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Where are they now: Doug Plank

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

By Rich Emert, Tri-State Sports & News Service

A weekly check on the personalities who shaped the history of sports in Western Pennsylvania.

When Doug Plank was a senior at Norwin High School he wanted to play football at Penn State in the worst way. That's all he talked about and, finally, a Nittany Lions' scout showed up at the high school.

Doug Plank

"He said, 'I don't think you are big enough to play for us.' That hurt, but I respected his opinion," Plank said. "It just so happened that Earle Bruce, who was an assistant at Ohio State at the time, stopped in Norwin on a swing through the area. He asked me, 'Have you ever considered Ohio State?' I told him, 'I've always wanted to play for Ohio State,' and that was it."

Plank went on to earn three varsity letters as a defensive back at Ohio State under Woody Hayes. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 12th round of the 1975 draft -- the same one as Walter Payton -- and played with Chicago through the 1983 season.

During his playing days, he was known for his ferocious hits. The famed Bears "46 defense" was named after Plank's uniform number.

Plank, 48 and a 1971 graduate of Norwin, lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife, Nancy. He is a licensed residential contractor and a football analyst for Fox Sports Net. He has a weekly TV show where he looks in-depth at the Arizona State and University of Arizona football teams. He also is an analyst for the Arizona Cardinals preseason games and the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League.

He moved to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area in 1990. Before that he had the franchise for Burger King in the Columbus, Ohio, area. He remained with Burger King when he moved to Arizona but is no longer active with the fast-food chain.

As for his contracting business, Plank says his company builds one or two houses a year. Mostly he is into remodeling and works for Gardner and Associates real estate agency.

"I wake up every day and look out my window at the mountains and thank my lucky stars," he said. "I could not have ended up in a better situation. The media work allows me to stay close to the game and my other interests are a great diversion."

At 6 feet and 190 pounds, Plank was hardly the biggest player in the NFL. But he was one of the most feared. On every one of his tackles he tried to separate the football from the opponent. He threw his body around as if he had two spares in the closet.

Former Bears' coach Buddy Ryan named the "46 defense" after Plank's number because Plank was usually up on the line of scrimmage or a step or two off. Opponents didn't know if he was blitzing or dropping back in coverage.

"Before games I would think nasty thoughts about the players I'd be going against," Plank said. "I was not a happy person before games."

The Bears' defense was one of the best in the NFL this season, and Plank's name, along with that of teammate Gary Fencik, has been mentioned a great deal. The Bears lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC divisional playoff game Saturday at Soldier Field.

"I have a hit reel from when I played and I took it to one of the local high schools," Plank said. "After I showed it I took some questions and one of the kids wanted to know how much I paid in fines.

"I had to play that way because of my size. Maybe it goes back to the Penn State coach saying I wasn't big enough. That kind of stayed with me, and it's flattering that my name is still mentioned when guys make big hits."

Always a fan favorite in Chicago for his blue-collar approach to the game, Plank was more than quotable. One of his is, "Most football players are temperamental. That's 90 percent temper and 10 percent mental."

What's interesting is Plank was a better pro than he was a college player. He started just five games -- two as a sophomore and three as a senior -- at Ohio State.

"I always thought of myself as a tough, gritty player," Plank said. "I guess that's what the Bears liked about me."

After the Bears, Plank played one season with the Chicago Blitz of the USFL. But he was injured most of the season and devoted more time to his Burger King establishments than to football. After the 1984 season, he just wanted to get away from football.

"It takes a tremendous amount of mental discipline to play pro football," he said. "That's why when I was done playing I just wanted to get away. I wanted to do something else."

One thing Plank has never removed himself from is his Western Pennsylvania roots. He said he used to talk with former Bears coach Mike Ditka about growing up in the Pittsburgh area.

"We'd talk about Aliquippa and high school football and how important it was in our lives," Plank said. "When Mike and I talked, it was all good stuff."

If you have suggesting for Where Are They Now?, can e-mail Rich Emert at emert196@attbi.com.

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