Mike Reinfeldt Team: Houston Oilers
Career: Calculating. How else would you describe a business major from tiny Wisconsin-Milwaukee University who wound up becoming an All-Pro defensive back in the NFL?
Suffice it to say, Mike Reinfeldt did not make the draftniks drool coming out of college. But at 6’2", 195 lbs., Reinfeldt had the size to be a strong safety and the undrafted free agent eventually caught on with the Oakland Raiders in 1975.
But John Madden released Mike midway through the season and the Oilers signed him for the remainder of the year. He played on special teams and saw some action in the secondary, picking off one pass in his rookie campaign. The team then tried him at free safety.
A free safety has two primary jobs. He must be a sure tackler as the last line of defense and he must play center field to break up pass plays across the middle of the field. Reinfeldt was a hard hitter who could put a lick on a big back but also fast enough to help out in pass coverage.
Mike grew into the role after he led the Oilers with five interceptions in 1977. The following year, Reinfeldt had just one pick during the regular season but was often around the ball and making plays. During the final minutes of the classic Monday Night thriller against the Dolphins, Bob Griese tried to zip a pass to TE Andre Tillman, but Reinfeldt (who had already recovered a fumble earlier) timed his collision perfectly and deflected the pass into the arms of teammate Steve Kiner. The play enabled Houston to protect its slim five-point lead, which was the eventual margin of victory, 35-30.
The 1979 season was Mike’s best. He snared 12 passes to tie the team record for interceptions in a season and led the league as well. He was named All-Pro and appeared in the Pro Bowl. He returned to the Pro Bowl the following year, after intercepting four passes.
After Head Coach Bum Phillips was fired in 1980, the Oilers fell into a sharp decline. Reinfeldt complained that the team lacked the spirit that it had under Phillips. Mike had three interceptions in his final three years and also scored the only touchdown of his career on a fumble recovery during the strike-shortened 1982 season.
Mike eventually put that business degree to good use after retiring from football. He returned to Wisconsin and helped the Green Bay Packers manage their salary cap during the mid-90’s, leading to back-to-back NFC championships in 1997 and ’98. When Mike Holmgren left Green Bay for Seattle, Reinfeldt joined him and is now Senior Vice President for the Seahawks. Negotiating contracts is one of his specialties.
No doubt Reinfeldt’s now anticipating the misdirections of player agents much the same way he used to defend plays on the football field.
Houston Highlight: In a 1978 playoff game at New England, the Oilers had just struck first for a 7-0 lead in the second quarter when the Patriots tried to even the score. Steve Grogan handled the ball to Sam Cunningham on a running play but Cunningham turned and tossed the ball back to Grogan. It was the "flea flicker", a trick pass play designed to catch the defense playing run.
But Reinfeldt was not fooled on this day. He ran back into position as receiver Stanley Morgan and cornerback Greg Stemrick tried to get under Grogan’s deep throw. Reinfeldt got there first and intercepted the pass at the goal line. The Oilers used that turnover to help build a three-touchdown halftime lead and sink the Pats, 31-14, to reach their first AFC Championship Game.
by Bob Hulsey
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