Before they became western actors, John Wayne and Wagon Train star Ward Bond were college football teammates in California. Both Bond and Wayne played football for the University of Southern California.
One of Wayne’s greatest passions in his early life was football. Back when he was known as Duke Morrison, Wayne was a beast out on the field. Of course, the sport was very different back in those days. Wayne grew up in Glendale, California where he played football in high school. In fact, Wayne appeared as part of two undefeated seasons for the Glendale High School team. His prowess on the field led to an athletic scholarship.
Wayne landed full ride to USC and played as an offensive tackle during his freshman year. There, he met Bond who also played on the football team. But the two weren’t friends at the time. During Wayne’s sophomore year, he played on varsity underneath head coach Howard Jones.
So why isn’t Wayne remembered as an NFL great instead? Audiences can thank a bodysurfing injury for pushing Wayne to acting. The future actor injured his collarbone during a beach trip. As a result, Wayne struggled to perform on the field due to the injury. And he ended up losing his football scholarship as a result.
“He felt his football playing days were over because of his bad shoulder,” Eugene C. Clarke, a USC trustee who grew up with Wayne, said according to Yahoo News. “So he did what he felt he had to do. He quit school and went to work at the studios.”
John Wayne and Ward Bond
Wayne ended up working on Hollywood productions underneath director John Ford. For the film “Salute,” Ford was looking for college football players to fill out small roles in the film. Wayne reached out to his former teammate Ward Bond, and both ended up being cast in the film. The production of the film caused both Wayne and Bond to become good friends. And both former athletes ended up having long careers in acting.
But as far as Wayne’s athletic career, things get a little strange. The Atlanta Falcons almost drafted the 64-year-old actor in 1972 during the 17th round of the NFL Draft. Perhaps as a joke, Falcons coach Norm Van Brocklin asked his staff, “Do we want the roughest, toughest S.O.B. in the draft?!”
Then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle rejected the pick because Wayne was 64-years-old for one and also an actor and not a football player.