Even now, sitting in the office of his dental practice in Baltimore, MD, some 40 years removed from the last time he put on a helmet and shoulder pads, Dr. Sam Havrilak still thinks about the game that gave him so much.
“Yeah, I definitely do still think about it from time to time,” he said. “What I do now, I would say it quenches my competitiveness. When you do anything in life, you want to be the best you can be at it, whether it is in football or medicine. I’m happy now, but I do still think about playing football.”
Growing up in the football-mad hotbed of Western Pennsylvania, Havrilak was drawn to the game at the young age of 10. His hometown of Monessen has a rich tradition of football and being a part of that history was something that Havrilak was instinctively drawn to.
“The town has a history with a lot of good football players and a lot of good football teams coming from there,” he said. “If you were able to play, you played. I tell my patients even now what is great about football is that you are legally able to hit someone. What’s bad about football is that they are legally able to hit you back.”
As he progressed in the game, Havrilak found success at a number of positions, including running back, wide receiver, and defensive back. However, his first love was quarterback. He starred for his high school team, before an injury derailed his senior season. His skills and reputation still earned him a scholarship to Bucknell University.
“I was able to play that many positions, I think for two reasons,” he explained. “First, I think it was a fair assessment to say that I was athletic. Second, I was able to understand and incorporate the nuances of the playbook for each of those positions fairly easily and fairly quickly. When you’re a quarterback, you have to know what everybody is doing. So when I played other positions, I looked at it as the whole ball of wax rather than just my assignment.”
While playing for the Bisons, Havrilak was named to the All-Pennsyvlania Team and was named MVP of the Middle Atlantic Conference his senior year. He still holds the Bucknell record for total offense. During one magical game against rival Colgate, Havrilak accounted for 397 yards of total offense in 1968.
“I knew I wanted to come to Bucknell because I wanted to go to a school where I would not only get a very good education, but also be able to play all four years,” he said. “It was a small school and we didn’t play in front of large crowds, but I loved the intimacy of the stadium and I fell in love with the place the first time I saw it. It was a lot of fun and I ended up having a pretty good college career.”
When his college career ended, Havrilak caught the attention of one of the NFL’s premiere franchises in the Baltimore Colts. The team selected him in the 8th round of the 1969 NFL Draft. It would be in Baltimore that his versatility would be put to good use, as he contributed as both running back and wide receiver for the team.
“The Colts were really a great franchise and I was thrilled to find out that they wanted me,” he said. “In those days, they assigned your locker by your number, so for several years, my locker was right between Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall. Growing up, they were one of my favorite teams and here I was playing with these guys. It was like a dream come true for me.”
Over the next six seasons, Havrilak proved himself to be a valued member of the Colts. With the team, Havrilak would take part in two out of the first five Super Bowls and was on the winning side in Super Bowl V. This would be the high point of his career with the Colts. In 1974, he wrapped up his career with the New Orleans Saints and began planning for the future.
“Because I wasn’t a lock to make the team each year, I wasn’t a superstar by any means, I started planning my future before I even got done playing,” he said. “When I was at Bucknell, I applied to the three dental schools in Pennsylvania – Penn, Pitt, and Temple – and I got accepted to all three. In fact, I told Pitt my rookie year that if I didn’t make it on the Colts I would go there. That was always my contingency plan.”
Havrilak was always drawn to the field of dentistry. As a child growing up, he understood the respect the profession garnered. As he got older he found he had a natural aptitude for it. While wrapping up his career with the Colts, Havrilak made arrangements to begin taking classes at the University of Maryland part time. His last year in the league, he finished his courses and embarked on what would become his lifelong career.
“I said to myself, if I didn’t like being a dentist I could always be something else,” he said. “Fortunately, I did like it, I was pretty good at it and I have been a dentist for the last 40 years. Playing football prepares you for life in ways you may not understand initially, but you do later on. Football teaches you the value of hard work and the value of teamwork. If you’re going to be any kind of success in life, you need to have those two skills and I think you definitely get them from playing football.”