Professional football player, broadcaster
Quarterback Rodney Peete enjoyed an unusually long career in the National Football League (NFL), playing for various teams between 1989 and 2004. Although hampered by injuries, Peete had several strong seasons that pointed to the gridiron great he could have been, thanks to his superb athletic abilities. One of the most appealing public representatives of the game of football, Peete also has gained publicity as one half of a successful celebrity marriage; his wife, Holly Robinson-Peete, has been a consistent presence in the top ranks of American television actresses. After his retirement, Peete moved easily into a broadcasting career as co-host of The Best Damn Sports Show Period on the Fox Sports Net cable television channel.
Rodney Peete was born in Mesa, Arizona, on March 16, 1966. His father, Willie Peete, was a football coach, an assistant at the University of Arizona when Rodney was born. But equally important as an athletic motivator was his mother, Edna. "Edna was the cornerstone of his upbringing," University of Southern California coach Larry Smith told Bruce Newman of Sports Illustrated. "Edna was a person who would never let her boys get too cocky. She was always there,
at every game, but she was also critical. If Rodney didn't play a good game, Edna was the first person he had to face. She is very competitive."
The games Edna attended took place on baseball diamonds and basketball courts as well as football fields. Peete excelled at all three sports, and as a high school student he led basketball and baseball teams to state championships. He was most enthusiastic about football, but in that sport he faced discrimination in the predominantly white communities in which he grew up. Other black students told him there was no way he would win his chosen position of quarterback; they themselves had been encouraged to move to other positions, and the dearth of black quarterbacks at all levels of the game was no secret.
Nevertheless, coaches at Sahuaro High School in Tucson started Peete at quarterback and returned him to the position for his junior year after he moved to wide receiver as a sophomore. Their judgment was vindicated when Peete took the Sahuaro team to the state semifinals and was named Arizona High School Athlete of the Year. Peete moved to Shawnee Mission High School in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, for his senior year because his father had been hired by the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, and he closed out his high school career with All-America honors. Though the Major League Baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays drafted Peete straight out of high school, college football programs also jockeyed to recruit Peete, and he chose to stick with that sport.
Peete made it clear to college football recruiters that he wanted to be a quarterback. His determination to be a quarterback made his enrollment at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles seem unusual because of that school's reputation for running-based offenses in its football program. Even Peete himself conceded, according to Newman, that "quarterbacks at USC won't set records or win the Heisman." But Peete went ahead to prove himself wrong. By the time he graduated from USC with a communications degree in 1989, he had set school records in numerous categories, including 8,225 yards gained passing over four seasons. He won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award in 1989 and was a runner-up for the coveted Heisman. The USC Trojans went to the Rose Bowl in both of Peete's last two seasons.
Even as he notched these accomplishments, Peete also became a star on the baseball diamond as the Trojans' third baseman. He ended his three years on the team with a .297 average and 84 runs batted in. Peete's athletic ability drew the attention of professional teams in both baseball and football. The Oakland Athletics baseball team drafted Peete in the 13th round, and the Detroit Lions football team picked him in the sixth round in 1989. He chose the Lions and won the starting quarterback's job as a rookie that fall. Peete started eight games and was named to the NFL's All-Rookie team by Football Digest magazine. A powerful, six-feet-tall, 230-pound athlete, Peete was exciting to watch on the field.
It was only injuries that prevented Peete from emerging as a major star while playing for Detroit between 1989 and 1993. In a city whose sports fans were often merciless toward the quarterbacks of the struggling Lions, Peete was popular. His quarterback rating (or passer rating, a compilation of statistics relating to completion percentage, passing yardage, touchdowns, and interceptions) was fifth in the NFL in 1990, and in 1991, when Peete started the first eight games of the season, the Lions made a rare journey to the playoffs, losing to the Washington Redskins in the NFC championship game. He was troubled throughout his Lions career by a variety of knee and Achilles tendon problems, however, and after the 1993 season he was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an unrestricted free agent.
In Dallas Peete served as backup to his former Heisman Trophy rival, Troy Aikman, starting one game during the 1994 season. He moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995, the Washington Redskins in 1999, and the Oakland Raiders in 2000. Throughout this period Peete gave strong performances while healthy, but he was often sidelined by injuries. His best year came in 1995, when he started 12 games for the Eagles and completed 215 of 375 passes for 2,326 yards, both personal bests; one highlight that season was a 58-37 victory over the Lions in which Peete completed 13 of 18 passes during the first half.
At a Glance …
Born on March 16, 1966, in Mesa, AZ; son of Willie Peete, a football coach, and Edna Peete; married Holly Robinson, 1995; children: four. Education: University of Southern California, BA, communications, 1989.
Detroit Lions, professional football quarterback, 1989-93; Dallas Cowboys, professional football quarterback, 1994; Philadelphia Eagles, professional football quarterback, 1995-98; Washington Redskins, professional football quarterback, 1999; Oakland Raiders, professional football quarterback, 2000-01; Carolina Panthers, professional football quarterback, 2002-04; Fox Sports Net, The Best Damn Sports Show Period, co-host, 2004-.
HollyRod Foundation, co-founder (with Holly Robinson-Peete), 1996-; HollyRod4Kids, co-founder (with Holly Robinson-Peete), 2004-.
Runner-Up for Heisman Trophy, 1989; named to All-Rookie NFL team by Football Digest, 1989.
Office—Fox Sports Net, 1440 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; Web—www.rodneypeete.com.
Coming off a disastrous 1-15 season, the Carolina Panthers signed Peete and made him a starting quarterback in 2002. By this time Peete was known as an intelligent analyst of the game, and the hope was that he could mentor younger players on a rebuilding club. He did more than that, starting 14 games at age 36 and improving the team's record to 7-9. During that season he made career highs in starts, passing attempts (381), pass completions (223), yards gained passing (2,630), and touchdown passes (15). The following year, when the Panthers went to the Super Bowl, he was replaced by younger quarterback Jake Delhomme after the team fell behind the Jacksonville Jaguars in its opening game. Delhomme credited Peete's influence, telling Joe Menzer of the Winston-Salem Journal that "I can't say enough good things about Rodney. He's seen a lot of football and he's someone I can lean on, someone who can give me tips."
Even during lean years, Peete enjoyed plenty of publicity thanks to his storybook romance with and subsequent marriage to television actress Holly Robinson. The two were introduced at a Los Angeles nightclub in 1993 by actress Lela Rochon, and the relationship flowered into marriage after Peete, in the fall of 1994, went down on one knee on the set of Robinson's situation comedy Hangin' with Mr. Cooper and proposed. They were married in 1995. Navigating the pitfalls of what was frequently a long-distance relationship, the couple had four children. Two of them, Rodney Jackson (R.J.) and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, were twins, born in 1998 with Peete in attendance after he was rushed with a police escort to the airport in Philadelphia. It was, he told Laura B. Randolph of Ebony, "the most amazing experience of my life."
In 1996 the Peetes formed the HollyRod Foundation to raise money for Parkinson's disease sufferers with financial difficulties. They then started HollyRod4Kids, an organization that benefited community programs aimed at children and organized shopping trips for underprivileged youngsters. The Peetes raised their children to pack toys and other gifts at holiday time and donate them to shelters for battered women and their families.
Peete officially retired from professional football after the 2004 season, in which he played two games with the Panthers. Over his career he appeared in 109 games, with 1,344 pass completions and 76 touchdown passes in 2,346 attempts. By April of 2005 he had landed a new job as full-time co-host of Fox's Best Damn Sports Show Period; he had already frequently appeared as a guest on the show. Peete provided commentary not only on football but also on the other sports he had played in high school and college. His broadcasting career enabled him to enjoy the chance to be closer to his family and to spend more time in their home in Los Angeles. He also supported his wife's new book, Get Your Own Damn Beer, I'm Watching the Game: A Woman's Guide to Loving Pro Football.
Cincinnati Post, December 5, 2002, p. B1.
Ebony, September 1995, p. 132; April 1998, p. 30; December 2002, p. 52; September 2005, p. 206.
New York Times, September 19, 2002, p. D4.
Rocky Mountain News, January 7, 1996, p. B23.
Sports Illustrated, November 14, 1998, p. 44.
Winston-Salem Journal, September 15, 2002, p. C2; January 31, 2004, p. C5.
"Biography," Rodney Peete,www.rodneypeete.com (March 6, 2007).
"Rodney Peete," Pro Football Reference,www.profootball-reference.com (March 6, 2007).
"The Scoop on Rodney Peete," Fox Sports Net,http://msn.foxsports.com/other/story/5322240 (March 6, 2007).
—James M. Manheim
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