Eric Andolsek could have been one of the best offensive linemen in Detroit Lions franchise history.
Andolsek, a fifth-round draft selection in 1988, rose from relative obscurity, became a starting offensive guard, and helped the Lions turn their fortunes around in the early 1990s.
With sensational running back Barry Sanders, head coach Wayne Fontes, and Andolsek on board, the Lions were ready to build on their successful, twelve-win 1991 NFL season.
Without warning, an unspeakable tragedy struck in the summer of 1992. A wayward flatbed truck struck and killed Andolsek in front of his Louisiana home. He was just 25 years old.
Despite this horrific disaster, Eric Andolsek’s memories will live on forever in the hearts of Detroit Lions fans.
Eric Thomas Andolsek was born to parents Lou and Jackie in Thibodaux, LA on August 22, 1966. He had two older siblings: Andy and Renee.
Eric is of Acadian descent. His mom Jackie is a direct descendant of that French ethnic group after they were exiled from Canada in the 1700s.
Lou Andolsek worked as a cabinetmaker while his wife Jackie worked as a high school teacher.
Although Lou was a big man who weighed 300 pounds, Eric’s friends were more terrified of Jackie, who didn’t hesitate to whip them when they acted out of line.
Eric Andolsek got in trouble as a youngster because he stood up for what was right. His grade school principal once suspended him for standing up to a bully, per The Los Angeles Times‘ Bill Plaschke.
Remembering a great football player out of Thibodaux who left us far too soon, we're proud to be able to honor Thibodaux's Eric Andolsek in the 2022 class. pic.twitter.com/XcqL4QlZaB
— Louisiana Sports HOF (@LaSportsHall) June 23, 2022
Police arrested Andolsek after he and his friend, Bully Gonzales, ran after a gang of juvenile delinquents several years later.
When Andolsek’s dad Lou went to jail to bail him out that night, the former couldn’t believe what he saw.
“I thought he was sick,” Lou Andolsek told The Los Angeles Times two decades later. “But it turns out he was just praying that I wouldn’t kick his butt.”
While Eric was growing up in a slow-paced community of 14,000 people who relished eating shrimps and crawfish, he earned the nickname, “Big E,” per The Los Angeles Times.
Eric Andolsek attended Thibodaux High School in his hometown. He suited up for Thibodaux Tigers head football coach Laury Dupont.
Andolsek made a great first impression on Dupont, who coached him from 1982 to 1983. Dupont thought Andolsek, who played on both sides of the ball as an offensive and defensive lineman, stood out from the rest of his teammates.
The Tigers’ head coach believed his prized big man was going to make waves in Division I football and the National Football League.
“You can tell that Eric’s talent was above everyone else on the team,” Dupont told The Advocate’s Brent St. Germain in June 2022. “We predicted that Eric would be a Division I football player and could make it to the pros ever since he came to Thibodaux High.”
Dupont also praised Andolsek’s demeanor on and off the field. He never knew anybody who disliked him.
Andolsek went on to earn All-State honors and become an Adidas Prep All-American following his senior season with the Tigers in 1983.
Eric Andolsek remained in-state and became one of the pillars of the LSU Tigers’ offensive line for the next four years.
College Days with the LSU Tigers
Eric Andolsek attended Louisiana State University from 1984 to 1987. He was a starter at offensive guard for LSU Tigers head coaches Bill Arnsparger and Mike Archer for three seasons.
LSU offensive tackle John Hazard told The Advocate in the summer of 2022 that Andolsek was fiercely competitive on the gridiron but acted like “a teddy bear” off it.
Andolsek employed a take-no-prisoners approach on the gridiron. His plan wasn’t just to dominate the opposing pass rusher. He wanted to annihilate him.
He was so intense that Hazard considered him the most fearsome LSU Tigers offensive lineman back in the day.
“Eric was by far the scariest offensive lineman that we had,” Hazard told St. Germain. “His plan was to maul the guy across from him. He had great technique, always made good calls, and would beat up people.”
Andolsek had always considered Thibodaux, LA home. He traveled 70 miles south to visit his family almost every weekend during his college days at LSU.
Andolsek, who played both offense and defense in high school, displayed his versatility as a true freshman in the 1983 Sugar Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Andolsek, who’s more of a natural offensive lineman, also played on defense because LSU didn’t have much depth on the defensive line.
Despite Andolsek’s heroic effort, LSU lost to Nebraska in lopsided fashion, 28-10.
— Jacques Doucet (@JacquesDoucet) June 23, 2022
Andolsek earned the respect and admiration of his LSU teammates in the ensuing years. He became Tigers team captain in the 1986 and 1987 NCAA seasons
With Andolsek beefing up the Tigers’ offensive line, LSU had a gaudy 36-9-3 record during his four-year stint in Baton Rouge, LA. The Tigers also won 19 of 25 games in SEC conference play during his four-year tenure.
The seventh-ranked LSU Tigers beat the ninth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in the 1987 Gator Bowl, 30-13. Eric Andolsek celebrated his final college bowl game with a hard-earned victory.
Andolsek earned several accolades during his days with the LSU Tigers. He was a Football News Freshman All-American, three-time All-Louisiana Team member, and two-time All-SEC selection.
Eric Andolsek promptly picked up where he left off when he joined the National Football League in 1988. He worked his way up the pro football ladder and became an integral part of the Detroit Lions’ resurgence in the early 1990s.
Pro Football Career
The Detroit Lions made Eric Andolsek the 111th overall selection of the 1988 NFL Draft.
Andolsek joined a terrible Lions team that had made the postseason just three times since the franchise won its fourth NFL championship in 1957.
When Andolsek, head coach Wayne Fontes, and legendary running back Barry Sanders joined the Lions at the turn of the 1980s decade, they changed the team’s fortunes slowly but surely.
Detroit averaged barely six wins per season in Andolsek’s first three years with the team from 1988 to 1990. Consequently, they extended their postseason drought to seven years.
The Lions turned the corner during their memorable 1991 NFL season. They won a franchise-record twelve games that year.
Andolsek was one of Detroit’s starting guards who helped open up running holes for Sanders, who had 1,541 rushing yards and a league-leading 16 touchdowns in 1991.
The Washington Redskins ended the Lions’ incredible season with a resounding 41-10 win in the 1991 NFC Championship Game.
Although Detroit established a franchise record for wins, nothing came easy for Andolsek and Co.
First, they lost starting linebacker Mike Cofer and quarterback Rodney Peete to injuries early in the season. Andolsek’s fellow offensive lineman, tackle Mike Utley, became paralyzed after he injured his spine in a freak on-field accident in a game against the Los Angeles Rams in November 1991.
Nobody would have thought the 1991 NFL season would be Eric Andolsek’s last.
65 Days til Detroit Lions football
Eric Andolsek pic.twitter.com/TXKWvRpeIj
— Brian J. Egick Jr. (Detroit Lion Brian) (@Begickjr) July 8, 2022
Andolsek always stuck to his deep Louisiana roots during the pinnacle of his pro football career with the Lions. He flew to his hometown of Thibodaux, LA every offseason to help his dad Lou construct a gray frame and brick house a mere stone’s throw away from his childhood residence, per Plaschke.
“He built his own house, he moved right next to his mom and dad, and he still had the same friends from high school, which says something about the guy right there,” Andolsek’s LSU Tigers teammate Shawn Burks told The Morning Advocate in the summer of 1992 (via Lafourche.com).
Andolsek loved the great Louisana outdoors during his downtime. His nephew, Chase Clement, told houmatoday.com’s Brent St. Germain in 2017 that his uncle loved hunting and fishing.
It is a family tradition Chase and his brothers Chris and Clint have been keeping alive for the past three decades. Whenever the Clement brothers go hunting, they place Eric’s photo on their deer stand. For his part, Chase purchased and restored Eric’s bass boat in 2017.
Andolsek was a soft-spoken man who enjoyed the great outdoors. Whenever he played football, he always spilled his guts out on the gridiron.
“He played with everything,” Andolsek’s roommate and closest friend in the pro ranks, Detroit linebacker Chris Spielman, told Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly in July 1992. “His heart, his soul – everything.”
Spielman, who played for the Ohio State Buckeyes, once shoved Andolsek during a coin-toss skirmish in the 1987 NCAA season.
That all changed when they played together for the Detroit Lions. They forged a tight friendship during their four years together on the team from 1988 to 1991.
Spielman told St. Germain in 2022 that he went with Andolsek to the latter’s hometown of Thibodaux, LA several times during their NFL careers. Spielman soaked in the Bayou culture and enjoyed feasting on crawfish boils whenever he visited Louisiana.
Eric Andolsek was on the verge of becoming one of the best offensive linemen in the National Football League when unspeakable tragedy struck in the summer of 1992.
Eric Andolsek’s Tragic and Untimely Death
Just when Eric Andolsek was making strides with the Detroit Lions, his life ended tragically on June 23, 1992.
According to Plaschke, Andolsek planned to go fishing on that fateful day. He felt he would go home late, so he called his wife Cheryl, a medical technician.
When Eric rang her up, he also promised her he would take out the weeds from their front yard. Apparently, one of his buddies thought doing that would appease Cheryl if he was out for too long.
Eric began weeding his front yard at 12:50 p.m. His sister, Renee, drove by and said hello as she dropped off one of their brother Andy’s kids.
Renee suddenly saw a wayward green and orange 18-wheeler approaching. Although she was aware they lived in an accident-prone area, she thought nothing of it.
Shortly after Renee Clement pulled into her driveway, unspeakable tragedy struck. She heard a loud banging noise, went out of her garage, and saw the semi screech to a halt in the yard.
She couldn’t see her brother Eric on the spot where he weeded the garden mere minutes earlier. When she scoured the vicinity, she saw him laying in her front yard.
An eyewitness told The Los Angeles Times he saw Eric thrown high into the air after impact. Prior to that, the truck ran into a narrow ditch and eluded two utility poles.
On June 23, 1992, Eric Andolsek was killed when a flatbed truck veered off La. 1 and struck the former Thibodaux High and LSU standout while he was cutting the grass at his home along La. 1 near the St. John Catholic Church. pic.twitter.com/D1fDMK8Z0O
— Coach Dyno (@coachdynoDFO) October 6, 2020
A distraught Renee Clement ran toward her brother and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, to no avail.
Eric Andolsek passed away two hours later. He was 25 years old.
While Renee was trying to revive her brother, the truck driver, James Bennett got out of his truck after five or six minutes.
Renee asked Bennett how he could have committed such a careless act. He told her he dozed off behind the wheel, per The Los Angeles Times.
After law enforcement arrested Bennett, he changed his story two times. In his first version, he said he stepped on the gas instead of the brakes. Because of the truck’s faulty air condition system, he worked up a sweat and wiped his face with paper towels. At that point, he had no idea his vehicle had veered off the road.
In Bennett’s second version, he told police that he stepped on the brakes but the bumps in the ditch made it impossible to pull the truck over. In both of Bennett’s stories, he claimed he never saw Andolsek weeding the front yard.
Eric Andolsek’s older brother Andy could have experienced the same tragic fate. Andy was about to spray herbicide in his younger brother’s yard when he realized he didn’t have any in his sprayer. Andy then realized Eric could do the rest of the work on his own, so he promptly went back indoors.
The immediate aftermath of Eric Andolsek’s death was extremely hard on his family members.
His father, Lou, told Plaschke on the eve of his son’s first death anniversary his pulse races like crazy when he’s roused from his sleep at 2:30 most early mornings.
Mr. Andolsek also hears the sound of every single semi or truck passing by their residence.
On the other hand, Eric’s sister, Renee Clement, grips her car’s steering wheel tightly whenever she pulls into her driveway. She told Plaschke she conjured images of her slain brother in her mind whenever she looked out her front window.
However, a more sinister memory haunted the family – the smile on flatbed diesel driver James Bennett’s face while authorities escorted him out of the courtroom in January 1993.
According to Plaschke, medical examiner John Ricca, Jr. found traces of cocaine in Bennett’s urine sample two hours after he plowed into Andolsek in the summer of 1992.
For some reason though, Ricca could not find any trace of the substance in Bennett’s blood. Chemical toxicologist Randall Baselt told Plaschke in 1993 that the presence of cocaine in Bennett’s urine was a giveaway he indeed took it.
Unfortunately, the absence of cocaine in Bennett’s blood made it impossible for medical examiners to determine the exact moment when he took it.
Witnesses claimed Bennett acted erratically before and after the tragic accident. They told investigators he didn’t hit the brakes until after he struck the Lions offensive lineman at approximately 50 m.p.h.
Authorities merely charged Bennett with failure to maintain control of his truck since it wasn’t possible to link the cocaine to the accident.
Today would have been former #Lions OG Eric Andolsek's 54th birthday. The former @LSUfootball standout was tragically lost in '92 in a freak accident. The 2x All-SEC lineman started 48 games with Detroit & was immortalized in #TecmoSuperBowl in '90. Rest in peace Eric. pic.twitter.com/mFP58PAWJd
— SBlueman (@SBluemanTecmo) August 22, 2021
Andolsek’s family felt Bennett got off easy. He entered a guilty plea and received a $175 fine plus 30 days in prison. Bennett served that 30-day jail sentence on nights and weekends. He managed to retain his driver’s license and job.
Eric’s mother Jackie was on the phone calling paramedics and her daughter-in-law shortly after Bennett inadvertently struck him. Jackie Andolsek thought she should have taken matters into her own hands at that moment.
“I should have put down the phone and picked up my shotgun,” an irate Jackie Andolsek told The Los Angeles Times in June 1993. “I should have walked outside and killed the son of a b—h who killed my boy…The man murdered my son and he never even lost his license. My God.”
Instead, Jackie and Renee, both schoolteachers, reached out to various officials and lawmakers and wrote many letters to make their voices heard.
Their hard work paid off when Louisiana state representative John Diez called Jackie Andolsek several months later.
Diez held up his phone for Andolsek to hear the passing of a bill strengthening Louisiana’s vehicular homicide law – if prosecutors can prove a suspect was under the influence of drugs, he can be charged with vehicular homicide.
When Renee Clement heard the news while she was on the job, she couldn’t help herself – she let out screams of joy at a junior high school in Thibodaux.
Eric Andolsek’s family placed a pair of size-14 shoes on the back porch of his childhood house when he died. It has remained unscathed since.
Andolsek competed in a fishing tournament and reeled in an 8.1-lb. bass at Bayou Black the week before he passed away. He earned a rod and tackle box for his efforts. per Lafourche.com.
Several years before Andolsek’s tragic death, he had ambitions of becoming a sugar cane farmer in his native Louisiana after he retired from professional football, per The Los Angeles Times.
The Thibodaux Tigers retired Eric Andolsek’s No. 55 jersey in 1992. The school also renamed its fieldhouse in his honor.
The Thibodaux Soccer Association named its annual tournament after the late Detroit Lions offensive lineman.
The LSU Tigers named Andolsek to their LSU Modern Day Team of the Century the following year.
In the aftermath of Eric’s death, his family launched the Eric Andolsek Memorial Foundation. The organization provides scholarships to deserving high school students, supports various charitable endeavors, and sponsors an annual fishing competition.
Andolsek’s college and NFL teams named some of their awards to commemorate his legacy. The LSU Tigers hand out The Eric Andolsek Award to their most outstanding senior in spring practice.
On the other hand, the Detroit Lions hand out their version of The Eric Andolsek Award to their best offensive lineman.
The Louisana Sports Hall of Fame posthumously inducted Eric Andolsek on June 25, 2022. He is also a member of the Bayou Region Athletic Hall of Fame.