As a tiny preschooler, Washington Redskin wideout Henry Ellard
was fascinated by the concept of flight. When you're undersized,
getting close to the clouds can take on a certain allure.
Thankfully, that was what little Henry Ellard did best.
"We used to get a big tractor inner tube and blow it up," says
the 34-year-old Ellard. "One kid would jump on one end and bop
the other one up into the air."
When Ellard's half brother, Sam Lane, saw seven-year-old Henry
land a perfect flip off the tractor tube one afternoon, he
sensed that his baby bro' had big talent. Lane then began
throwing footballs to Henry on the streets of their Fresno,
Calif., neighborhood. But it wasn't until Henry was in ninth
grade that his mother, Margaret, agreed to let him play
organized ball. Ellard's career took off from there. In his
junior year at Hoover High he earned a starting position on the
football team and a spot on the track team. The first time he
tried the triple jump, he leaped 45 feet. Later, as a junior at
Fresno State in 1982, he improved his best jump to 54'10", good
for a school record that still stands.
Ellard might have had a shot at making the Olympics in '84, the
year after he became the Rams' second-round draft choice. But at
that time the U.S. Olympic Committee did not allow professional
athletes to compete in the Games. Perhaps to compensate for
being grounded by the USOC rule, Ellard went into a hobby shop
in the spring of '84 and bought a $300 remote-control plane.
"I'd probably be a pilot in the Air Force if I didn't play
football," Ellard says. "This way I can pretend."
Ellard currently owns three radio-controlled planes, each with a
four-foot wingspan. If Ellard's flight record with the model
planes is any measure, his mother should take comfort in the
knowledge that her son chose the safer career. Ellard has
destroyed two planes--one while attempting a rollover maneuver in
mid-flight, the other during a landing. "Landing is the hardest
part because the plane is coming back at you real fast. If you
move the controls left, the plane goes right, so it's something
you have to practice," the 5'11", 185-pound Ellard says.
Opposing corners face similar difficulties when covering Ellard,
who has eluded them often enough in his 13-year career to rank
seventh on the NFL's alltime list in both receiving yards
(11,304) and catches (677). Since 1988 only the San Francisco
49ers' Jerry Rice has rung up more receiving yards (9,954) than
"He's one of the best route runners I've ever seen," says
Redskin coach Norv Turner, who was Ellard's position coach in
Los Angeles from 1985 to '90. When the Rams refused to re-sign
Ellard after the 1993 season, Turner offered him a spot in Wash
ington, where approximately 70% of the offensive schemes are
lifted straight from the old Ram playbook. Ellard responded by
having one of the best seasons of his career last year, making
74 receptions for a league-leading 18.9 yards per catch. Through
two weeks of the '95 season Ellard tops the Redskins in
receiving with 10 catches for 146 yards.
Last Sept. 25, during the Redskins' 27-20 loss to Atlanta,
Ellard was overcome by a familiar urge. After making a catch for
a 73-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he did a back flip in
the end zone. The landing was no problem. Ellard's been up in
the clouds so long, he never really touches down.
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS USHER Playing football keeps this Redskin receiver well-grounded, but flying model planes really makes him soar. [Henry Ellard with model plane]