For anyone out there who once made a practice of torturing
substitute school teachers, let us introduce you to your worst
nightmare: Cleveland tight end Frank Hartley.
After he was released by the Browns before the 1994 season, the
6'2", 270-pound Hartley began a new career as a substitute
teacher at Evanston (Ill.) High School. The first time Hartley
walked into a classroom, he was greeted with stunned silence.
"They were expecting to have some fun with a sub, but instead
they got me," says Hartley, who taught honors English and
American history. "They all sat there and nobody moved a muscle.
It was like they had seen a ghost."
Finally one student broke the silence and blurted out, "You're
much too big to be a teacher. Shouldn't you be playing football?"
That's what Hartley, an All-Big Ten tight end, thought he would
be doing after he graduated from Illinois in 1991. But injuries
to both knees in college turned the once swift Hartley into a
plodding, practice-squad nomad in the pros. He was cut by the
Rams, the 49ers, the Falcons and then the Browns before turning
his attention to teaching. "Teaching is the hardest job I've
ever had," says Hartley, who also worked as a runner at the
Chicago stock exchange between NFL stints. "But if you can catch
a kid and steer him in the right direction, you can change a
Hartley was settling into the classroom routine--preparing lesson
plans, giving out grammar assignments and lecturing on the
Industrial Age in American history--when Cleveland tight end
Walter Reeves underwent surgery to remove two herniated disks in
his back, and the Browns needed their own sub. Tight ends coach
Pat Hill called Hartley's South Side Chicago home and spoke with
his mother, Fannie Horton, about re-signing the tight end.
Horton almost hung up on Hill until he put coach Bill Belichick
on the phone. Convinced that the call wasn't a hoax, Horton
called Evanston High and had her son paged just before the final
bell. Frank Hartley, Frank Hartley, the school's intercom
announced, the Browns want you back! Please call home
immediately. "I said, 'Mom, don't play with me; I've had a hard
day here dealing with these kids,'" recalls Hartley. "And Mom
said, 'I swear, Bill Belichick called and said he wants you
In two weeks Hartley went from making $81 a day as a teaching
sub to $108,000 a year as an NFL sub. He started the last five
games of the '94 season in the Browns' two-tight-end set,
finishing with three catches for 13 yards and a touchdown while
establishing himself as one of the club's best blockers. "The
guy is a dominant, crushing blocker," says Hill. "No one in the
league can block like Frank." This year Hartley has started
every game and has caught eight passes for 101 yards. Despite
his success on the field, however, Hartley might give in to his
mother's prodding and go back to the classroom during the
"The kids might be shocked to see a man who plays pro football
choose to come back and teach and care about education," says
Hartley. "But I like the look I get when I walk in and stand at
the blackboard. It tells me I can make a change."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE The Browns' tight end taught his students that there's just no substitute for hitting the books. [Frank Hartley]