It’s true. The Six-Million-Dollar Man, Number 32, Travis Jervey, quietly turned 40 this past Saturday, May 5, at his home in the Old Village surrounded by his adoring family and a yard full of exotic plants that signify his newest passion – gardening.
But don’t think for a second that this two-time Super Bowl competitor is out to pasture. Take one look at his 6 foot, 220-pound frame and youthful face and you may mistake him for a 25-year-old. Though he’s been retired from pro-football for a decade, he’s still in tip-top shape physically, and he can be seen coaching others as a personal trainer at 101 Pitt Fitness Center. What other town this size offers a young athlete the chance to be trained daily by a former NFL great?
Travis Jervey has earned the good life, however, the road to success in the National Football League is a route that very few of us will ever experience. We all remember the lightning fast running back who starred for Coach Dickie Dingle’s Wando Warriors back in the ’90s. Those were glory days for Wando football for they had as starters two stellar athletes who’d shine in the NFL – Travis Jervey and Dexter Coakley. Coakley went on to star as a linebacker for Appalachian State and he played pro ball for the Dallas Cowboys. Travis Jervey was the record-breaking fullback for Charlie Taafe’s Citadel Bull Dogs, and he starred for the Green Bay Packers. Wando teammates Jervey and Coakley played opposite each other in the Southern Conference and in the NFL. They still keep up with each other today.
Success in the NFL comes at a high price. Few will ever experience the tortuous training, the exhaustion or the pain that these athletes put themselves through in order to play a few minutes on Sundays in the fall. Those few minutes may be worth millions to the players and mega-millions to their franchise, but the players must exhibit super-human strength and perform heroic feats of athleticism.
Everybody knows that Travis Jervey grew up here and attended Sullivan’s Island Elementary. Shortly after Travis reached Wando he became known as a bone-crunching ballcarrier who had rockets on his heels. The best season he had while at Wando was the 1988 season when the Warriors went 9 and 4 – losing to Middleton, Summerville and Berkeley twice.
Though Travis is our local sports hero, he was actually born in Columbia. He has never known any other father except Ned Jervey – who became Travis’s dad when he, Ned, married Travis’s mother in the early 1970s. However, recently Travis has come to terms with his biological father, Dyke Dolly, who passed away at age 59 two weeks ago in North Augusta.
Dolly was among the football legends of North Augusta High School. He was a big man with speed. He starred on the 1971 Shrine Bowl team and parlayed that success into a football scholarship to the University of South Carolina. Gamecock faithful remember the fleet-footed Dolly with the number 10 on Coach Dietzel’s roster. Dyke Dolly played pro-football in the Canadian League and was a walk on with several NFL teams. He spent most of his life as an iron worker around the country. Travis never really knew his biological father and has learned only recently that both Dyke Dolly and Dyke’s father, Richard Dolly, both played pro-football.
What Travis recently learned about his grandfather, Richard Dolly, is newsworthy in a big way. Richard Dolly, father to Dyke of 1970s Carolina fame and grandfather of NFL star Travis Jervey, won a football scholarship from Franklin High School near Augusta to attend West Virginia University in 1934. Dolly played defensive end and blocked the extra-point that gave the Mountaineers the victory in a 7-6 WVU win in the Sun Bowl. Prior to World War II, Travis’s grandfather played both ways for the Steelers. He went in the military in WW II and returned to the Steelers and later had a career in the FBI.
Just two other players in professional football appear to have had a legacy of three generations in the sport – George Pyne III, who is Travis’s age, played for the Boston Patriots, and he is the third generation of his family to play. Clay Matthews III, currently of the Green Bay Packers, is a third generation pro-football family. And you can add Travis Jervey to that elite grouping.
What made fans love Travis Jervey from the first time he donned a Wando Warrior jersey through his Citadel days to his glory days at Green Bay was that he was absolutely fearless. Whether Travis was running with the football, or tackling someone, he’d charge like a runaway freight train. Violent midfield collisions with Travis sprinting away toward the goal are the memories most of us have of this incredible athlete.
Anyone who was at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in 1994 when The Citadel smashed VMI, witnessed one of Jervey’s amazing trademark runs. He bolted through the defensive line and scampered 68 yards for a score. Every VMI player had a hand on him at some point. The next year in Norfolk Travis did it again against VMI – this time taking the kickoff the length of the field to score. However, because Citadel played small teams the pro scouts didn’t take the school’s talent seriously. In fact, pro-scouts were shocked at his 40-yard dash time. It was reported that Travis Jervey had the fastest 40-yard sprint of any of the NFL tryout in 1995.
The Citadel standout paid his dues to get where he is. He spent many lonely hours sprinting up and down the steep hill at Battery Marshall on Sullivan’s Island. He lifted weights and worked himself into such shape that Muscle and Fitness magazine named him “the best physique in pro-football.”
Travis was officially clocked as the fourth fastest player in the NFL. “Fast, but not elusive,” was a quote that one sportswriter used. The pro draft was a nail-biter for Jervey. “The Citadel doesn’t have a tough enough schedule to impress the pros,” said one writer. Well, Citadel’s Number 32 went in the fifth round to the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers were ready to draft Terrell Davis – the UGa running back who succeeded to Herschel Walker’s slot – when the recruiters suddenly dropped Davis and picked up Jervey instead. Terrell Davis had been injury prone in his senior year at Georgia, and Travis appeared indestructible.
Travis says that pro football is business – for players and owners. Each week he got 1/17th of his yearly pay. “A lot of the young players can’t handle that much money coming in all at once.” During pre-season, all players received $1,200 for what amounted to a 14-hour days of gruelling practices and game film study. “You wouldn’t do that kind of work for $1,200 a week,” he laughs.
Our star stayed calm before games by reading Clive Cussler novels while emersed in a hot tub. The playbook for Green Bay was complex for Travis coming from directly the Citadel’s “wishbone” offense. Dorsey Levens was starting as tailback and Brett Farve was throwing the ball much more than C.J. Haynes had at The Citadel. The rookie made himself a place on the special teams squad. With his blinding speed and head-on-collision tackles, Travis had no trouble starting on the kick-off and punt-return teams. Green Bay’s special teams soon became the best in the league.
Sports writer John Maxymuk wrote a book “Packers By the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them,” in which he humorously implies that Travis Jervey was “a few yards shy of the goal line” the years he played for Green Bay. Backing up his claim, Maxymuk claims that fumble-prone Jervey slept with a football and that he kept a lion cub as a pet.
“The lion story is true,” says Travis. The Packers were on a bus to the Dallas airport to fly back to Green Bay after losing to the Dallas Cowboys and Travis was reading the exotic pets section of the Dallas Sunday paper. “Look here, Shon (LeShon Johnson – Green Bay special teams player),” he exclaimed, “We can order a lion from this Dallas pet store.” LeShon already owned 19 pit bulls, but he was eager to go halves on the $900 lion cub. When the huge crate was delivered, the two pro-footballers hunkered down and gingerly unlocked the crate. The cat was huge. They named her Nala from the “Lion King,” and fed her mounds of frozen chicken wings. Even though she had been defanged and declawed, Nala was an awesome presence as she galumphed through the house and pounced upon their teammates and coaches who hug out there. Coach Mike Holmgren told Travis that the only Lions he cared about where in Detroit. Life was sweet in the NFL. Travis and his lioncub were the talk of the town in Green Bay, and he got to spend the off-season surfing in Costa Rica. Jervey even competed against some of the fastest men in the NFL and defeated them in the hundred meter dash. Herschel Walker lost to Travis. Yet, Coach Holmgren seldom called on his fleet footed, but fumble-prone special teams star, to play offense.
Clearly one of the reasons the Packers went to Super Bowls XXXI and XXXII was play of the special teams. One of the most memorable plays that Travis recalls from his playing years was Desmond Howard’s 98 yard kick-off return against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. With textbook perfect execution, the Packer return team of Jervey, McKenzie, Thomason, Beebe and Hollinquest body slammed would-be Patriot tacklers as 180-pound speedster, Desmond Howard, burned New England with the length-of-the-field run.
Before long the San Francisco 49ers came looking for a swift running back and Travis signed a six-million dollar contract with the West coast team. However, his good fortune changed and his ankle was shattered. Even with the best surgeons and a lot of metal hardware, the ankle did not heal quickly. The 49ers traded him to the Falcons, but that never worked out for much playing time.
Today you’ll find home town hero, Travis Jervey, living in the Old Village and exceedingly fit. He’s enjoying life as much as ever and, even though he still surfs regularly, his most fun these days comes from being a family man and gardening.
(Dr. Thomas B. Horton is a history teacher at Porter-Gaud School. He lives in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant. See more columns online at moultrienews.com. Visit his website at www.historyslostmoments.com).