Q & A with Da Boot Sports!
By: Terrill J. Weil
Da Boot Sports!
Today's Q & A Session is with former football player Craig Rathjen who was recruited by Jerry Stovall. Rathjen played fullback for the Tigers from 1982-1985. The 6'3" 205lb, Houston, Texas native helped open up holes for running backs Dalton Hilliard and Garry James. Unfortunately Rathjen had to miss his senior season ('86) due to a back injury.
At one time Craig was also an Executive Committee member and Chairman of the Finance Committee at the Tiger Athletic Foundation. He also served on the business school‘s Dean’s Advisory Council.
In 2015, a ceremony was held to unveil the naming of Tiger Stadium's Gate 8 in honor of the Rathjen & Rutland Families. Their gate represents a million dollars of support to LSU Athletics! The family members include former Tiger letterwinners: Craig Rathjen (LSU Football 83-85), Donna Rogers Rathjen (LSU Gymnastics 83-85) and James “Pepper” Rutland (LSU Football 70-72).
Q - What is your favorite TV Show?
Craig - Game of Thrones. ... I love the storyline. It was amazingly directed. The sets were so complicated. I thought the acting was some of the best I've ever seen. How can you not like a show that has dragons. It is just so enjoying to watch.
Q - What is your favorite food?
Craig - That’s pretty easy, my favorite is ice cream.
Q - Who is your favorite pro athlete?
Craig - Before I get to my favorite pro athlete because that’s pretty hard, let me tell you a little bit about the local athletes and people that were directly or indirectly from Houston. We have a lot good ones. I loved watching Roger Clemens. His children went to the same high school as mine so I got to interact with him a little bit, and watch his kids grow up. He has two of them in the minor leagues right now.
Ray Childress was a defensive lineman for the Houston Oilers, I think he was the second pick overall. Ray is someone who I've admired for a long time. He is tenacious and doesn't let anything stop him. He was a great football player.
Then Nolan Ryan obviously, Roger and Nolan both may be the greatest pitchers ever. So I love Nolan.
Earl Campbell, I love Dalton Hilliard. I've always said he was the best I've ever been around. Earl Campbell was pretty special.
Mary Lou Retton, who in 1984 was the first U.S. gymnasts to win an all-around gold metal was incredidle. By the way, Mary Lou Retten's daughter, McKenna Kelly, just finished an outstanding gynastics career at LSU last season.
Then my new guy that I've liked since he was a teenager, from Houston and he played college ball with my son at Rice is Anthony Rendon. Anthony was on the Nationals last year, play third base and won his first World Series. He got traded to Anaheim this year. I think Anthony is on his way to be a Hall of Famer. Those are kind of the Houston guys. ..
But my all-time favorite is Muhammad Ali. He was the best athletes of his time maybe even one of the greatest ever. He was flamboyant and no one has been more entertaining than Muhammad Ali as far as I’m concerned.
He competed in an individual sport, right? There was never any question whether it was the people around him, or him. It was him walking into that ring. I just think it was amazing what he was able to accomplish. I don't pick favorites just by going by their athletic performance. Muhammad at the time stood up for things that were his strong beliefs in a time where there was enormous pressure for him not to do the things that he was doing. It cost him money. It cost him titles. It cost him prestige. But at the end of the day he came back out on top. The struggles he went through and the choices that he made makes him one of the best athletes and people ever. So yes, my favorite would be Muhammad Ali.
Q - Who is your favorite sports team?
Craig - I'll give you a couple because giving you just one is hard. LSU football team obviously. I'm a season ticket holder. If I can't make it to a game, I'm watching it on TV. I love what Coach O has done. I think all the coaches have done an excellent job. So excited about last year. Big fan and we raised four children who are all big Tiger fans even though none of them went to LSU. Although I'm about to get my first tiger, my daughter has just been accepted into their MBA program so she'll be going there next year.
We love LSU gymnastics as well, like I mentioned my wife was a gymnast at LSU. We follow them and my wife and I try to make every home gymnastics meet.
As far as football goes in the NFL, I love to watch the Saints. They are my favorite team even though I'm from Houston. I've always struggled with Houston football teams. We could never seem to quite put it together.
I think the Rockets from a basketball perspectives have done a great job. The culture around the Rockets is good, the ownership has done a nice job there.
From a baseball perspective, I've been a Yankees fan from as far back as I can remember. I don't really have a reason for being a Yankees fan other than when I was growing up they had the tradition. They won all the time. But what I think I really liked was the interaction between their owner, George Steinbrenner and their manager, Billy Martin. Steinbrenner would fire Martin and then rehire him and then fire and rehire him again. They have this love-hate relationship. I never understood it but I just thought it was the greatest thing ever. So I think they would be my favorite baseball team. It's hard to pick just one favorite. I love all the sports in the SEC. I'll turn on the SEC network and I'll just sit there all day and watch that stuff.
Q - Who is your favorite music artist?
Craig - Once again I’ll get there kinda slowly. We kinda have to do this by decade. In high school I was a big Jim Morrison of The Doors fan. They were my favorite. They really weren't over popular when I was in high school, but for some reason I was just drawn to their music.
When I was in college my favorite bands were Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes, and The Rolling Stones. I'm pretty much a big classic rock fan.
As I become older, I would say now I spend a lot of time listening to Chris Cornell when he was with Soundgarden and Audioslave. Big fan of his.
But if you going to go for the all-time favorite I think I'd have to go with The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Q - What's your favorite Movie?
Craig - I have like three favorite movies. My favorite comedy and I seen this movie over 10 times is Talladega Nights. The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is the full title I think, with Will Ferrell. It's a family favorite. Every time we get together we usually watch Talladega Nights. We quote the movie all the time. So that's my favorite comedy.
I would say that Gladiator with Russell Crowe is one of my favorites, and finally would be the original Matrix with Keanu Reeves. If you had to make me pick I would say the Matrix is my all-time favorite. I know not too many people would look at that and say that it's a great movie, but I loved the movie.
Q - Who is your favorite actor?
Craig - That's a hard one and its not maybe a good one, but he's the one that makes me laugh. It's got to be Will Ferrell. Great actors that do a good job, simply entertain us. You got to get a good laugh in life. I value the comedy.
Q - You said you are from Houston, is that where you lived most of your life?
Craig - I was born in Oklahoma but moved to Houston when I was little. I believe I was one year old. I've been here my whole life. I grew up in the Memorial area and went to Memorial High School and played some football and baseball there.
Q - When you were a little boy, what did you want to grow up to be?
Craig - When I was a little kid all I wanted to be was a little kid. My dad was a successful businessman. He would teach me about the stock market and teach me about real estate. Just business in general. He was very serious about business. I was more interested in playing video games or watching sports on TV, playing football or doing something.
My vision and what I wanted to do, you know obviously sports was in there. I suppose if I could have become a professional ball player that would have been great.
I started at LSU as a petroleum engineer because my dad told me that was a great profession. I think my first week of class I found out that wasn't cut out for me. They told us to pull out our big sheets of paper and to start drafting. Now they do it all on computers, but back then I was like, “Oh, This isn’t going to work.”.
Then I moved to geology because he told me if I wasn't smart enough to be a petroleum engineer that I should try geology. By all means, I hope I don't insult any geologist. But then I realized I don't know much about rocks either.
I ended up going through the business school and that worked well. Until I was about a junior I still didn't know what I wanted to do. I interned one summer at Howard Weil and I kind of fell in love with that. That's what I've been doing for 33 years. Well that's a long way to answer, but I didn't know what I wanted to do.
Q - Did you play multiple sports at Memorial High School?
Craig - I played both football and baseball. In football I was pretty much a I-formation or pro-style fullback. In high school they actually gave me the ball. In college they decided not to give me the ball but we can talk about that later. I had about a thousand yards rushing as a fullback so I had a good career in football. When I was a sophomore we went to the state championship game and lost, but we had a good team. As a junior and a senior we won District but didn't get that far into the playoffs. That was a great experience.
I love what football provided with the bonding and the team experience. That worked well for me for a long time in the family and in the business.
As for baseball, I did baseball just for fun. I wasn't knowledgeable on how to play the game. I played baseball like I play golf now, I just try to hit the ball far. I could hit the ball pretty well, but if you hit me a ground ball or a fly ball there was a 50% chance that I was going to miss it. As a junior I ended up playing designated hitter. I hit like .444 with nine home runs and made like honorable mention or second team All-State just as a DH. No one needs just a DH in college, especially one that if your playing first base and the ball goes between his legs two or three times in an inning. My baseball career was probably pretty limited. But I enjoyed it.
Q - What was your recruiting process like?
Craig - Most of the schools in Texas were recruiting me. My first choice at the time was SMU. If you can remember that was the time that they had Craig James and Eric Dickerson in the backfield together with the Pony Express. They were beating everybody, just all of a sudden they started winning, right? Then we found out why they were winning, because they were paying their players. I had an official visit scheduled to SMU and Ron Meyer who was the head coach there at the time decided to leave to go be the head coach of the New England Patriots. SMU decided to bring in Bobby Collins from Southern Mississippi. I've never heard of Southern Mississippi and I certainly hadn't heard of Bobby Collins. No disrespect to either one of them. So I decided to cancel my SMU visit.
I took official visits to the University of Texas, TCU, and LSU. I also took some unofficial visit to A&M, Rice, and University of Houston. I went on my visit to Texas. I sat down and talked with the coach Fred Akers and my experience with Texas recruiting in football was, ‘If you weren’t like the number player in the state, they kinda go, we would like to have you but we're Texas, so if you don't want to come here it's okay.’ .. That was their recruiting model. So that wasn't so special in my eyes. They also had some running backs that were young and very good and they were also bringing in the number one running back in the state. They were full in the backfield and I certainly didn't feel like a priority.
TCU back then weren't nearly the program that they are today. It was a good school. It was a good program. But they just weren’t at the quality of play that they have been recently. I liked TCU, but it just didn't feel like home.
The interesting part of my recruitment is kind of like the way I see everything in life over time. We had won District and we were playing in the Astrodome during the playoffs. I think we were playing Madison High School Houston and I had a long run for a touchdown. The only two things that I remember about the game is that I had a long touchdown run and we lost. Later I hear from George Belu, who was the offensive line coach and the Houston area recruiter from LSU. George had been at the game and it was the only game he saw of mine, and wanted me to take a visit to LSU.
I sit back these days and think, “How many times in my life has one person given me an opportunity to do something as special as play football at a great University?” … All I think about is that's how fortunate I am in certain regards of life. What if George Belu had gone to go get popcorn and didn't see my long touchdown run? He probably wouldn't have noticed me the rest of the game and I never would have had that opportunity. One of the main reasons why I went to LSU is because of Georgia Belu. I love that man and he loved me and gave me an opportunity that changed my life. I've got to be honest, I would have to say that he is the main reason.
When I went on my official visit, I think the turning point that put it over the top was walking out of the tunnel, stepping out onto the field, walking through the double goal post, I'm looking up at the stands and imagining that place full on a Saturday night.
Q - Can you tell us is there any other reasons why you chose LSU?
Craig - I don't think I've ever been to Louisiana prior to my official visit. I was an only child who grew up in Memorial which is a pretty affluent neighborhood and I wasn’t used to anything remotely like I was going to experience in the LSU athletic dorms. I hadn't run into people from South Louisiana that I had a hard time understanding. I certainly hadn’t experience some of the people from New Orleans that had different ways of thinking than me. When I visited LSU there was an instant appreciation for the culture. I love the walking around the campus seeing the old oak trees and the architecture. It felt so warm. Then, in the stadium, the experience of that was special. I like Jerry Stovall as a head coach. I like the running back coach who was Darrell Moody at the time. He was a nice guy and he did a good job. I just love the culture. I love the people. It just felt like home.
Q - Can you tell us a little bit about Coach Stovall?
Craig - Yes. I think everybody would tell you pretty much the same thing about Jerry. One of the nicest men you could ever meet. He was very transparent and straightforward. If he had a problem with you he would tell you. If he liked what you were doing he would tell you. He'd be the first to yell at you and the first to hug you. From that standpoint he was great.
He did a great job with the coaching staff and was a great recruiter. When I came in in 1982, that was a great recruiting class. Offensively w e had Gary and Dalton come in. Wickersham at the quarterback position. We had Mitch Andrews at tight end. Curt Gore at guard. It was a pretty strong recruiting class. The defense was amazing.
In Coach Stovall's first year we went to the Orange Bowl. Lost to Nebraska but had a great year.
Then the next season we lost Mack Brown as our offensive coordinator and brought in Morris Watts. Our first game of the year was against Washington and they were ranked pretty high. Definitely in the top five and we beat them like a drum, so I thought we were off to a good start. By the end of the year we ended up, I think we are still the only team that didn’t win a game in the SEC.
You're talking about a lot of the same talent that the year before had gone to the Orange Bowl and had a great year. You're talking about the same team that the next year had a great year and went to the Sugar Bowl. There was just some drop off. I contributed it to the loss of Mack Brown and it cost Jerry his job. As a player you never want to see your coach get fired.
As far as I'm concerned Jerry Stovall is one of the finest men I've ever met and I have nothing but total respect for the way he carries himself. What a great athlete he was also. The stories of his playing career are simply outstanding.
Q - How did you and the team handle the coaching change?
Craig - I'll speak for myself. At first I was angry that the coaches were on the chopping block. It became apparent to me in our game against Tennessee. Darrell Moody was the running backs coach and you can just see it in his face. The tension to win and the pressure they were under to keep their jobs. I remember Gene Lang was playing fullback and Gene was playing fine. Coach Moody pulled Gene out the game because we weren't moving the football. Then he put me in and I thought I was playing fine. But we weren't moving the ball. At halftime he told both Gene and I that we weren't going back in. The pressure that you could see on Moody was enormous. So I believed Garland Jean Batiste was playing in the second half and Garland was playing fine. When you think about it I think the reason why we weren't moving the ball was because we kept running the ball right at Reggie White. I don't think anyone runs the ball on Reggie White. The man was a beast.
After the game we were in the film room and I think coach Moody had a chance to review the game film and he came to us and he said, “Look, I reviewed the game film and you guys were playing fine. You weren't the problem.” .. That's when you can see that there was at least an awareness that their jobs were on the line.
Bob Broadhead brought us all in to let us know what was going on. I would say pretty much everyone was a little angry with it because Coach Stovall was lovable and he was our leader. You would have a hard time not wanting to defend that man.
Q - Want to tell us a little about Coach Arnsparger?
Craig - I've got to be honest with you, as great as Coach Stovall was, the best coach I ever had was Bill Arnsparger. He came in with a different mindset. Jerry Stovall was hard-nosed, old school. Arnsparger was very stern and had rules and would stick to them. He had come from the atmosphere or the environment of pro football.
Jerry Stovall treated us like young adults. He had an early curfew. He wanted to know where everyone was at every moment.
Arnsparger came in and he held you to a high standard, but it was your responsibility to meet those standards. He treated you more as grown men and that you were responsible for yourself. A lot of people would screw up and he would say, “I'm sorry, but you need to go find something else to do.” .. That occurred for a while and then It stopped occurring because everybody got the message.
Bill Anrspager was obviously a great mind. He was a great defensive coach and had great coaches around him. Morris Watts was gone and we brought in Ed Zaunbrecher and I think Coach Zaunbrecher made a big difference in the offense.
I think the main thing that Bill Arnsparger did was he would focus on you knowing what you were supposed to do. Whereas Coach Stovall wanted to watch you do it at full speed and I think we ended up going into some of those games in the 1983 season with dead legs. Specifically our running backs would have been tired. Dalton and Garry, when you have dead legs it's hard to play at the level that those guys were capable.
Arnsparger’s practices would go like this. We would scrimmage obviously in the preseason and then only scrimmage before the first game or two. But then after that it was pretty light from a contact standpoint. It was more running through your plays and making sure you knew what to do against different fronts and how to handle it. We went into the games with fresh legs and you started to see the talent that was on the field start to live up to their potential. From then on as long as I can recall, Bill Arnsparger’s teams were always in the top ten.
Q - What were some favorite games or moments you had as a LSU Tiger?
Craig - Let's see, I think my favorite game is going to be, and anyone who came in and was around in 1982, would have to say the Florida State game to go to the Orange Bowl. It was like nothing I've ever seen.
The fans apparently had bought all of the oranges in Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas. How they got them into the stadium is still beyond me. To get in with boxes of oranges? It was amazing, it started early and I realized early that I better keep my helmet on.
Some of these oranges had been frozen and they were still pretty hard. I remember a coach or two were getting hit by them and they told us all to put our helmets on. I specifically remember Dalton, and I can't remember how many touchdowns he scored, but at least on one or two of them that oranges we're coming at speeds that I couldn't imagine and in numbers that were just ridiculous.
I want to say that we got several penalties from the fans throwing all the oranges that night. We stepped on the accelerator and Florida State I didn’t think was never really in the game.
My other recollection from that is that I recall the day after the games we would historically take a jog around the field several times. That day we weren't able to take our jog because all of the oranges were still out there and there were too many of them. It was an amazing thing. I think anybody would say the same thing, players or fans. I still don't know where all those oranges were coming from. A lot of them were coming from the student section, but they were coming from the regular fans too.
I guess my other favorite game happened during the next season in Houston when we were playing Rice. It was my first time back in Houston to play a game and I scored my first touchdown as a Tiger. It was a trap right up the middle and I talked to Wickersham after the game. He came up to me and said, “Hey, you know I almost audibled out of that play.” .. He said that there was a linebacker on our left side that was going to blitz, but didn’t check out of it and left it on, and it ended up working because the guy just ran himself out of the play. There was nobody in my way and not even I could have screwed that one up. Scoring in front of my home crowd, with my high school coaches there, and my parents there. So that was a special experience.
Q - Why didn't you play in 1985 for your senior season?
Craig - In my junior year around the middle of the season during practice we were in shorts and shoulder pads and we were running one of those 50% drills where you go through it and you know what you're doing. Basically, all I did at LSU was block, so I was lead blocking on a linebacker and the linebacker either didn't remember that it was a 50% play or he just wanted to remind me that he was there. But he came into the hole and hit me pretty hard. We had to rerun the play because clearly it just didn't work out so well. So, on the next play I went full-speed and I dove at his knees and ended up rupturing a disc in my back and then I limped through the rest of my junior year. If it would have been my knee or something like that I would have tried to rehab it. With it being my back, the idea of possibly screwing it up in a bad way wasn't appealing. I talked to Arnsparger about it and we both decided that it was best that I shouldn't play in the ‘86 season.
Q - Did you try at all to pursue a professional football career?
Craig - No. During my junior year I saw that they came out with these draft reports. I was projected as a late round draft choice. There wasn't any chance that I was going to have a lasting pro career under any circumstance. The reason why I played at LSU was because I was willing to do something that not a lot of people wanted to do. I hardly ever carried the ball. I hardly ever caught a pass. I ended up running into people that were twice my size. The only other thing I could do well was line up at multiple offensive positions. I was able to learn all of the responsibilities for those positions on the left and right side. I found out pretty quick that they didn't need me to run the ball when they had Dalton and Garry back there and they didn't need me to catch the ball when they had Eric Martin, Herman Fontenot, Wendell Davis, and Rogie Magee. Blocking was all that was left for me.
Q - Can you tell us basically what your doing as a career now?
Graig - Sure.. First let me tell you what I'm doing as far as my family goes. I'll update you on that. I spend a lot of time with my wife Donna for 24 years. Donna, like I mentioned was a LSU gymnast. We have four kids. The oldest is 30, youngest is 19. We spend most of our time trying to parent those guys. They have all turned out great.
My oldest son, Jeremy, is working in New York at a private equity firm. My second son, Beau, works here with me at UBS. Then my daughter, Kirby, just graduated from the University of Arkansas and as I mentioned she's going to the LSU MBA program, and my youngest son, Colton, just finished his freshman year at the University of Texas. From a business perspective I've been in the financial services industry for 33 years. As soon as I got out of college I went to work for Merrill Lynch for 10 years and I've been at UBS for 23 years.
My main focus of the business is consulting for three types of clientele. One is non-profit. So essentially any charitable organization we do the financial consultant for that type of client. We do corporate retirement plans, 401K, and pension plans. And then finally we work with high networth families to provide them with consulting services regarding their finances.
I've been fortunate. Funny that I told you that I didn't know what I wanted to do and the only career I ever had has been this financial services industry. It's kind of funny the way things work out.
Q - Is there anything you want to tell the LSU fans?
Craig - Yes, obviously thanks. Without the fans, there wouldn't have been the opportunity for me to play football and as I've mentioned a couple of times that opportunity that I was given has been truly one of the most important decisions that I've made and one of the most rewarding decisions that I've made. Without them and without their support, my life would have been changed meaningfully. I'm grateful every day for the experience that I had with them and the experience that I had with the University, with the coaches, and the other players.