Mizzou Football will open its season against in-state rival Southeast Missouri this Saturday (Sept. 5). Kickoff for the game is slated for 3 p.m.

Mizzou Preview: Tigers looking to continue streaks in season opener vs SEMO   https://shar.es/1vxgdt

By Sally Tippett Rains

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It was a busy weekend for Howard Richards. First came an appearance at an SEC pre-season tailgate party at Ballpark Village and then attending “Kookin’ for Kids,” a charity event for St. Vincent’s Children’s Home at the Chase Park Plaza - which offered guests an opportunity to sample “scrumptious dishes” and mingle with St. Louis celebrities.

Richards could quality for both as a former football star at the University of Missouri and the NFL and now working as part of the Mizzou football radio broadcast team - but he can also cook some “scrumptious dishes” himself.  

Richards is beginning his fifth season as the Mizzou football color analyst, working with Mike Kelly on the Learfield Sports' Tiger Radio Network. The Tigers open the season on Saturday, hosting Southeast Missouri in Columbia.

He also serves as the Senior Manager, External Relations for the College of Arts and Science at Missouri. That job developed as a result of a discussion with Dean Michael O’Brien of the College of Arts and Science about one year ago.

“One of the things I like about my job is to be able talk to students and student-athletes about my college experience at Mizzou, and have discussions with prospective ballplayers in the area of recruitment and what the process is all about,” Richards said. “As the job has progressed it’s involved enhancing outreach and beginning to engage the 50,000-plus alums here in the city to try to bring more awareness about everything new, important and exciting with A&S.

“Desired outcomes will include such things as increased applications and enrollment of underrepresented students, increased exposure and reputation for the College and MU; expanded internship and full-time employment opportunities for students; new and enhanced connections for faculty related to research partnerships and technology transfer; and, expanded opportunities for gifts and other financial support for the College.” 

Richards, who played for the Tigers during the Warren Powers era of the 1970’s, replaced John Kadlec on the broadcasts after Kadlec retired in 2011. (He shown with his broadcast partner Mike Kelly in photo, right) Richards played right offensive tackle at Mizzou and was a second team All-American as a senior in 1980.

By no stretch of the imagination is Richards an “athlete turned broadcaster.” Well he is, but there was a long road in between. He was the first-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys and played there from 1981-1986. He played his final season for the Seattle Seahawks, and then returned to Columbia and earned his degree in Communication in 1988.

As has been chronicled, Richards went to work for the CIA, though that was not his original plan. Since he had his Communication (the Comm department prefers to drop the letter ‘s’) degree he answered an ad in the Dallas Morning News for a communications job with the CIA. It turned out the job wasn’t communication but was communications with the “s,” as in encrypted, classified communications.

So off he went to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., just outside Washington, D.C. Of course if Richards revealed all he did there he would have to kill us, but he did say he did not do “communications,” he was a special protective operations agent, one of the most revered security positions at the Agency; however, he did much more during his tenure.

Richards worked for the CIA for 13 years, providing security protection and doing event management and conducting site advances in nearly 50 countries, across five continents for four CIA Directors/Deputy Directors. He was in charge of Agency security programs in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem and conducted training coordination in the Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“I did some very unique things,” he said. “I saw a number of ‘interesting’ things that people will never get the chance to hear about, but would be most thankful for because they keep the world safe and people alive.”

According to the Columbia Missourian, just before he was hired by Mizzou, Richards ran a private security business and traveled around the world — often covertly — providing around-the-clock protection for his clients.

He was married during the time in Israel and the couple had a daughter, and there came a time when they determined that conditions in Israel were too dangerous for their little girl (9/11 and too many suicide bombings) so they left Israel and he soon after changed careers. The marriage did not survive.

Richards’ love for his daughter Sydny did survive and though she lived with her mother in New Jersey he kept in close touch with biweekly visits and drives to and from New Jersey before he moved back to St. Louis. Sydny now resides with him; she’s a high school junior and of course, a Mizzou fan.

Kelly sees Richards’ CIA experience and all the security business as being an attribute in the press box.

“It definitely makes me feel like our radio booth is very safe,” he said.

Even though he had been working in a different profession, Richards actually had media experience. Jim Riek, an anchorman on KOMU television in Columbia played a role in giving Richards a background in media. Riek was a sportscaster at KRCG when he covered Richards as a player and hired him to do various jobs, including shooting games, editing tape and even commentating on-air.

It has been a long road from north St. Louis, and around the world, to lead Richards back to Mizzou to succeed Kadlec, who actually was partially responsible for bringing him to Columbia after high school.

Richards was born in 1959, and grew up on N. Pointe Blvd., which is off West Florissant in north St. Louis with his mother (Wanda Darby), his late stepfather (Poste Darby) and step-brother, Stephen Darby, who is nine years younger. Stephen is also a Mizzou grad and is a real estate broker in Dallas.

“My mother still owns and resides in the house that she and my stepfather bought in 1970,” Richards said.

His mother, who was a librarian, placed such an importance on learning that she taught Richards to read before kindergarten, which in the early 1960’s was not common.

“I always seemed to be ahead of others in school,” he said. I didn’t understand why other students had such difficulty reading—I suppose I took reading for granted.”

In 1969, because of desegregation, Richards was bussed to Wade School on S. Vandeventer to continue in the St. Louis Public School’s gifted program, which began for him at Walnut Park School. In 1973 he started high school at Southwest.

“I chose Southwest because my district high school, Northwest, and other high schools except Southwest were dropping the gifted program,” he said. “Most of my friends at Wade chose to continue in the program at Southwest as well. It was the district’s best ‘college preparatory’ public high school.”

Wade Elementary School is now the Meda P. Washington Education Center.

Richards liked school and sports and as a freshman played baseball, basketball and football. He didn’t join any other extra-curricular organizations; he just wanted to focus on school and playing sports. He wanted to be the next Bob Gibson, as baseball was his first love, but a B-team coach derailed that career path.

“I quit baseball after the coach pulled me in the middle of pitching a no-hitter,” he said.

He played football and basketball his sophomore and junior years, but then got some good advice from his football coach.

“My high school football coach, the legendary Leon Anton, suggested that I not play hoops and start working on preparing myself for college football after earning the full ride to Mizzou,” Richards said. “He was well connected in football circles, and so I took his advice.”

About that time Richards began to notice that his football achievements were very well publicized.

“I didn’t know until much later that Anton’s sister was married to Bob Broeg,” he said referring to the long-time Post-Dispatch columnist. “Those two, along with John Kadlec, were the reason I chose Mizzou. Turned out alright for me, and they deserve the credit for steering me to Columbia.”

The one thing outside of sports that held his interest --and that he was raised on-- was reading.

“My mother was a librarian for the St. Louis Public Library and she worked in various branches throughout the city, including the Central Library downtown,” he said. “I was always exposed to books and read often—reading was always emphasized as a key component to learning.”

He read the classics, periodicals, and newspapers.

“I read anything I could get my hands on. Through high school I read the Globe Democrat and Post-Dispatch every day,” Richards said. “I don’t read as much for pleasure as I used to—there’s so much to read and digest for work, so I don’t have enough time.”

All that reading helped when he got to college. He was on a path to get his degree as well as play football.

“Howard was the type of player that whatever you asked of him, he responded to,” said Powers (shown in photo below, left being interviewed by Richards). “He was a natural team leader, which was evident from his teammates electing him to be their co-captain his senior year.”

Richards recently helped organize a reunion of players from the 1978 season and Liberty Bowl team, Powers’ first season at Mizzou, to support Powers in his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He also participated in an article on STLSportsPage.com to bring awareness to the Alzheimer’s Association by chronicling the story of Powers and his wife Linda as he lives with the disease. (To read that article: “Warren Powers, former Missouri coach, is battling new opponent” https://shar.es/1vbfr0 ]

Because of the disease, Powers has trouble with memory--especially short-term-- but his face lights up when he talks about his days coaching at Mizzou and he remembers Richard’s leadership skills.

“Howard was a guy you could always count on,” said Powers, who continued to monitor Richards’ career after leaving Mizzou. “It was fun to follow his professional career in the NFL and see the success he had.”

Richards went from playing for Powers, who he has warm feelings for, to the Cowboys, who were coached by the legendary Tom Landry. During his time in Dallas the Cowboys won two NFC East division titles, earned playoffs berths in four of his six seasons and played in two consecutive NFC Championship games, losing both and failing to get to the Super Bowl.

“In college and the pros, you spend the majority of the time with your position coach, but Coach Powers was great--he always had a joke or something positive to say whenever he popped into our position meetings,” Richards said. “It was a very comfortable feeling. He would motivate you and put you in a situation to win every week—the rest was up to the players to execute. That’s how I felt about him, but I can’t say that about my coach at the Dallas Cowboys…personality-wise. I didn’t have the same type of closeness with Tom Landry as I did with Coach Powers. TL was all business—very stoic as he always appeared on the sidelines. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed learning the game and playing for him.”

Said Kelly, “Howard loves Mizzou.”

He loved it then and he loves it today.

“It was just a great time, especially the three years under Coach Powers,” said Richards. We felt that we revitalized Mizzou football and the three consecutive bowl games in which we played, after a five year drought, were proof.”

Richards also liked his time in Dallas.

“I had a very positive experience in Dallas,” he said. “You learn very quickly how different it is playing in the NFL as opposed to the college level. I was surrounded by all these people that I grew up admiring and then all of a sudden they were my teammates—great teammates with who I still have great relationships…the same as with my Mizzou teammates.”

From high school to college and then to the pros, Richards was always part of a winning program. His only disappointment was having to retire about three years earlier than he thought he had planned because of injuries.

“I’m very blessed that I had been healthy enough to make it to that point,” he said. “I wish everyone could experience what life was like back then. From what I’ve seen, I think that maybe the ‘80’s was the best decade of football.

“A lot has changed since then. The whole industry of broadcasting has changed. I like the advances in technology – I don’t even have to go to the games, because I can watch them in high definition, and not have to deal with traffic. And I like to listen to commentary and opinions of the broadcasters on the games I’m watching—it’s an ongoing learning process.

“As far as the game itself, there have been changes, free agency, the most recent collective bargaining agreement, the concussion issue and settlement, and the training camps aren’t as hard as they used to be. There is a lot more concern about the players’ safety and from the players’ safety standpoint that will probably extend some careers.”

As he watches young players, Richards sees the changes put in place and hopes they will help others in the future. He has suffered with pain for years in what used to be considered “par for the course” if you played football.

“When I was a player we hit in practice every day, even before all games,” he said. “When you are hitting in practice every day that repeated head contact builds up. Those hits are where the majority of damage occurs. You see these major hits on TV-- It’s not just that a guy is knocked out a couple of times in his career, it’s all the small, repeated concussive episodes that are problematic.”

Richards’ lasting effects from his playing days include headaches, sometimes having trouble concentrating and neck issues. He also suffered from disc compression, had three herniated discs and a lot of numbness. He suddenly got to a point around Thanksgiving in 2013 where he barely used his left arm so he decided to have something done about it. A year and a half ago Richards underwent major surgery on his cervical spine.

“I’m far better than I was and nearly fully healed,” he said. “But I still feel the effects.”

Richards traveled to Boston to participate in a Boston University study at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalitis—which they define as “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.”

“When they evaluated the ‘concussive episodes’ we found out I had sustained approximately 500 or more,” Richards said. “That’s a lot. You need to understand the definition of a concussive episode vs. a concussion. It’s all those minor hits that are repetitive, ‘boom, boom, boom… the brain colliding with the inside of the skull.’ The headaches, the dizziness, all that are a byproduct.”

Despite the lasting effects, Richards would not trade all the experiences he had playing college and pro football.

Richards knows that as a former NFL player, kids look up to him and being a role model is something he accepts and does not mind.

"Whether you deserve it or not, because of your status as a professional athlete, young people will always look up to you," he told the St. Louis Review in 2012.

He likes to give back to the community and enjoys participating in charity events. He was among the group that revitalized the National Football Players Association Former Players St. Louis Chapter a few years back, for the purpose of using the camaraderie of playing professional football to do community service and promote the welfare of its members.

In his off-time Richards likes to dabble in the kitchen.

“I enjoy making and trying craft cocktails,” he said.

He also likes cooking.

“I do like to cook and will try different things quite often,” he said. “I love fish. I love grilling and smoked meats, but don’t have any particular favorites.”

“He has a great recipe for Marinated Salmon,” added Kelly.

And he likes cooking for the light of his life, his 16-year- old daughter Sydny. The two are very close and he keeps the picture of he and his daughter, shown left, on his nightstand and says it is his favorite picture.

“He’s excited to have his daughter in St. Louis,” said Kelly.

And Richards is trying to instill in her the love for the classics and reading that his mother gave to him.

“She is reading ‘The Great Gatsby’,” Richards said. “I sent her background information on it to help her understand the book and why it’s considered a literary classic to help her get interested. You could say this is her first foray into American Lit.”

He likes that through his job with Missouri lets him give back to his community.

“As an urban kid who grew up in the city of St. Louis I know that whole experience,” he said. “The experience of being a student athlete, being black and, in a large unfamiliar place and going through the transitional years of college and then going out and using what I learned as an Arts and Science Student and actually applying myself to becoming a successful professional.

“Now I get to come back and tell these kids about my experience from age 18 to where I am now. I encourage them that any kid in my situation can do the same thing.”

Richards’ job at Mizzou involves using his voice and being a voice. He gets to use his voice doing the color commentary for the games on Saturdays, but the rest of the week he is able to be a voice of hope to inner city kids.

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Photo Credits: Photos courtesy Howard Richards.

How you can help the Alzheimer's Association In honor of Howard Richard's coach at Mizzou: Warren Powers, click here: http://act.alz.org/site/TR/Walk2015/MO-StLouis?team_id=291269&pg=team&fr_id=7602