Catawba Football: Buie Still "Repaying His Debts" to Football

By Mike London, Salisbury Post,


Drew Buie was a terrific athlete in the 1960s, but as a baseball player he reminded no one of Mickey Mantle. Buie's speed made him an exceptional Catawba football receiver, so baseball coach Ray Oxendine was anxious to see what he could do for the Indians as an outfielder.

Buie, who had been awarded a half-scholarship, reported as ordered to Newman Park, and Oxendine gave him a tryout in left field by smashing line drives in his direction. None of the missiles decapitated Buie, but he wasn't catching them either. After a few fruitless minutes, Oxendine had seen enough. "He told me to report to the track team," Buie said with a laugh.

It was a great move for all concerned. Buie made an impact on Catawba track, and his exploits as a sprinter helped him land a pro football contract. "I went out to the track that day, and I was wearing tennis shoes and running with our No. 1 sprinter," Buie said. "I was running good times for tennis shoes."

By the spring of 1969, his senior year, Buie was running really good times in track shoes. At the Carolinas Conference Meet, he won the 220-yard dash in 21.9. He was third in the 100-yard dash, but the 9.6 he ran qualifying for the final tied the conference record. Buie also ran on the winning 440-yard relay team with Ike Hill, Don Swofford and Gary Kochman. Buie's flying feet and record-breaking throwers David Taylor and Bill Griffin helped Catawba finish second to Western Carolina.

Buie also had great days on the football field for Catawba, but his performance at Western Carolina in 1967 stands out. Catawba beat the Catamounts 12-3, and Buie scored all 12 points. He caught a touchdown pass thrown by Hill on a fake field goal, and he scored on defense when he ran back an interception.

Pro scouts buzzed around the 6-0, 180-pound Buie almost as much for what he had shown in track as the football field. Most interested of all was Oakland Raiders general manager Al Davis. "Even that far back, Al Davis was all about speed, stretching the field," Buie said. "Speed is what got me a chance."

The Raiders selected Buie in the ninth round of the 1969 draft, and he made the roster of a team that was loaded — Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, Art Shell, and so on and so on. That was the last year of the old AFL. In 1970, the AFL and NFL completed their merger. Buie's head coach was John Madden.

"You see Madden on TV all animated and using his hands a lot, and that's the same way he coached," Buie said. "He was a very young coach in 1969, but he related well to the players."

Personnel-wise, the Raiders weren't the ideal place for Buie to start his career. He was a flanker, and the Raiders already employed a pretty good one. Fred Biletnikoff was headed to the Hall of Fame. "That was fortunate and unfortunate," Buie said. "I got to learn the trade from the best hands guy there was. At the same time, I wasn't going to play much."

Buie's first two seasons with the Raiders, they had Warren Wells at split end. Wells, a troubled but unbelievably talented burner, had more than 2,000 yards in receptions and 25 TDs in 1969-70. Buie had a grand total of three catches his first two years with the Raiders, but he had a great time.

He worked with three famous quarterbacks — George Blanda, Kenny Stabler and Daryle "Mad Bomber" Lamonica. He roomed at different times with both Stabler and Lamonica, who had reputations as serious free spirits as well as quality quarterbacks. "One night after curfew, Lamonica says, 'Come on, let's go,' " Buie remembers. "I told him I couldn't afford to pay the fine if we got caught. He said, 'There won't be a fine, kid. You're with me.' "

Buie caught touchdown passes in exhibition games, but he had to wait 21/2 seasons for his first TD that counted. Madden had promised to purchase Buie a sportscoat if he ever got in the end zone, and Buie cashed in on that promise on
Nov. 14, 1971.

The Raiders were playing the Houston Oilers in Oakland, and Buie was in the starting lineup. Wells was gone, and Eldridge Dickey, who was trying to replace Wells, had been suspended. Lamonica made up for any late-night trouble he'd ever gotten Buie into when he spotted him sprinting behind the defense early in the game. Lamonica fired the ball deep, Buie caught it in on the 10, and took it the rest of the way for a 63-yard touchdown.

It happened too suddenly to celebrates, so Buie handed the ball to the nearest official and started thinking about what color that sportscoat was going to be. Before the first quarter was done, Buie caught a 25-yard touchdown pass to put Oakland ahead 21-0.

"I waited all that time, and then I got two touchdowns at once — not only in the same game, but the same quarter," Buie said. But they would be the only two of his NFL career. "Things had just started to look up for me as a split end when I messed my knee up," Buie said. "I was never quite the same."

In 1972, Buie played in four games for legendary coach Paul Brown's Cincinnati Bengals and made one catch. His final AFL-NFL numbers were nine catches for 227 yards. Buie played for the Jacksonville Sharks of the World Football League in 1974, but by then he was itching to return to his roots.

He'd graduated from Winston-Salem's Griffith High, one of the schools that consolidated to form Parkland, and he believed the knowledge he'd acquired from Davis, Madden and Biletnikoff could be imparted to kids. He coached four years of Pop Warner football, had a 13-year coaching stay at Parkland, a seven-year tour at North Forsyth and a three-year stint at Winston-Salem Carver.

Buie has been inducted into the Winston-Salem Sports Hall of Fame and was enshrined by Catawba in 1997. This year he's teaching at an alternative middle school, where he's challenged to succeed at least as much as he was in the NFL. He's also an unofficial consultant to friends in the coaching fraternity, and that gives him his weekly football fix.

"I had some debts to football," Buie said. "I really wanted to try to give something back." He's been giving back now for three decades.

This is the fourth of five stories on professional football players from Catawba who were invited back to this year's Homecoming.

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