It is certainly a significant accomplishment to receive NFL Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors.
However, as the number of outstanding players in the NFL exceeds the number of available Pro Bowl and All-Pro slots at each position each year, many outstanding players never receive Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition.
One such outstanding player was wide receiver Reggie Rucker.
Over a 13-year NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, New England Patriots, and Cleveland Browns, Rucker caught 450 passes for 7,124 yards and 44 touchdowns.
Rucker posted his best statistics as a member of the Browns from 1975 to 1981.
Reggie Rucker pic.twitter.com/4xMd3I98tH
— Mark Humphrey (@MarkHum39586180) October 20, 2020
We take a look at the life of Reggie Rucker – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Reginald Joseph Rucker was born on September 21, 1947 in Washington, D.C.
Rucker had a difficult childhood growing up in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington.
As Rucker described it:
“It seemed they sent everybody with nothing there.”
His mother had eight children by seven different fathers.
Three of his stepbrothers died in prison.
Rucker and his mother would often walk the streets, hungry and uncertain where they would sleep.
He committed some petty crimes and belonged to a street gang.
He was jailed for several hours one night for shooting out streetlights with a BB gun.
In 2014, Rucker recalled how his experience in jail that night affected his life:
“I could have very easily been in prison or dead. God had another purpose for me. I got a break . . . I was always on either on a basketball court, football field or baseball diamond.”
Rucker attended Anacostia High School in Washington.
He lettered in four sports there.
After graduating from Anacostia Hall School in 1965, Rucker, who had received a scholarship, headed to Boston, Massachusetts to attend Boston University for college.
Rucker attended Boston University from 1965 to 1969.
As a freshman, Rucker played football (on an undefeated freshman football team) and baseball.
Playing varsity football as a sophomore, Rucker made an immediate impression.
The first time Rucker touched the football in a varsity game, against Holy Cross, Rucker returned a punt for a 71-yard touchdown.
The following week, against UMass, Rucker again had a 71-yard punt return touchdown.
Two weeks later, against UConn, Rucker had another punt return touchdown (this time for 54 yards).
Rucker’s three punt return touchdowns set a New England major college football record for most punt return touchdowns in a season.
As a junior, against Bucknell, Rucker both had an 81-yard kickoff return and made a great catch for a 60-yard touchdown to win the game.
Rucker, as a senior, made two great catches (the second for the winning touchdown) in the closing seconds of the game to help Boston University upset Temple 7-0.
During Rucker’s three years on the varsity football team, Boston University posted records of 5-5 in 1966, 3-6 in 1967, and 5-3-1 in 1968.
The Boston University Hall of Fame website describes Rucker as “theatrical” and states:
“Reggie never just caught a pass; he always seemed to catch the pass for the winning touchdown. And when he went back to return a punt or kickoff return, the crowd stood electrified, waiting for the Reg to take it all the way.”
Rucker also excelled in baseball at Boston University.
He hit for power (hitting a 400-foot homerun against Harvard) and was a quick baserunner.
In addition to football and baseball, Rucker also lettered in basketball (averaging 6.8 points, and 3.8 rebounds, per game during the 1966-1967 season) and track, making him Boston University’s first four sport athlete in more than 20 years.
At Boston University, Rucker majored in Education, with a minor in History.
He was inducted into “The Scarlett Key”, an activities honor society.
Rucker graduated with distinction from Boston University in 1969.
The Pro Football Years
While Rucker probably could have played major league baseball as well as professional football, he decided to play football.
Rucker was not drafted by any team in the 1969 NFL draft.
He was signed as a free agent by the Dallas Cowboys in the summer of 1969.
#DallasCowboys September 21: Happy Birthday to former Cowboys receiver Reggie Rucker (WR: 1969-71, Born 1947). He was signed as a undrafted free agent after the ‘69 NFL Draft. As a rookie, he spent the season on the taxi squad until being activated for the Playoff Bowl vs. Rams. pic.twitter.com/A41Uyn2tnK
— Dallas Cowboys Old School (@CowboysOld) September 21, 2020
Placed on the taxi squad, Rucker saw no action during the 1969 regular season.
The Cowboys lost two games to the Cleveland Browns in 1969 – 42-10 on November 2, 1969 and 38-14 in a divisional-round playoff game on December 28, 1969.
In 1970, after breaking his left wrist during the preseason, Rucker was again placed on the Cowboys’ taxi squad.
He was activated during the 1970 regular season and played in seven, and started two, regular-season games.
In a 52-10 Dallas victory over the Houston Oilers on December 20, 1970, Rucker caught three passes for 77 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown pass from Craig Morton (for Rucker’s first NFL regular season touchdown).
For the 1970 regular season, Rucker caught nine passes for 200 yards and the above-described one touchdown.
Dallas, with a 10-4 record (including, with Rucker starting the game, a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Browns on December 12, 1970), won the NFC East Division title in 1970.
The Cowboys then won two NFC playoff games, before losing in Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts.
Rucker started all three of Dallas’ 1970 playoff games and caught one pass for 21 yards.
He later said that he made more money from these three playoff games than he did from his regular salary in 1970.
1971 was a year of movement for Rucker, as he played on three different teams.
First, Rucker started the season with Dallas.
He played in two (but did not start any) regular season games with the Cowboys and caught one pass for 19 yards and one touchdown.
Second, after being waived by the Cowboys on October 1, 1971, Rucker signed the next day with the New York Giants.
Rucker played in four (but did not start any) regular season games with New York in 1971.
He caught one pass for nine yards and rushed for 14 yards on one rushing attempt.
Third, after the Giants waived Rucker on November 1, 1971, he was signed by the New England Patriots on November 3, 1971.
Rucker played in five (but did not start any) regular season games with the Patriots in 1971.
He caught two passes for 24 yards and returned two kickoffs for 45 yards.
New England posted a 6-8 record (including a 27-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns on November 21, 1971) in 1971.
In 1972, Rucker became a full-time starter at wide receiver for the Patriots, starting all 14 regular season games.
On December 10, 1972, Rucker caught five passes for 98 yards, including 31-yard and 25-yard touchdown passes from Jim Plunkett, in a 17-10 Patriots victory over the New Orleans Saints.
In the 1972 regular season, Rucker caught 44 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for five yards on three rushing attempts, and returned eight kickoffs for 227 yards.
The Patriots had a 3-11 record in 1972.
Rucker again started all 14 regular season games at wide receiver in 1973.
On November 18, 1973, Rucker caught five passes for 108 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown pass from Jim Plunkett, as the Patriots defeated the Green Bay Packers 33-24.
Rucker caught 53 passes for 743 yards and three touchdowns, and returned five kickoffs for 103 yards, in the 1973 regular season.
New England had a 5-9 record in 1973.
In a 42-3 Patriots victory over the Baltimore Colts on October 6, 1974, Rucker caught three passes for 92 yards, including 69-yard and 16-yard touchdown passes from Jim Plunkett.
However, Rucker also broke his right wrist in the Colts game and ultimately was placed on the injured reserve list on November 18, 1974.
Rucker ended up playing in and starting only 10 regular season games in 1974.
In the 1974 regular season, Rucker caught 27 passes for 436 yards and four touchdowns.
The Patriots posted a 7-7 record (including a 21-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns on November 10, 1974) in 1974.
Rucker joined his fourth NFL team when he was traded on January 28, 1975 to the Cleveland Browns for a fourth-round draft pick in the 1975 NFL draft.
The Browns turned out to be the team for which Rucker would play the most seasons in his NFL career.
The trade worked out well for both Rucker and the Browns.
In 1975, Rucker (playing at a height of six feet and two inches and a weight of 195 pounds) started all 14 regular season games at wide receiver for Cleveland.
Rucker, who caught three passes for 66 yards, scored his first touchdown with the Browns on a 26-yard pass from wide receiver Willie Miller in a 42-10 Cleveland loss to the Minnesota Vikings on September 28, 1975.
On November 23, 1975, Rucker caught six passes for 64 yards, as Cleveland defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 35-23.
The following week, on November 30, 1975, in a 17-16 Browns victory over the New Orleans Saints, Rucker caught seven passes for 83 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass from Mike Phipps.
In a 40-14 Cleveland win over the Kansas City Chiefs on December 14, 1975, Rucker caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Mike Phipps – one of Rucker’s six receptions for 130 yards.
Rucker caught 60 passes (which in the 1975 regular season was ranked tied for second among all pass catchers, and first among just wide receivers, in the NFL) for 770 yards and three touchdowns in the 1975 regular season.
Cleveland had a 3-11 record in 1975.
Rucker’s solid season in 1975 is even more impressive, considering that he played with cartilage damage in his knee.
He had surgery after the 1975 season to correct the issue.
In 1976, Rucker again started all 14 regular season games at wide receiver.
On September 12, 1976, Rucker scored three touchdowns, two on passes from Mike Phipps (for 13 yards and four yards) and one on a pass from Brian Sipe (for eight yards), as the Browns defeated the New York Jets 38-17.
Rucker caught five passes for 37 yards and rushed for three yards on one rushing attempt.
Rucker caught nine passes for 141 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe, in a 45-24 Cleveland loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on October 3, 1976.
On November 14, 1976, in a 24-3 Browns victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Rucker caught six passes for 99 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe.
In a 17-13 Cleveland win over the Miami Dolphins on November 28, 1976, Rucker caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe, as one of Rucker’s four receptions for 77 yards.
For the 1976 regular season, Rucker caught 49 passes for 676 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 30 yards on two rushing attempts.
The Browns improved to a 9-5 record in 1976, but failed to make the playoffs.
In 1977, for the third consecutive year, Rucker started all 14 regular season games at wide receiver.
On October 9, 1977, Rucker caught four passes for 52 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe, in a 26-10 Cleveland loss to the Oakland Raiders.
In a 44-7 Browns victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on October 30, 1977, Rucker caught four passes for 94 yards and rushed for three yards on one rushing attempt.
Rucker caught four passes for 104 yards, in a 35-31 Cleveland loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 13, 1977.
On December 11, 1977, in a 19-15 Browns loss to the Houston Oilers, Rucker caught six passes for 97 yards.
Rucker caught 36 passes for 565 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for six yards on two rushing attempts in the 1977 regular season.
Cleveland posted a 6-8 record in 1977.
In 1978, Sam Rutigliano became head coach of the Browns.
The relationship between Rutigliano and Rucker was important in Rucker’s career.
They had first connected when Rutigliano was an assistant coach with the Patriots when Rucker played in New England.
In 1978, Rucker played in and started 15 regular season games at wide receiver.
Rucker caught three passes for 113 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe, in a 24-7 Cleveland win over the San Francisco 49ers on September 3, 1978.
On October 15, 1978, in a 34-14 Browns loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rucker caught four passes for 95 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe.
Rucker caught two touchdown passes from Brian Sipe (for 16 yards and 44 yards), as Cleveland defeated the Buffalo Bills 41-20 on October 29, 1978.
Rucker had four catches for 89 yards.
In a 45-24 Browns victory over the Baltimore Colts on November 19, 1978, Rucker caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe – one of Rucker’s six receptions for 123 yards.
Rucker caught 43 passes for 893 yards (his 20.8 average yards per reception in the 1978 regular season ranked fourth in the NFL) and eight touchdowns, rushed for 14 yards on two rushing attempts, and returned one kickoff for one yard, in the 1978 regular season.
Cleveland had an 8-8 record in 1978.
In 1979, Rucker started all 16 regular season games at wide receiver.
On September 9, 1979, Rucker caught two touchdown passes from Brian Sipe, for 17 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter for 21 yards, as the Browns defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24.
OTD 1979: The #Browns squander a 20-0 third quarter lead at Arrowhead to trail the Chiefs late.
QB Brian Sipe leads an 8-play, 76 yard drive culminating in a 21-yd TD pass to Reggie Rucker with :52 remaining to win, 27-24.
One of 12 Browns games in '79 decided by 7 pts or less. pic.twitter.com/7WQsdso4qS
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) September 10, 2020
Rucker caught three passes for 48 yards.
In a 38-20 Cleveland win over the St. Louis Cardinals on October 28, 1979, Rucker caught four passes for 76 yards.
The following week, on November 4, 1979, Rucker caught five passes for 106 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe, in a 24-19 Browns victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
On November 18, 1979, Rucker scored another game-winning touchdown in 1979 when he caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe in overtime, as Cleveland defeated the Miami Dolphins 30-24.
This Day: 11/18/1979
Foundation of Kardiac Kids continues to be laid in year prior as #Browns beat Don Shula's Dolphins 30-24 in OT. Brian Sipe throws absolutely perfect spiral to Reggie Rucker for the win here. Just look @ the fan reaction-THIS is #Cleveland football. #siperbowl pic.twitter.com/tFWuMaof6h
— On This Day: Cleveland Sports (@CityfanC) November 18, 2020
Rucker caught nine passes for 177 yards.
In the 1979 regular season, Rucker caught 43 passes for 749 yards and six touchdowns.
The Browns posted a 9-7 record in 1979.
Rucker again started all 16 regular season games at wide receiver in 1980.
On October 19, 1980, Rucker caught five passes for 81 yards, as Cleveland defeated the Green Bay Packers 26-21.
In a 31-7 Browns victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on November 23, 1980, Rucker caught seven passes for 82 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe.
Rucker caught five passes for 108 yards, in a 17-14 Cleveland win over the New York Jets on December 7, 1980.
In a 27-24 Browns defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals on December 21, 1980, Rucker caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe – one of Rucker’s four receptions for 74 yards.
For the 1980 regular season, Rucker caught 52 passes for 768 yards and four touchdowns.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) June 3, 2019
The 1980 Browns team was known as the “Kardiac Kids” for having several games decided in the final minutes of the games.
With an 11-5 record, Cleveland won the 1980 AFC Central Division title.
It was the first division title for Cleveland in nine years.
The Browns advanced to play the Oakland Raiders in a divisional round playoff game on January 4, 1981.
Rucker started the game and caught two passes for 38 yards.
However, Cleveland lost a close game to the Raiders 14-12.
In 1981, Rucker played in 14, and started 11, regular season games at wide receiver.
On September 7, 1981, in a 44-14 Cleveland loss to the San Diego Chargers, Rucker caught five passes for 68 yards.
In a 20-17 Browns win over the Cincinnati Bengals on September 20, 1981, Rucker caught two passes for 63 yards.
On October 25, 1981, Rucker caught four passes for 72 yards, as Cleveland defeated the Baltimore Colts 42-28.
Rucker caught three passes for 77 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass from Brian Sipe, in a 15-12 Browns victory over the San Francisco 49ers on November 15, 1981.
In the 1981 regular season, Rucker caught 27 passes for 532 yards and the above-described one touchdown.
The Browns had a 5-11 record in 1981.
Rucker’s November 15, 1981 touchdown against San Francisco was his last in the NFL.
On September 2, 1982, at the age of 34, Rucker announced his retirement from playing in the NFL.
While injuries had begun to adversely affect Rucker’s performance in 1981, the main reason for Rucker’s retirement was Cleveland’s decision to elevate Ricky Feacher over Rucker as a starting wide receiver. Rucker did not want to be a backup wide receiver.
He said at his retirement announcement:
“The time has come to move on. I don’t like being second banana to anyone. . . . It was a very difficult decision because I love the game, I love the team and I love the city. It’s just time to do something else.”
Sam Rutigliano stated:
“He handled it like Joe DiMaggio did – with a lot of class and a lot of dignity. As far as the mental aspect of the game is concerned, Reggie was probably the most prepared player I’ve ever come across. I owe Reggie a lot. When this job opened up in Cleveland (after the 1977 season), he was the first guy to go to (owner) Art Modell’s door and say ‘Hire Sam Rutigliano.’ People say you can’t be friends with the players and coach them at the same time in this business. I think Reggie and I proved that wasn’t correct.”
“I’ll miss him not only as an athlete but also as a person.”
After 13 seasons with four teams, Rucker was out of the NFL.
The Years After the NFL
Rucker is currently married to Darlene.
He had three sons.
After his retirement from the NFL, Rucker worked in sports media.
He worked on Cleveland Indians baseball broadcasts from 1982 to 1984.
From 1983 to 1988, Rucker covered the NFL on broadcasts for NBC.
Rucker has also covered the Browns and Ohio State on WEWS Channel 5, and hosted a nightly sports talk show on WKNR AM radio, in the Cleveland area.
— John Skrtic (@SkrticX) January 31, 2020
In addition, Rucker was involved with the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, which sought to curb youth violence and handgun use.
He also did work with the Amer-I-Can organization, which promoted anti-violence initiatives.
Rucker was inducted into the Boston University Hall of Fame in 1978 (in football and basketball).
In 2016, Rucker was sentenced to 21 months in prison for embezzling money from nonprofit organizations.
He used the embezzled funds to pay gambling debts and other personal expenses.
Rucker was released from prison in 2018.
Since his release from prison, Rucker has been involved with the reNOUNce deNOUNce Gang Intervention Program, which targets at-risk youth between the ages of 12 and 17.
“I wanted to let them know that what you’re heading for is a long, long prison sentence, or death.”
Thank you former NFL wide receiver, Reggie Rucker, for sharing your compelling story with us yesterday at the Delaware Problem Gambling Awareness Conference on Sports Betting and Gaming. May you continue to have a joyful and long lasting recovery. #gamblingaddiction #TBI #PGAM pic.twitter.com/Q2lwYTjuFV
— Jeffrey Wasserman (@JPWdel1955) March 23, 2019
While nothing can excuse Rucker’s behavior in embezzling money from nonprofit organizations, this conduct should not affect our view of Rucker’s performance on the football field.
Rucker ranks as one of the top wide receivers in Cleveland Browns history.
He ranks eighth in Cleveland career regular season receptions (310), seventh in Cleveland career regular season receiving yards (4,953), seventh in Cleveland career regular season receiving touchdowns (32), and tied for eleventh (among players with at least 100 receptions) in Cleveland career regular season average yards per reception (16.0).
Rucker achieved these statistics playing only seven years with Cleveland.
Had he played his entire 13-year NFL career with Cleveland, his rankings in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns would undoubtedly be higher.
These receiving numbers were accumulated by Rucker on a consistent basis.
Rucker caught over 40 passes in five of his seven seasons with Cleveland.
He also had more than 500 receiving yards in each of his seven years with the Browns.
In addition, Rucker had 38 games with at least 60 receiving yards, and eight games of more than 100 receiving yards, for Cleveland.
Another aspect of Rucker’s career with the Browns was his durability.
During his seven seasons with Cleveland, despite having various injuries, Rucker played in 104 out of 107 regular season and playoff games.
For his first six seasons with the Browns, Rucker missed only one regular season game.
For his career numbers, consistency, and durability with Cleveland, including as a member of the “Kardiac Kids” in 1980, Browns fans should thank Reggie Rucker for his outstanding play as a wide receiver for Cleveland.