Taming the Bull: John “Bull” Bramlett, The Meanest Man in Football Part 1

By Amy

Taming the Bull: John Bramlett.

Taming the Bull: John Bramlett.

Andy Bramlett remembers the pact that he and his brother, Don, made with their dad, John "Bull" Bramlett, when they were kids.

"My brother and I had a deal with our dad," Andy said. "When we turned 18, we were going to go out with him and get drunk and get in fights. That's what we lived for. That was the talk. We were going to rule our town."

When you're the oldest son of a man they call "Bull" and "the meanest man in football" - and those were the nice things John's football opponents called him - you have a reputation to live up to.  

Bull earned his gridiron notoriety as an undersized high school linebacker in Memphis, eventually earning an athletic scholarship to Memphis State University. After graduating from MSU, he began a professional baseball career in the St. Louis Cardinals organization before being released after a couple years because the wild streak that lived inside of him couldn't be tamed.

Finally, the coach of the American Football League's Denver Broncos told Bull he would give him a shot if Bull could put on 20 pounds. Bull reached the mark, and not only did he make the team out of training camp, he finished second to Joe Namath in the AFL's Rookie of the Year balloting in 1965.

He would go on to play seven years of professional football in the AFL and National Football League, two each with the Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Boston Patriots before finishing his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 1971. He earned AFL All-Star honors with the Broncos and Dolphins, and was the Patriots' MVP in 1970. He is a member of the Broncos' Hall of Fame.

Bull's problem wasn't that he was the meanest man in football; it was that he was also the meanest man on the street and in his home. He would routinely drink heavily and start fights. Often, he would come home, the stench of liquor on his breath, and terrorize his own family.

"When he would come home at night, he was usually inebriated and my brother and I would be in my room and hear the fights between my dad and mom," Andy said. "It was a pattern that we had to live with.

"I saw more than I should have seen. I heard more than I saw, but I heard most of the arguments and I saw most of the fights he was in out in the street."

Still, Bull's wife, Nancy, stuck with him. And even though Bull lived up to his reputation, there was another side to him.

"That side of my dad was a really good dad," Andy said. "He was always there for our games. He always helped coach us. He always helped us with every sport we were playing. He was a lot of fun when he wasn't drinking. But, when he had one too many, he went from being fun to being violent. You just never knew when that was going to happen."

Just as Andy was about to turn 13 years old, something happened in John's life that nobody saw coming. He listened to a message about God's love. After a couple days of non-stop scripture reading, John "Bull" Bramlett gave his life to Jesus Christ.

Immediately, the fighting and carousing came to a halt. John became the husband and father that he learned he needed to be while pouring over Bible verses.

"Our whole outlook changed," Andy said. "We had a new dad that was totally different than the old dad. Everything turned around for us, and our focus as a family became on doing what was right and pure and clean. It was a life change, not just for my dad, but for the whole family."

"He's a modern day example of the powerful Saul-to-Paul 180-degree conversion," said Kyle Rote, Jr., the legendary North American Soccer League star of the 1970s and longtime friend of John Bramlett's. Rote, like Bramlett, is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' Hall of Champions.

"Bull's life proves that God never gives up on even the 'worst' of humanity," Rote said.

The turnaround was so complete and has made such an impact on the people that John Bramlett comes in contact with, that it has been made into the documentary Taming The Bull. The film will be officially released on August 22.

Fellowship of Christian Athletes.