How does a quiet athlete from Tooele High School, who never received all-state recognition, play six standout NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears and be inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame next week?
To answer that question, you only have to look down Grantsville’s Durfee Street and meet home-grown Ron Rydalch.
Rydalch will receive the prestigious honor on Oct. 15 in Salt Lake City, along with Olympian archer Denise Parker, Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller, Olympic bobsledding star Bill Schuffenhaur, and Paralympian Mike Schlappi.
Rydalch, who graduated from Tooele High in 1970, is as quiet and reserved of an athlete who ever roamed the professional ranks.
The Buffs football team posted a dismal 0-9 record during Rydalch’s junior year, but bounced back under new coach David Bray to break even at 4-4-1.
Although Rydalch was quick on his feet and punished plenty of running backs at 6 feet 4 inches and 225 pounds, Tooele failed to make the playoffs. Thus, no all-state honors came the defensive lineman’s way.
However, keen-eyed college recruiters came knocking on his door.
“I had full-ride scholarship offers from Utah State, BYU, Colorado, and the U,” he said. After visiting all four campuses, he signed with the University of Utah’s Runnin’ Utes.
“I am just a hometown boy and it was the closest university to Tooele,” he said. “I could come home on weekends.”
Like many Tooele kids, the son of Ross and Julia Rydalch played baseball, basketball and football as a youth.
However, organized football was in its early organizational stages in the 1960s.
“We had four teams in junior high that played on the fields just north of the swim pool,” he said. “We were told to bring whatever equipment we had.”
As Rydalch reflected on his high school days, one of his big breaks came when he received access to the Tooele High gym and weight room.
The science of weight training was in infant stages in the late 60s, but Coach Bray gave Rydalch a set of keys to the gym and training room.
The burly lineman took full advantage of easy access and spent untold hours working out the summer before his senior year.
“I believe that maybe that was the difference in going to college on a football scholarship and being just another good football player,” he said. “I give Coach Bray all the credit for giving me that opportunity.”
He added, “We only had a Universal gym. I’d put extra weights in gunny sacks and hung them on the end so I could lift heavier weights.”
Rydalch also starred as a solid power forward for Tooele High basketball teams. He played under Coach Gary Gardner alongside centers 6-foot-9-inch Doug Tate, who was a year older, and 6-foot-10 inch classmate Scott McBeth. Both Tate and McBeth went on to play NCAA basketball.
During Rydalch’s first year at the U, NCAA rules prohibited freshmen from competing on varsity teams.
“I think we played four games as a freshman team against BYU, Utah State, Snow and Dixie College,” he said.
Rydalch explained that the NCAA then limited the number of days of practices, but not the hours as they do today. Long, arduous two-a-day practices were the rule.
He was second team all-WAC conference as a sophomore. The following season a highly touted incoming young recruit announced, “I’m going to take your place.”
“I just said, ‘That’s OK. You’ll have to earn it.’ But after a week of grueling practices in the fall at the start of the season, he left the program,” Rydalch said.
Rydalch was consistent throughout his college career as a defensive tackle, but one game rises to the top.
The Utes faced a highly ranked and undefeated Arizona State team for its homecoming game in October 1973.
The legendary Frank Kush coached the Sun Devils who led the nation that year in scoring, averaging over 43 points per game.
With the Utes leading 36-31 and the clock ticking down, the Sun Devils moved inside the Utah five-yard line.
Quarterback Danny White, who played 13 stellar seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, led a star-studded Arizona State backfield.
Woody Green, running back and NFL first-round pick for Kansas City, and Benny Malone, Miami’s second-round pick, flanked White in the ASU backfield. Arizona State had a solid shot at a national championship and a New Year’s Day game.
But none of that fazed the Utes’ defense as Rydalch recorded two stoppages and he and his goal line teammates stopped the Sun Devils from entering the end zone on five consecutive plays.
“When we looked at the film, they actually had five downs to score,” Rydalch said.
He was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune saying, “They could have given them 10 plays and we still would have stopped them.”
For his defensive prowess, the WAC conference named him Defensive Player of the Week. He also earned honors as the WAC Outstanding Lineman of the year.
Rydalch earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management in 1974. The New York Jets drafted him in the 8th round, but big-money, big-dream investors organized the short-lived World Football League that year.
“The Jets offered me about the same amount of money as the Houston Texans of the WFL,” Rydalch said. However, an incident in the Jets camp turned him toward the new founded league.
“There was a rookie in camp whose dad had a heart attack and died,” Rydalch said. “When he asked the coach if he could go home for his dad’s funeral, he was told, ‘There’s nothing you can do about it. If you want to play for the Jets, you need to be here.’”
Rydalch said, “That just didn’t sit well with me. I thought that since the AFL had eventually merged with the NFL, maybe the same thing would happen with the WFL and I would give that a shot.”
The World Football League only lasted one season and part of another before it folded. However, Rydalch has a litany of memorable incidents from his time there.
“They brought in a whole bunch of former NFL players in hopes of attracting fans. I was initially listed as fifth string nose-guard, a position I never played,” he said.
Rydalch eventually ended up starting at his defensive tackle position, but the team hired a high school coach as the line coach.
The new league — whose season was from June through September — received low marks for meeting payroll and paying its bills.
“They shorted me $17,585 the first year,” he said.
That amount may sound like chump change compared to today’s NFL salaries; however, in today’s dollars, it calculates to just over $98,000.
There was one game played in Philadelphia’s 100,000-seat Veterans Stadium where there were only 750 people in the stands.
“We had this wide receiver who was making all these marvelous, unbelievable catches,” Rydalch said. “I checked with him later and found he had taped thumbtacks on each of his fingers. If he touched the ball, he was able to hang on to it.”
The Texans eventually racked up enough bills that they slipped out of Houston in the middle of the night and settled in as the Shreveport (Louisiana) Steamer. That team and the league eventally went belly up.
In February of that year, Rydalch got a phone call from Chicago Bears General Manager Jim Finks saying he wanted the defensive tackle to suit up for him.
“I said, ‘That’s nice. But the Jets own my draft rights.’”
Rydalch served as his own agent for both his WFL and NFL contracts.
“I did not think much more about it until on Labor Day when I was watching Paul James on Channel 5 sports,” Rydalch said. “He announced that the Bears had traded Carl Garrett to the Jets. The Bears in return got Mike Adamle, a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft and my signing rights. That’s how I found out I would be a Chicago Bear.”
In October, he returned early from a deer hunt and went to Chicago with the NFL season being more than half over.
“I really just wanted to find out if I could play in the NFL,” he said.
He, the Bears, and the NFL all found out that he would soon become a stable force in Chicago’s defense.
Over his career, Rydalch logged 74 games with the Bears, started in five, recovered two fumbles, and led the team in sacks in 1977.
Even though the World Football League came and went faster than the life span of a fruit fly, Rydalch feels that experience helped him adjust to the NFL.
“The biggest difference in each level of competition is the speed of the game,” he said. “College is faster than high school. The WFL moves faster than college and of course the speed of the game in the NFL is even faster.”
Operations on both shoulders, both hips, both knees, plus a back fusion attest to the fact that all of the hits and tackles in countless practices and games take a toll.
Following his NFL career, Rydalch married Susan DeLaMare who established herself as a highly successful coach at Tooele High School.
He was a maintenance planner at U.S. Magnesium after his NFL years and also served on the side as water master and board member on the Willow Irrigation Company in Grantsville for over 35 years.
When the Utah Sports Hall of Fame inducts Rydalch on Oct. 15, the Rydalch’s will be only the second couple with those honors.
Susan was inducted in 2007 to the Distinguished High School Coaches Hall of Honor for her career as a basketball, volleyball, and softball coach at Tooele.
Rydalch readily admits he is more nervous about his Hall of Fame speech than any of the games he suited up for as a Buff, Ute or Bear.
“I haven’t given a speech for over 40 years when I talked to a bunch of 10-year-old football players who didn’t listen to a thing I said,” Rydalch quipped. “We will have to see how this one goes.”
If his podium delivery goes anything like his football career, his acceptance speech will be direct, full of gratitude, and sprinkled with humor.