How do you top the thrill of three Super Bowl rings? You don't. But Joe Avezzano -- who anchored the OL at FSU from 1963 through '65 -- is equally proud of the less glitzy awards from his peers. He's the only three-time winner of the NFL Special Teams Coach of the Year award voted by NFL special teams coaches. His Dallas Cowboy units consistently finished near the top in all four major kicking game stats, while blocking 23 kicks and returning 18 punts and kickoffs for TDs.
Joe's long relationship with the Cowboys covered 13 years and three Super Bowls ('92, '93 and '95). In 2002, he served as Head Coach of the Arena League's Dallas Desperados' as well as Cowboys' special teams guru. Among Joe's coaching stops at the college level were FSU in 1968, Iowa State from 1969 thru '72, and head coach at Oregon State from 1980-84.
After finishing his career with the Raiders, Joe hung up his whistle in 2006. But he never slowed down. He and his son Tony own and operate two sports bars in the Dallas area -- gruelling work as you can tell by the photo above -- and he talks Cowboys on the radio during the season. Joe recently took time out to chat with us about his playing and coaching career.
What's your best memory of FSU's breakout season of '64?
"Sure, I enjoy the memory of the wonderful '64 season. But it's the people: me and Freddy and Steve and George D'Allessandro and (Phil) Spooner and (Terry) Gavin and (Dale) MacKenzie and (Tom) West and (Jack) Edwards -- we all came in as Coach Peterson's first recruiting class. And we just had a bond as a freshmen team. We were cocky. We believed in each other, we liked each other. And we just knew we could be good. And the journey with those guys, and Coach Peterson, the coaches that we really enjoyed... Winning that Gator Bowl in '64 was the destination, but if you don't enjoy the journey then you really can't enjoy the rest of it."
How was it rooming with Steve Tensi your freshmen year?
"I moved into my room, waiting to see who my roommate would be. And it's this gangly 6 foot 5" guy from Cincinnati Elder High School, which I'd never heard of. He was an absolute Elvis Presley freak, and had every record, knew every word of Elvis's songs. Could imitate him. And I had to deal with that until finally he got married. But I loved it."
"Bill Peterson hired incredible coaches for his staff. And by good fortune we ended up with
a very good group of players that were really tight personally and physically talented to make a mark for themselves. Along the way we found we had one of the most entertaining and colorful coaches you could ever have. His misuse of the English language was classic, and we looked forward to every meeting because we never knew what we were going to hear. The great thing is you never have to exaggerate. Just tell the truth and it's automatically a good story."
Talk about Peterson the Coach.
"Coach Pete was very intense about his desire to win,
his willingness to work and to be inventive. He was totally
dedicated to the passing game and learning as much about
it and creating something that made a niche. One that
he could recruit to and attract QBs and receivers to his style
"The focus at Florida State is Bobby Bowden, but Bill Peterson is the one who put it on the map. He was an innovator in college football to throw the ball the way we did. And I think he deserves a lot of credit for what he did at that time. And you match that with the quality coaching and good caliber athletes and, shoot, we hit and just had a bunch of fun doing it."
What do you remember about Bobby Bowden as an assistant?
"I just think that Coach Bowden was another example of Bill Peterson's greatest quality, which was his ability to pick assistant coaches. Along with Don James, who's a legendary college coach, we had John Coatta who went on to be head coach at Wisconsin, and Don Powell the offensive line coach and one of the best I've ever witnessed. After I left there were Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs and Dan Henning."
What was it like to be on the first team to beat Florida?
"An incredible experience because at that time Florida
didn't want to play Florida State. I just remember pre-game
in the locker room, Avery Sumner got up and appealed to the team that we needed to win this game because he thought he could get a grade in a certain course if we won the game and he needed the grades. He made everybody laugh and we went out and played well. That put us on the map as the real deal, and a team Florida had to pay attention to."
"But just as memorable, the Kentucky game that year. They
came to town after some big wins. And at that time we had the Magnificent Seven (defensive front) that all shaved their heads and shutout a few people. And the coaches said if they shut out Kentucky, they'd shave their heads. And by gosh, we killed 'em. We had them shut out until right at the end of the game. And our starters wanted to go back in and keep the shut out. Kentucky scored at the end, but we won decisively."
Talk about your pro career with the Boston Patriots of the old American Football League.
"It was enjoyable. Short. And it bridged the gap between college football and going into coaching. Playing with the Patriots was a thrill. We played at
Fenway Park at that time and I was a huge baseball fan. So I enjoyed that for
a couple of years. I wasn't good enough
to have a long career, but good enough
to be around for awhile.
"Then I drifted into coaching. I never intended on coaching but I must have liked it because I did it a long time."
How did special teams become your specialty?
"When I first coached in college I worked for Johnny Majors
for eleven years. He was the head coach at Iowa State, and Pittsburgh where we won a national championship, and then Tennessee. I credit Coach Majors for developing me into a well-rounded coach. He forced us to learn about every aspect of the game. So when I had the opportunity to join Jimmy Johnson with the Cowboys in 1990, I'd been an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator my whole career. But I'd always been involved in the kicking game, so I felt comfortable taking that job. And I bounced into a great situation that took us to three championships in a four year period. The first team ever to do that. And I just rode the coattails of some great players and we got three rings out of it."
Back to the college game and your days at FSU -- do you think
the game was less intense and maybe more fun back then?
"The game was simpler then, but no less intense. The athletes today are bigger, stronger, faster -- but it's all relative. But I believe we were able to have more fun and enjoy the experience a little more than today, with the scrutiny of TV and the NCAA and alumni and all the things that have built to such a high level that makes college football so fascinating. We were able to enjoy playing with each other, enjoy the experience. I couldn't have enjoyed the college experience any more than I did at Florida State."