Son's interest in football draws former NFL player back into game

Friday, November 16, 2007
Jackson head coach Carl Gross, left, played on the same college football team as Dan Peiffer, top right. Peiffer's son Blake, front, plays for Gross. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

When former Chicago Bears center Dan Peiffer retired from the National Football League in the early 1980s, he steadily disconnected himself from the game.

"It might have been a little bit of burn out, and I was just ready to quit football," he said. "When I retired I was still single, so I didn't have kids playing. I watched NFL games until the players who I knew from my playing days had retired."

For about the next 20 years, Peiffer remained disconnected from football.

That was until 2000, when his then-fourth-grade son Blake joined the Jackson Area Youth Football League.

Peiffer watched from the stands during Blake's first season. But he began to feel that sharing his knowledge could benefit Blake and the other players.

"I was staying out of it at first," he said. "I didn't have the fuel, but watching that one year, I felt there were things I could teach them as far as technique and skills."

The following year, Peiffer helped coach his son's team and continued to do so for the next three years. During that time, they began to develop a shared interest in football while spending many days together on the youth league field.

And that passion for the sport between father and son continues to grow.

Blake is now a junior linebacker at Jackson High School where he is coached by Carl Gross, who played college football with Dan back in the 1970s at Southeast Missouri State University.

Blake leads the Indians with 103 tackles and is ranked fifth in all of Southeast Missouri in that statistical category.

Blake and the rest of the Indians (11-0) play a Class 5 semifinal game at Waynesville (10-1) at 7 p.m. today. The winner advances to the title game, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 24 at the Edward Jones Dome.

Connie Peiffer, Dan's wife and Blake's mother, said Blake's interest rekindled her husband's passion for football. She said there was never much talk about the game in her house and never a football game on the television set on a Sunday before Blake began playing eight years ago.

But things quickly changed.

"Man, if you knew how much football we watch around here now and the amount of football that's talked about around here," Connie said, chuckling.

Youth football

Blake said because his father never talked much about football when he was growing up, it was his own interest that first got him involved in the sport.

"He always said he was never going to pressure me into doing anything I didn't want to," Blake said. "And he would support me with anything I did, and I always wanted to play, and he has supported me with all my choices throughout my career."

When Dan saw Blake take interest in football, not only did he begin to coach him, but he also started taking his son to Jackson football games.

"When he was playing in the youth league, he was interested in going to the games," Dan said. "It was back when Mario Whitney was playing. Everybody knows Mario was exciting to watch, and it was easy to go to the games."

Connie said Dan, who also played for the Washington Redskins, got great enjoyment out of coaching Blake, and they loved spending extra time with each other after practices.

"There was football after the football," Connie said. "They'd go to practice and then they'd come home and it was like, 'OK, guys, supper is on the table,' and they were like, 'We'll be in the house in a few minutes. We're doing a little more practicing and going over some different tips and points.'

"It's exciting to watch them and listen to them and see the interaction that is going on there because Dan very silently encourages Blake and tells him the different things to do. And Dan is very honest with Blake about his mistakes. And I think that has really helped him."

Dan remembers many good times from his days coaching Blake's team, but the one that sticks out most was his son's final game in seventh grade.

"His last game in the youth league, he gave me a big hug and said, 'This is the last time you'll coach me, Dad,'" Dan recalled.

The same tenacity

When Dan was about to begin coaching Blake's youth league team, he reconnected with his old teammate, Gross.

"I had been out of football for a while, and I started talking to Carl about football and what had changed because I had never coached before and he had," Dan said.

Gross, who was a tight end for Southeast, said Dan and Blake are similar players. He said they both have the same tenacity.

"His father is one of the toughest human beings I've ever been around," Gross said. "He was super strong, super smart and was just a terrific football player.

"Blake has come in and has been a terrific worker just like his father was. He's very strong, very tenacious, leads us on defense and leads us in tackles. He is extremely coachable. The other thing he is, is thirsty for knowledge."

Gross has observed the relationship between Dan and Blake over the years and said it reminds him of the relationship he shared with his own father growing up in that they are not only father and son but also good friends.

Gross said Blake and Dan spend a lot of time together not just talking football but also going fishing, and turkey and deer hunting.

Dan said the main reason he got back into football was because Blake was interested in the sport, and he puts what his children enjoy at the top of his priority list. He also has a daughter, Amanda, who graduated last year and is now in college.

"When my daughter was playing volleyball, I was into volleyball for her and basketball for her," Dan said. "I'm into football for Blake. He also wrestles. I've never wrestled in my life, but I'm into the wrestling and track. You enter in because of your children."

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