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Lott gives back with a local appearance

Ronnie Lott regaled an audience of high school supporters and football players with tales of his own prep days, his experience as an All-American at Southern Cal and his insight into the greatness of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.

Lott, a first-ballot NFL Hall of Famer and owner of four Super Bowl rings, flew in from California to address the Medford Linebackers Club Thursday at J.J. North's Grand Buffet.

It was his way of repaying good deeds done on his behalf.

There's a movie out there called 'Pay it Forward,' said Lott. I live that. To me, this is my chance to pay it forward.

Lott has been increasingly involved in the Rogue Valley since buying a Medford Mercedes-Benz dealership last fall.

— He visits regularly from his Cupertino home in Northern California, and recently attended the Remax Invitational golf tournament, which his business helped sponsor and to which he donated memorabilia for auction.

About 30 players from North and South Medford, St. Mary's and Cascade Christian were part of the large audience that listened to the former defensive back who played 14 years with the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets.

The overriding message he delivered was to strive to be the best, not only as football players, but as men.

That would only come through hard work and a desire to exhaust life, a phrase his father used.

My dad would tell me to exhaust life, but he would also say, 'What do you stand for?' said Lott.

Many people think Lott stands for the warrior who had part of a little finger amputated so he wouldn't miss playing time. Others think he stands for Super Bowl championships.

People are not going to come to my funeral because of those things, he said. I hope you all ask the question ' because I have ' 'Why will they come?' I can assure you it will be for what you stand for.

He recalled sitting in an audience as a teenager listening to another football legend, Deacon Jones. Jones' message was much like Lott's: Give it your all.

I happened to be like you guys wearing your jerseys, he said. When I heard that, it resonated with me, and that's the reason I'm here.

Lott grew up in Rialto in Southern California, and it was as a Pop Warner player that his desire for football surfaced and he idolized Dick Butkus.

I wanted to hit like Dick Butkus, said Lott. He made these commercials for Prestone. It was, 'My job is plugging holes.' So I watched him and wanted to be like him.

He succeeded, earning a reputation as a ferocious tackler as he proceeded through the ranks.

He wanted to attend high school in Fontana, Calif., a steel-mill town with all the tough players and a good team, but his father insisted he go to Eisenhower.

My dad said, 'If you think you're that good, then you're going to be good at Eisenhower, said Lott.

He recalls his high school coach gathering the team in the gym before games, turning out the lights and playing the speech from the movie Patton.

It taught him losing isn't tolerated.

I look back on my high school coach and, man, he could get me fired up quick, said Lott. A lot quicker than (Niners coach) Bill Walsh could get me fired up. You guys, you will remember these coaches for the rest of your lives.

the time he graduated, Lott was recruited by USC. In one of his first practices, Mosi Tatupu, a bulldozer of a fullback, ran over him.

USC coach John Robinson used to talk about big man on big man, said Lott. What he was saying was there's nothing greater than being able to go big man on big man because that's when you find out what you're made of.

USC shared the 1978 national title and won the Rose Bowl that season and the following year.

Lott was a first-round draft choice and the eighth overall pick in 1981 of the Niners, who had gone 6-10 the previous season.

He walked into his first meeting and saw linebacker Jack Hacksaw Reynolds with 100 finely sharpened pencils.

I said, 'Man, I know this guy's been hit in the head a lot of times, but ...

Walsh then walked in and told the players he wanted them to be prepared and to take notes.

So I turn to Hacksaw Reynolds, said Lott. He's got 100 pencils there and I don't have one. Maybe he'll loan me a pencil.

Lott asks as nicely as possible but is rebuffed.

I said, 'You mean you've got 100 pencils and you won't give me a pencil?' said Lott. He says, 'No, and I bet you won't come to another meeting without a pencil, will you?'

And what it told me was the definition of trying to be great. Greatness comes from how you prepare every day. Every day. Every day.

He would see examples often.

Rice got to be game's greatest receiver through hard work, said Lott.

When Jerry Rice saw a white line, I promise you, he made sure he cha-cha'd every time before he ran out of bounds, said Lott, referring to the quick, choppy steps to get both feet down. Every day, man, every day. That's not talent. That's skill. That's working at it.

Montana's greatness was exposed in his calm competence.

In the 1989 Super Bowl, Lott was losing hope in his team's chances, down 16-13 to Cincinnati and with the ball at the 49er 8-yard line with three minutes to play.

During a timeout, Montana crouched in the huddle, looked around and noticed a famous comedian. When he gushed to his clearly antsy teammates, Hey, there's John Candy, they were flabbergasted.

They're going, 'Man, what are you talking about,' said Lott. 'We gotta go down the field. Get your head back in the game.'

My rear end was tight. Everybody I know in America's rear end was tight. But Joe Montana's ...

Montana led a touchdown drive, passing 10 yards to John Taylor for the 20-16 win.

To me, that made him great, Lott said of Montana. When people were scared, he enjoyed the moment. That's why he was unbelievable.

And by the time Lott finished, he had himself created a moment that many in the audience wouldn't soon forget.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail Lott gives back witha local appearance"ttrower@mailtribune.com.