As an attorney, Derrel Luce isn’t cowed by doing battle with high-powered lawyers in crowded courtrooms. Not after playing six years in the NFL.
“Going up against General Motors or GE in a trial, it’s real easy not to be intimidated,” said Luce, 65, a former Colts linebacker. “People start yelling and I laugh, like, you think this is nerve-wracking? It’s nothing compared to what you hear from coaches.”
A personal injury attorney in Waco, Texas, Luce has practiced law for 37 years. He began his studies while playing for Baltimore, which selected the 6-foot-3, 220-pound All-American from Baylor on the seventh round of the 1975 NFL draft. It wasn’t easy, earning a law degree in the five-year mandate, when the offseason was the only academic option.
“I’d start classes at Baylor in February and then leave in the middle of the next semester, when training camp began in July,” Luce said. “After football, I’d jump back into the middle of those same classes, but with a different group of students.”
Once, he took a final exam a month early because of football. Another time, fortuitously, he was allowed to take a test in Baltimore with his professor’s daughter — a resident physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital — as his proctor. Somehow, Luce cobbled together his requirements, passed the bar and earned his license in 1980, while still a player.
Why the rush?
“With what they were paying us to play back then, it was apparent I wouldn’t make enough to retire on,” he said.
Luce is one of at least four former Baltimore Colts-turned-lawyers, joining linebacker Stan White, All-Pro tackle George Kunz and Ray Brown, a safety and punter who played on the championship teams of 1958 and 1959.
So much for his savvy in court. How good was Luce on the field? In his four years here, the Colts went 31-11 and won three AFC East Division titles. Luce started every game in 1976, replacing injured linebacker Tom MacLeod. He caught on quick.
“The big thing is that [Luce] is coachable,” defensive coordinator Maxie Baughan said. “Tell him once and he has it.”
In a 20-0 win over the New York Jets, Luce made a leaping interception of a pass from Joe Namath that set up the Colts’ first touchdown. Against the Buffalo Bills, he scored in a 58-20 rout that clinched the division crown. On that play, John Dutton forced a Bills fumble that was picked up by fellow defensive end Fred Cook who, in turn, lateraled the ball to Luce.
“Fred tried to run while dragging the quarterback, who hung on like a dog trying to bite his ankle,” Luce said. “So I just opened up my hands and [Cook] was sharp enough to pitch the ball to me.”
Luce ran 21 yards for the touchdown. Two years later, he scored again, but on a snow-covered field, racing 44 yards with a fumble by quarterback Terry Bradshaw after Luce and White sandwiched the Pittsburgh quarterback on a blitz.
“I picked up the ball, but there was so much snow that I couldn’t see where the sideline was,” said Luce, who finally spotted a pylon and took off.
“I had my law degree and a 1-month-old son,” he said. “It was time to start phase two.”
Married 41 years, Luce shares his practice with a son, Brandon. A pilot for 20 years, he flies to meet clients (“Texas is a big state”) and to reach favorite fishing holes, accompanied often by his yellow lab, Max.
Do dogs and single-engine Piper Comanches mix?
“The plane has a permanent partition, like in police cars, so Max can’t come up and ‘help’ me to land,” he said.