Stop me if you’ve heard this one. West Texas football legend becomes a college all-America, plays a little pro ball, takes up professional wrestling, during which time he builds a portfolio as a financial guru on network television while enjoying his off hours cutting grass on the field where he heads up a rugby program for at-risk youth in Bermuda.
So far, no one has stopped me.
Welcome to the larger-than-life of John Layfield (’89), aka John Bradshaw Layfield, JBL or any other of the half dozen names, nicknames, initials and other handles the former Wildcat great has answered to in the last 20 years. And for the next three weeks – at least – he can add another entry to his wildly varied vitae:
Layfield will join me in the radio booth for Abilene Christian University football games the next two Saturdays at 98theticket.com, then serve as the analyst for the American Sports Network’s television broadcast when the Wildcats host the University of Central Arkansas on Oct. 1 at Shotwell Stadium.
This most tortuous of tales begins 40 years and 40 miles away. Growing up in Sweetwater with his parents, ACU alums Lavelle (’59) and Mary (Sheerer ’58), older brother Paul (’82) and sister Sylvia (Layfield ’84) Sims, Layfield became hooked on two things: professional wrestling and ACU football. The former he watched on Saturday nights with his maternal grandfather. The latter got him once and for all at the 1976 Homecoming game when Wilbert Montgomery (’77) set college football’s career touchdown record and Ove Johansson (’77) kicked what is still the longest field goal ever at any level of football, a 69-yard boot that Layfield and his cousin, Alan Rich (’86), who were ball boys in the end zone, watched fly toward them.
Layfield enrolled at ACU in 1985 as an agile, quick-footed offensive lineman and became one of the finest players the Wildcats have ever had despite the fact that he played his entire senior season on one good leg. (The other he once simply taped up when his fibula broke in the next to last game, and he continued to play.) Layfield was all-conference, then all-America and eventually named to ACU’s all-decade and all-century teams.
His success collegiately took him to NFL training camp and a spot on the practice squad with the Los Angeles Raiders. When the World League of American Football opened for business in 1991, Layfield saddled up with the San Antonio Riders and spent the season protecting, among others, Jason Garrett, who went on to play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he is now head coach.
By 1992, the damage from the leg injury sustained at ACU had all but ended his football career and left him weighing his options. Of course, when you weigh 275 pounds and stand 6 feet 6 inches, one of your options includes professional wrestling. On a tip from a teammate, Layfield learned the craft by training with Olympic and pro wrestler Brad Rheingans in Minnesota and soon had matches booked around the world. He signed with the Global Wrestling Federation (by “Global” they mostly meant “Texas”) where he began performing under a multitude of monikers, including John Hawk, at the Dallas Sportatorium.
His big break came in 1995 when he signed with the sport’s pre-eminent management and promotional entity, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), whose CEO Vince McMahon changed Layfield’s stage name to Justin Hawk Bradshaw, which became Blackjack Bradshaw and finally John Bradshaw Layfield.
(SPOILER ALERT: Not everything about professional wrestling is real.)
His popularity and performance steadily grew, peaking in 2004 when he became WWE champion using a plotline that was anything but fictitious. As JBL, he presented himself as the J.R. Ewing of Wall Street. But Layfield wasn’t all hat and no cattle futures. He’d actually spent those first few years after football learning the finer points of the stock market and even wrote a book about investing that landed him a recurring role as a guest on cable television business shows – all while he continue to wrestle.
Besides helping his Q rating, those TV appearances produced two tangible dividends: First, on one of them, he met Meredith Whitney, the financial analyst widely credited with predicting the stock market crash of 2008, whom he married. Second, it gave him experience on camera, which helped as he transitioned from performer to announcer for the weekly WWE broadcasts.
It was around that time that the Layfields made another transition. With neither having a job tethering them to a particular place, they left New York City for a piece of paradise in Bermuda where John founded a program that helps kids caught up in gangs escape to a better life through playing rugby.
Football player, professional wrestler, investment analyst, TV announcer, youth advocate.
Like ya do.
He may not be The Most Interesting Man In the World, but he’ll certainly be the most interesting one in the ACU radio booth come Saturday night. Just as he was all those years in the ring, Layfield remains a tough guy to pin down.
FOLLOW THE WILDCATS: Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Houston Baptist University will be broadcast on Fox College Sports Central. The game can be seen in Abilene on Fox College Sports Atlantic (Suddenlink channel 509), and it can be heard locally on 98.1 FM. The game will be streamed online on the Southland Conference website, and it also can be heard at 98theticket.com. The game will also be available on DirecTV (channel 608.2) and Dish Network (channel 453), as well as on the Fox SportsGo app.