While wading through the sea of familiar faces at the 10th-year
reunion for Bingham High's class of '74, Bruce Hardy suddenly
realized why these exercises in mandated nostalgia are usually
so depressing. "People don't like reunions because you see
yourself in the other people," says Hardy, who grew up in Utah's
Salt Lake Valley. "Your mind still likes to tell you that you're
17, but your body is showing everyone that you are much older."
The last thing Hardy, who resides in St. George, Utah, with his
wife, Joanie, and their four children, needs to worry about is
his public image in his home state. Hardy, who wants to coach in
the NFL, is paying his dues as offensive coordinator for the
Arena Football League's Arizona Rattlers, but many people in
Salt Lake Valley still idolize him as the high school phenom who
racked up all-state honors in three sports. He was a
power-hitting catcher one major league scout called "the best
high school athlete I've seen in 20 years" and Class AAA MVP in
basketball and football in both his junior and senior years. At
17 the 6'4", 205-pound Hardy was on the cover of SI, which
anointed him "the best all-around schoolboy athlete in the U.S."
The local residents repaid Hardy's heroics with a devotion that
bordered on lunacy. "Someone once broke into my car and stole my
letter jacket," says Hardy, 42. "They didn't bother with my tape
deck or my date's purse." This fanaticism drove him to leave
Utah to play football at Arizona State. "I felt like I was
carrying the town's hopes on my shoulders," Hardy says. "People
acted like I was a traitor, but I had to get away." He switched
from quarterback to tight end as a sophomore, and after catching
19 passes for 269 yards as a senior in 1977, he was picked in
the ninth round of the NFL draft by Miami. In the ensuing 12
seasons with the Dolphins he caught 256 passes for 2,455 yards
and started in two Super Bowls.
Hardy has been coaching Arena Football since 1994. "What I try
to pass on to my players is what I learned as a player: how to
use your head. I didn't have as much talent as other NFL
players, but what I lacked in speed, I made up for in technique.
That kept me playing as long as I did." He hopes his football
smarts will soon return him to the NFL as an assistant. "I
always figured I could be successful at coaching," says Hardy,
"and I do have Don Shula as a reference on my resume."
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [Cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED featuring Bruce Hardy]
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT TROYANOS [Bruce Hardy]
The locals repaid Hardy with a devotion that bordered on lunacy.