Renaldo Wynn was a multi-sport star at Da La Salle Institute in Chicago. On the gridiron he was the team captain earning an All-Midwest selection and All-State Second Team nod from the Chicago Tribune. In addition to being a star on the defensive side of the ball, Wynn rushed for 500 yards and nine touchdowns as a fullback during his senior high school season. He received All-Catholic League and All-City League honors as a senior. Wynn also was a four-year letterman on the basketball court, averaging a double-double as the team captain his senior year. He was also a varsity track team member competing in the long jump.
Since his retirement from the NFL, Wynn has been busy as a motivational speaker, working for Joe Gibbs Racing and serving as a college football analyst for the ACC and ESPN Networks. He is the director and co-founder of Family of Faith Foundation and co-owner of Burn Boot Camp in Henderson, Nevada.
We catch up with the longtime NFL veteran to talk about his time at Notre Dame, his less than stellar rookie photo shoot, his love of all things Chicago sports and much more.
Tony Reid– When was the first time you were approached for an autograph?
Renaldo Wynn-That’s a great question. It first happened when I was at Notre Dame in the spring game after my red shirt year. I had never even played before. I didn’t sniff the field. I barley saw the field from the stands. It hadn’t hit me yet. It was a totally different time than it is now. Kids have already amassed some celebrity and get to college with the official announcements, social media and all that stuff. I was on campus and I had a pretty good spring game. I was the spring game MVP. It’s not real but for me it was as real as it got to that point. After the game I got asked for my autograph. I think I stayed longer than anybody, man. I was happy to sign. I didn’t know what the autograph would turn in to. I have a long name. I wrote really slowly so they would see every syllable. It’s totally different now. It was better than it is now after the veterans tainted it by telling me that I needed to go faster. They told me I was going to be there all day.
TR-The experience of Notre Dame is a profound one with South Bend, the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus and so much more. Can you put into words what it was like being a star for the Irish?
RW– It was surreal. I was already in close proximity to the campus. In Chicago, they would televise shows specifically for Notre Dame. I didn’t even know where Notre Dame was. There was a channel called Sports Channel. It was a Chicago Area sports channel. It was all Chicago sports but part of the Chicago sports was also Notre Dame. They added that in there as a part of the programming. That was just a part of the deal. Notre Dame at the time was at its height in branding. They won the championship in 1988. They were also right there at the top in the years around that ’88 championship. I grew up on the south side of Chicago, a very blue collar area but also a very gang infested area and those kids in the gangs had Notre Dame jackets on. That was a big deal. That was cool points in terms of fashion. That Notre Dame Starter jacket was part of the repertoire. When I committed to Notre Dame it was unbelievable.
TR–Your rookie cards appeared in many of the 1997 football cards products and being such a high pick you were in 50 plus different sets. Do you remember seeing yourself on a card for the first time?
RW-I remember doing the actual photo shoot. They picked the top picks in that draft and they invited us to L.A. to do this huge photo shoot. I remember doing all these poses and when the bad boys finally got printed I wasn’t too happy with one of the poses.
TR-Was it the one of you shirtless on the boardwalk?
RW-Yeah! (Laughs) You are doing all of these different poses and you are just happy to have a photo taken of yourself. I will never forget. The guy was telling me to do all of these moves. He was an eccentric California guy. He looked like a beach guy shooting videos and photos as a part time job. It looked like his main job was beach volleyball and surfing. He looked like a beach bum. He had this groovy Scooby Doo type of thing going on. He was telling me ‘Give me a growl. You are a Jaguar, right?’ And like a bozo, I was doing it. I’m growling.
He told me to take my shirt off. He’s telling me it was a beautiful day. I’m just going with it. Whatever, man. The one that was cemented in fame and humiliation at the same time was when he told me to stoop down and put the ball in the air and give him a growl. That doggone card, I will never forget, Tom Coughlin in one of the first meetings of training camp, Tom never jokes. He is always serious. He said ‘We have a guy, a defender, he hadn’t even been in the building and had a fineable offense.’ What the heck? There is a guy named Perk, a video guy who is still there, he told Perk to put it up on the board. He put that doggone card on the projector at a team meeting. I’m sitting there. I’m not even in the building yet. You have to be kidding me. From then on, no matter where I went everyone knew they got me. Justin Tuck was like ‘Renaldo, what is this? What are you doing?’
You have to take the good with the bad.
TR-Did you manage to hang on to any of your own cards over the years?
RW-I do have a lot of my cards. When you are young you aren’t thinking about collecting the cards and nostalgic paraphernalia of that nature. As I started to get older and thinking I didn’t know how much time I had left, I was always a fan of the sport, I started collecting whether it was a teammate’s jersey or those cards. I would get a pack of cards from Topps and usually I would give them out. I ended up keeping them this last time. They gave me one from every different shoot. My favorite is probably my rookie card that pictures me playing for Notre Dame against Florida State. I have a cutoff half jersey on. It was a bad to the bone type of cards.
TR-What athletes inspired you as a kid? Whose cards would you have collected back then?
RW-I am a big Chicago sports fan. It was Walter Payton and his Kangaroos. Everybody wanted to be ‘Sweetness’ out on the playground. The Bears Monsters of the Midway, I know pretty much every guy from that 1985 Bears Super Bowl Championship team. ‘The Fridge’ was a big name that everybody looked up to but nobody was bigger than Walter Payton. In basketball, of course, it was Michael Jordan. That is the Holy Grail of basketball. In terms of baseball, the White Sox stadium is right across the street from my high school, so I am a big White Sox fan. When Bo Jackson came to Chicago that was a big moment. The ‘Big Hurt’ was a big deal, too. I was big into all sports.
TR–If you could go back and swap jerseys with one player who would you pick and why?
RW-It would be Barry Sanders. I had a chance to play against him during my rookie year. He retired at the height of his career. He was probably the greatest running back and at the time he was still the greatest and he retired. We played Barry when I was in Jacksonville. Charlie Batch was a quarterback. He was a rookie at the same time. I remember preparing for Barry and the coaches said ‘If you are the first guy, you will not tackle him. If you are first guy you will be the Guinea pig. It will be the second, third or fourth guy. First guy, take your shot. You will probably be on ESPN.’
I remember not wanting to be the first guy. I wanted to be that third or fourth guy or the guy that jumped on the pile. At the end of the game guys are very approachable. It was an honor to play against someone like Barry Sanders.