sievers, a team captain, earned District and Region Player of the Year honors.

"He played tight end and was like a man playing boys," said former T.C. Williams coach Glenn Furman. "He was overpowering as a high school player. If you didn't stop him he'd make two or three [key] plays. He was an overpowering blocker. He was their best player."

Sievers was both a Parade and consensus All-American as a senior, and also a two-way All-Met selection.

"I loved it," said Sievers, of his senior year. "We had some good football players."

Some of those players included QB Billy Thomas, who ran the Generals' wishbone offense, and running backs Donnell Jackson and Mike Bradford, who both rushed for around 1,000 yards.

"He was a tremendous player," said Bill Carter, a former Yorktown High QB who was part of the Patriots' coaching staff when Sievers was at W-L. "They would run the wishbone and when they ran it to [Eric's] side, it just collapsed the defensive line. He was really strong, but one of their faster guys. You could see he was really at another level."

"He was a dominant player," added former Annandale star center and current Atoms coach Dick Adams. "He had exceptional size, had good hands and was a great athlete."

Sievers was well respected for his outstanding attitude and the way he treated people.

"He was not only just a great player but a great person," said Carter. "He was a hard worker and very humble. Everybody just thought so much of him. He was such a class person."

In the winter, Sievers played forward or center for the W-L varsity basketball team his 11th and 12th grade years. He was a team captain. The basketball coach at the time was Tony Romasco and the top players included guard Kenny Dabney, the Generals' leading scorer, and forward Kevin Greenlief.

"I was a horrible shooter, but could jump and play good defense," said Sievers.

He also excelled in track and field at W-L — a team MVP who competed in numerous events and qualified for states.

Sievers earned the Washington-Lee Al Harringer Award as W-L's Outstanding Athlete of the Year for the 1975-76 school year, and was also named the Arlington Better Sports Club's Outstanding Athlete of the Year.

IN FOOTBALL, colleges began recruiting Sievers even as a 10th grader. "I'd never played a play on varsity," said Sievers.

His stock continued to rise. Penn State was among 75 schools who offered him a scholarship.

"I more or less could have played anywhere in the country," said Sievers. "I didn't like the recruiting process. I just wanted to play the sport. I didn't want to go far away from home."

He ultimately selected the University of Maryland in close-by College Park. There, he played under Jerry Claiborne, a discipline-style coach who believed in pounding the football offensively on the ground. So Sievers, in his collegiate career, did his share of blocking for the running game at Maryland.

"He didn't tolerate mistakes," Sievers said of Claiborne.

Sievers, who lettered four years at Maryland, was part of successful Terps teams which played in the Cotton, Hall of Fame, Sun, and Tangerine Bowls. In his freshman season, Maryland won the ACC title and played in that year's Cotton Bowl where Sievers scored his first collegiate TD.

Sievers was named Maryland's Offensive Lineman of the Year in both his junior and senior seasons, and also received the Outstanding Senior Award. He also earned the AV Williams Award in 1980 for "Outstanding Scholarship and Athletics."

One of his best friends was his college roommate, Lloyd Burruss, a defensive back for the Terps. As freshmen, both lettered for Maryland. Burruss went on to play for the Chiefs in the NFL. For several years, the two played against one another in the NFL. Burruss had an outstanding pro career and today is part of the Chief's Ring of Honor.

"He and I pushed each other our entire [college] career together," said Sievers. "It was great, we didn't see [skin color]."

The best college players Sievers faced were Hugh Green and Ricky Jacobson, both from the University of Pittsburgh, and Lawrence Taylor of UNC.

Sievers learned how to become a solid blocker at Maryland, but learned little about pass routes and catching.

"I learned how to block but didn't learn a darn thing about the passing game," he said. "Then I get drafted by the most prolific passing team."

A 1980 MARYLAND graduate, Sievers was drafted by the Chargers in the fourth round of the 1981 draft. In his rookie season with San Diego, he was named All-Rookie at tight end, catching 22 passes and three TDs. That was the start of an outstanding NFL career.

Today, Sievers works as a sales manager at Lindsay Cadillac in Alexandria. He is a part time assistant football coach with the Langley High freshman team. The ninth grade Saxons are coached by Carter, the former Yorktown High QB. One of Sievers' sons, Christopher, is a rising sophomore at Langley. He plays tight end and outside linebacker positions.

"I go down there [and coach] because I have things I know I can offer," said Sievers. "Growing up, I had great instruction and was taught good fundamentals and they were taught in a positive way."

Carter said the former NFL player is great with the kids.

"They listen to him so much," said Carter. "Eric is just really humble. You'd never know his background. The kids really look up to him."

Saunders said one of the first people he heard from when he came to

Washington as a Redskins assistant this past offseason was the Sievers family, who sent the coach and his family a gift basket. Saunders thinks the world of his former player.

"I would characterize Eric as just a tremendous, unselfish team player," said Saunders, the former Chargers head coach. "Great character, great work ethic and an unbelievable desire to succeed. He was extremely dependable and had great respect of his teammates.

"A constant professional and a gifted athlete, but more than that a gifted man in that his relationships with teammates and family and friends is what people put in such high regard," said Saunders. "Very few times in a coaching career do you have the opportunity to be involved with a guy like Eric Sievers. He's truly a role model for the youth of today. It was a privilege for me to coach Eric Sievers and call him a friend."

Sievers, a member of the Arlington Better Sports Club (1991), Washington-Lee High (2002), and 1997 Virginia High School League (1097) Hall of Fames, was named to the Connection Newspaper's All Time Football Dream Team in 1992 as a First Team Tight End.

Sievers and his wife, Dee Dee — his high school sweetheart — reside with their sons Tim and Christopher in Great Falls.

Eric Sievers is 12 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.