The career that John Omohundro carved out with the Cardinals – the one that will see his name enshrined forever in Canton in the contributors portion of the Pro Football Hall of Fame – came close to ending before it had really much started.
Omohundro had just been hired as the No. 2 man by head athletic Jack Rockwell back in 1967, a dream job for a man who had been serving as a medical specialist in the Army Reserve.
But he didn't even have a chance to unpack his 1961 Pontiac Tempest convertible before he was packing trucks with Rockwell and headed to Lake Forest, Illinois for training camp. The Cardinals had 140 players at the time, and just the two trainers to take care of all of them during two-a-day practices.
"I was just a worn-out puppy," said Omohundro, who had just gone through a stint of Army basic training before taking the job and wasn't sure this was where he was meant to be.
"It's going to get a lot better," Rockwell told him. And it did, from Omohundro's ascension to the Cardinals' head athletic trainer in 1972, to his final of 42 seasons in 2008 when the Cardinals reached their lone Super Bowl so far, to Monday, when it was announced Omohundro was one of the initial class of athletic trainers going into the Hall.
The group – five from each area of former trainers, equipment managers, assistant coaches and public relations personnel – are part of the "Award of Excellence," noting their contributions to the game. They will be invited to the Hall of Fame ceremonies in August and have their names emblazoned on a display inside the Hall of Fame museum.
"It's the Mount Everest of pro football athletic trainers to become recognized to be important enough to be included in such a hallowed place," the soon-to-be 79-year-old Omohundro said. "It's something I never gave any thought to, because they didn't have (that spot) for athletic trainers.
"I was amazed, stunned, shocked, surprised. I had no idea they were even considering anything like that. To be one of the five inductees into a place like that … there is no other place like that."
Images of the career of athletic trainer John Omohundro, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August.
WHEN Omohundro first started in the business, training camp was long – eight weeks – but the season was the season. The last regular-season game was before Christmas. The only time the players came back to the team was for a weekend minicamp in April.
Rockwell actually would scout some for the franchise on the side. When Omohundro was hired, he was only the second full-time assistant trainer in the NFL.
At one point for practices, the Cardinals were on a field without goalposts. Omohundro – who stands perhaps 5-foot-6 -- and Rockwell stood the appropriate space apart for long-time kicker Jim Bakken, their arms in the air.
Omohundro smiles at the memory, acknowledging it might not have helped much but "you had to adapt in those days."
But it was the health of the players that drew the biggest reward for Omohundro, physically and otherwise.
As a 20-year-old rookie, Larry Fitzgerald acknowledges "I didn't know much of anything." It made having an athletic trainer like Omohundro a godsend.
"His guidance, expertise and experience was invaluable," the long-time Cardinals wide receiver said.
"Playing in the NFL, it's not 'if' you will get hurt, it's a foregone conclusion," Fitzgerald added. "Having a head athletic trainer you can trust as a player that you know has your best interest at hand allows you to make informed decisions about your health and well-being."
Tending to men who were injured, their livelihoods perhaps in jeopardy, took its toll at times. But seeing them recover, seeing what it meant to them (and their wives and families) was a payoff Omohundro could take beyond any wins and losses on the scoreboard.
IN his rookie season, Fitzgerald went into the training room at Sun Devil Stadium before a game. As a first-year player, he had to make sure he was early to get any pre-game prep – ankles or other body parts taped, among other things. The veterans got the choice later times.
But, Fitzgerald said, "I was impatient" on this particular day.
Omohundro was in the middle of a conversation with one of the team doctors when Fitzgerald interrupted him, looking for some Advil.
"He let me have it," Fitzgerald recalled. "I knew from that time on he wasn't to be played with, especially on game day. I toed the line from that point on, listened, and kept my mouth shut.
"We became fast friends and never had any issues from that point on."
Relationships with the players was always one of Omohundro's favorite parts of the job. He was close with long-time Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart, whom Omohundro believes should be in the Hall of Fame himself. He was so close to Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith that Smith is the godfather to one of John's sons, Jim.
He roomed for a season back in his assistant trainer days with defensive tackle Chuck Walker. He was friends with linebacker Tim Kearney and Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli, although Omohundro stops himself after awhile, knowing he can't possibly name everyone he'd like to after 42 years of NFL service.
Remembering particular games is similar, although a few stand out. There was a regular-season game in St. Louis against Washington, a hated rival at the time, in which the officials ruled in favor of Cardinals receiver Mel Gray on a controversial catch that gave the Cardinals a win, Washington coach George Allen anger, and Omohundro a certain amount of glee. There was the 1988 win over the 49ers at Sun Devil Stadium, a 24-23 win on a Roy Green TD in which the 49ers had led, 23-0.
Omohundro was in the X-ray room, near where 49ers coach Bill Walsh was venting his anger in his press conference.
"I can still remember hearing him ranting and raving to the press, 'This was not 49er football, this was one of the biggest defeats we've had,' " Omohundro said. " 'We're supposed to win these types of games, not lose them.' "
There was the win over the Chargers to put the 1998 Cardinals into the postseason – "It was such an emotional setting for the team, the town and the time," he said. And of course, there was the first game he brings up, the 2008 NFC Championship win over the Eagles, in his final season, to put the Cardinals in the Super Bowl.
Those aren't the only memories, though.
He talks about his longtime fellow Cardinals trainers, Jim "Machine" Shearer, Jeff Herndon and Freddie Carabajal. "I'm sharing any of this award stuff with them."
And Omohundro pauses when he thinks of his wife, Martha, whom he wishes could be part of the Canton trip. (She passed away in 2013.) Omohundro gave a good part of his life to the game, an equation that only works with a spouse who understands.
"She inherited a lot of time lost from hubby in raising the kids," Omohundro said. "She knows. She knows."
She knows what Omohundro meant for the game, and now that he's a Hall of Famer – pretty good for a guy who was just happy to have lasted through that first training camp.
"I wanted to be an athletic trainer," Omohundro said. "I just didn't know I was going to start near the top of the profession in the National Football League as my first full-time job."