Kansas City, Missouri born and raised, Bert Emanuel was a four sport star in high school. Initially competing as a Bruin at UCLA, Emanuel continued his multi-sport career in college. After transferring to Rice University, the college quarterback was a standout on the gridiron and continued his pro baseball aspirations on the diamond. He was selected in the MLB Draft on two occasions: first by the Toronto Blue Jays and later the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Ultimately, Emanuel chose to play football at the highest level and was picked in the second round of the 1994 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
After a challenging transition from quarterback to wide receiver right after college, Emanuel caught passes for over 1,000 yards in just his second NFL season. Two more productive years of just shy of 1,000 yards followed and after four years in Atlanta, Emanuel spent two Tampa Bay as a Buccaneer. After one more season in Miami, he split time with the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots before retiring after the 2001 NFL season.
He may be best known for what became The Bert Emanuel Rule. During the 1999 NFC Championship, Emanuel snagged a 13-yard reception at the Rams’ 22 yard line with 47 seconds remaining in the game. The initial ruling on the field was a completed pass. Despite the fact that he completely controlled the ball during the catch, there was a replay request from the booth and after the review, it was determined that the nose of the ball had touched the ground and the catch was overturned.
Tampa Bay went on to lose the game in a heartbreaker. This huge drama-filled play prompted the NFL to clarify the rule regarding what constitutes a catch and Emanuel’s name became informally attached to it.
In this recent interview with SC Daily, Emanuel talks about memorable autograph experiences, seeing himself on cardboard for the first time and all of the items he managed to keep from his long NFL career.
Tony Reid-What are your memories of the first time you were asked for your autograph?
Bert Emanuel-Oh, wow. I think it was during rookie minicamp. First of all, we flew down, I had just gotten married, graduated from college and got drafted all in 30 days. It was one of the toughest and most stressful 30- day periods in my life. My wife and I had never been out of the state of Texas. It was new going to Atlanta. I flew down for the first minicamp right after the draft.
I remember going into the locker room. On the way to the locker room there were fans outside. Immediately after practice I had fans coming up to me. I was thinking, ‘I am actually in the NFL!’ It was pretty cool and a memorable time for me.
TR–What was your reaction when you saw yourself on a trading card for the first time?
BE-I remember seeing the rookie card and looking at it and thinking it didn’t really look like me. Most guys shave their head for camp. That is the last thing you want to worry about doing-waking up in the morning and doing your hair. I had this bald head. I looked tired. I don’t even remember when they took the photo. That didn’t move me as much as when I saw myself on a bubblegum card. When that came out it was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I am actually on a bubblegum card. I remember as a kid, going to Kmart and buying bubblegum that had the baseball and football cards in it. That was so cool. Back then, I knew that someday my dream was to be on a bubblegum card in a wrapper.
TR–You mentioned following sports and collecting cards as a kid. Do you still have any of those old cards? What did you collect as a kid?
BE-I do. I was a big baseball player. I was drafted in high school. The Oakland A’s were very interested. They came to my house. They wanted to make me one of their top picks. Mom was more focused on me going to school and getting my education. Baseball was my first love. It was always my first love. The A’s decided not to draft me because they felt that I wasn’t going to pursue baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays drafted me out of high school. I went off to UCLA. I ran track and played football. Coach wouldn’t let me play baseball because I was just drafted.
I then transferred to Rice. It was coach (Wayne) Graham’s first season as baseball coach there. I played spring baseball and football. I was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. I hadn’t seen the curveball and the slider for a few years and I struggled with that. I decided to pursue football and I was drafted the next spring in to the NFL. I was drafted three times-twice in baseball and once in the NFL.
I collected baseball cards. I collected Rod Carew, Satchel Paige, Vida Blue, and all of the big time icons. That was my deal. My grandfather loved baseball. I grew up in Kansas City. I used to go to the Royals games and fell in love with Kauffman (Stadium) and the Kansas City Royals organization. That is where my love grew. My card collection was more baseball than football.
TR–You have 489 different football cards. Do you have a favorite card of yourself?
BE- Oh, wow. I do have a collection but I don’t have 489 different ones. I probably have 25 different ones. I would love to have a collection that had one of every 489 cards. That would be cool. Once they make one of you they send you a package of your cards and the rest of the set. I haven’t gotten any since I retired. I don’t know if there were more made after I retired but I definitely don’t have 489 cards (laughs)
TR-You had eight great years in the NFL, including numerous near 1,000 yard seasons with the Falcons. Do you have an office or room where you have memorabilia displayed?
BE-I do. I also have five kids who were all involved in sports. I have four girls and lastly a son (Bert Jr.). He is a football player at Central Michigan. He is a quarterback. My fifth and sixth year in the NFL, I hired a photographer to capture my career. I have photo albums. That photographer traveled with us. I got him sideline passes. He was down on the field. I have some really nice game shots. I have my first picture of my first touchdown. I have a picture from the most famous play, The Bert Emanuel Rule, the catch that was not a catch that turned into a rule that is now a catch. I have my uniforms. I have a little space. It probably not big enough. There is so much stuff that is still in boxes. It’s a good enough space where if someone came in they would get the picture.
TR–What is the centerpiece of the collection?
BE– I have a few. One, there was a football that was given to me, I only had one football that I worked out with to prepare for the NFL Draft. That was a ball that a friend of mine threw to me through all of my training drills and all of my pro days. Once I was drafted he gave me that ball. That is very special to me. I have all of my touchdown balls except for the first one that was in the Hall of Fame game. That was my very first NFL touchdown in preseason I caught it, ran to the side in the back of the end zone and a fan jumped out of the stands and snatched it out of my hands. Someone told me the ball is in the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure if that is true or not.
I also have a card the year that we essentially broke the NFL record where we had three receivers over 1,000 yards, a running back over 1,000 yards and a quarterback who threw for over 4,000 yards. A fan gave me that card before a game. It has four of us on that card. It has myself, Terrance, Iron Head Heyward and Eric Metcalf. I have never seen any cards like it. I took it apart and had everybody sign it and put it in a glass case. That is one of my prized possessions besides everything associated with the catch. We were a part of history.