When we walked into the Volvo dealership in Austin last summer, the salesman bounded up to us and stuck out his hand. “Johnny ‘Lam’ Jones,” he said, and it sounded vaguely familiar. “Football?” I whispered to my wife. Only later, when I repeated the story to my dad, did I find out I was right. From 1976 to 1980, Lam starred first as a running back and then as a receiver for the University of Texas Longhorns, though he was already a celebrity by the time he arrived on campus; at eighteen, he ran the four-hundred-meter relay at the Montreal Olympics, winning a gold medal. As a freshman, he got to be part of Darrell Royal’s last season on campus, and he met up with his counterpart, fellow running back Johnny “Ham” Jones. (Royal nicknamed the pair after their hometowns to distinguish them: “Lam” for Lampasas, “Ham” for Hamlin.) After UT, Lam entered the NFL draft and was taken second overall by the New York Jets, who signed him to what is thought to be the first $2 million contract in league history. But his six seasons with the Jets were at best mediocre, and he was often hurt. Following the players’ strike in 1987, he retired from the pros and returned to Texas, where he has sold everything from aluminum siding to fully loaded station wagons (one, at least) in the years since. Lam, 43, has been back in Austin for about a year—he occasionally sees Ham, who teaches P.E. and coaches at Dobie Middle School—and he professes to have no regrets about how things turned out: “Heck, yeah, I’ve been very fortunate. It’s hard not to feel like that.”
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