It seemed Rodney Peete was destined for stardom when he entered the National Football League in 1989.
Peete, the 1988 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, shredded defenses with his arm as a member of the USC Trojans in the mid-to-late 1980s.
When Peete’s draft stock fell dramatically, it was a sign of things to come.
Although Peete was never a superstar-caliber quarterback, he enjoyed a productive 15-year pro football career with six teams from 1989 to 2004.
This is Rodney Peete’s gridiron story.
Rodney Peete was born to parents Willie and Edna in Mesa, AZ on March 16, 1966.
Football runs in Peete’s blood. His dad, Willie, was an Arizona Wildcats and Green Bay Packers assistant coach in the 1980s. He also coached the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears running backs during his career.
On the other hand, Rodney’s brother, Skip, is currently the running backs coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
In his 2010 book, Not My Boy! A Father, A Son, and One Family’s Journey with Autism, Rodney recalled how his father had to get up at 5:00 every morning to help with chores at home.
His grandfather worked as a farm worker, a construction laborer, and a repairman. He was already driving his truck down the road looking for things to fix before the sun rose.
Willie Peete’s hard work paid off. He eventually earned a college scholarship and a master’s degree in education.
When Rodney entered the world in 1966, his dad was a high school football coach while his mother was a teacher.
Willie Peete became an assistant football coach of the Arizona Wildcats three years later.
Willie tried to pass his early morning habit on to his sons, Rodney and Skip. Although Willie clocked in at work at 9:00 a.m., he always rose four hours earlier like he did when he was a child.
The task of waking up his boys before 7:00 a.m. proved daunting. When they got out of bed, they had to straighten their rooms.
Watching Dad Coach
Willie Peete told Rodney he could tag along at his football games when he was five years old. However, he had to earn that privilege. Rodney had to do his chores. He also had to behave in school and at the game.
If Rodney acted up during the game, his dad would only bring his brother Skip to the locker room.
— Tammy Ljungblad (@kctammy2009) January 6, 2016
Rodney had to wait until he was three years old before he could watch the game from the sidelines. His dad told him to stay at a certain spot so he could be out of harm’s way.
Rodney Peete finally saw his father up close as a football coach. He motivated and reprimanded his team as any dedicated coach would. It was one of the few times Rodney saw his dad, a mild-mannered man, raise his voice.
Rodney marveled at his dad’s dedication to him and his brother. Just like most football coaches, Willie put in long hours on the job.
Nevertheless, he still got a second wind and played football with his two sons in front of their house. Willie Peete also helped with their homework whenever he could.
Sometimes, when Willie was out of the house before his boys got out of bed, he made it a point to kiss them good night before they went to sleep.
“I don’t think I ever expressed to him how much that meant to me,” Rodney wrote in his 2010 book. “Despite all the demands on his time and energy, he was the opposite of a distant figure.”
Dad Keeps a Low Profile
When Rodney began playing organized youth team sports, his dad kept a low profile and kept his distance at his games. Willie Peete was so discreet, Rodney never knew he watched him play until he found out when he got home.
Willie was never the vocal parent of a student athlete. He only offered his sons advice when they asked for it. He did not coach them unless they needed assistance.
According to Rodney’s book, his dad never raised his voice or lost his cool with him or his brother. When Willie lowered his voice and called him “Rodney” instead of “Rod,” his son knew he had done something wrong.
Rodney learned a valuable lesson during one of his track meets at Magee Junior High School.
Rodney participated in the 4 x 400 relay. When he received the baton from one of his teammates, he fell behind by an estimated 80 meters.
When Rodney reached his first turn, his dad Willie yelled, “Go get ’em, Rod!”
That was all he needed to hear.
Rodney felt a surge of adrenaline course through his veins. With just 20 meters remaining, he caught up with the other participants before he eventually won the race.
“That day, my dad had made me believe that I could do anything,” Rodney wrote in his 2010 autobiography.
That was the example Rodney wanted to emulate for his future children. His father motivated him to become a dad himself one day.
High School Days
Rodney Peete attended Sahuaro High School in Tucson, AZ from 1981 to 1983. He later transferred to Shawnee Mission South High School for his senior year in 1984.
Peete was a three-sport star who excelled in football, baseball, and basketball during his high school days, per the Los Angeles Times‘s Maryann Hudson.
When Peete’s high school athletics career was nearing its conclusion, he was willing to give up basketball.
Peete made it clear to recruiters that he wanted to play football and baseball in the collegiate ranks.
He certainly made a case for himself. He was so good on the baseball diamond, the Toronto Blue Jays made him a 30th-round selection in the 1984 MLB Draft.
— Tammy Ljungblad (@kctammy2009) January 6, 2016
Peete told Hudson many schools made their sales pitch to him for the gridiron. Some recruiters told him they never had a prospect play both baseball and football.
When Peete felt a prospective college could not accommodate his request, he crossed it off of his shortlist.
Among the recruiters who were open to the idea of Peete playing both baseball and football were from the then-Pac 10 Conference. They included USC Trojans head football coach Ted Tollner and Arizona Wildcats head football coach Larry Smith.
Rodney Peete decided to commit to the USC Trojans during his senior year in 1984.
Peete would eventually flourish and became one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-10 in the mid-to-late 1980s.
College Days with the USC Trojans
Rodney Peete attended the University of Southern California from 1985 to 1988. He played football and baseball for the USC Trojans.
Peete backed up Sean Salisbury at quarterback during his true freshman season in 1985. Peete had 566 passing yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions that year.
The 6-6 Trojans lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 1985 Aloha Bowl, 24-3.
Trojans head football coach Ted Tollner made Rodney Peete his starting quarterback for the 1986 NCAA season.
Although Peete had 2,138 passing yards, his accuracy and decision-making needed some work. He threw for 10 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions as a sophomore in 1986.
The Trojans, who were a tad better with a 7-5 win-loss record, lost to the Auburn Tigers in the 1986 Citrus Bowl, 16-7.
Nonetheless, Rodney Peete earned Second-Team All-Pac-10 honors following his sophomore campaign at USC.
Peete’s accuracy and decision-making improved under new Trojans head football coach Larry Smith in 1987.
Peete had 2,709 passing yards, 21 touchdown passes, and 12 interceptions as a junior that year. He led USC to an 8-4 win-loss record in the regular season.
Despite Rodney Peete’s resurgence, USC lost to the Michigan State Spartans in the 1987 Rose Bowl, 20-17.
Peete was a shortstop and third baseman for the Trojans during his college days. He had a respectable .339 batting average through his senior season in 1988.
At that rate, Rodney Peete could have become a Major Leaguer.
“I don’t think people realize Rodney is a legitimate Major League prospect,” USC Trojans baseball coach Mike Gillespie told the Los Angeles Times in the spring of 1988. “People lose track of that fact because of football.”
Gillespie switched Peete from shortstop to third base because the coach felt it was best for the team. Plus, Peete had grown too big for the shortstop position.
Choosing between the baseball diamond and gridiron became a dilemma for Peete as his college days at USC wound down.
In either case, Peete told Hudson he would not become a two-sport star like Bo Jackson.
Peete felt he could not cope with the demands of playing the quarterback position at the NFL level and playing baseball at the same time. Playing quarterback in the NFL, he thought, was mentally taxing.
#NFL quarterback Rodney Peete doubled as a baseball player during his college years at @USC.. as a Junior third-baseman in 1988 he hit .338/.419/.642 with 12 home runs & 46 RBI (40 games).. @USC_Athletics pic.twitter.com/WAVtj771jx
— RLS Hamilton (@RyanLSack) January 7, 2022
Although the Oakland Athletics drafted Peete in the 14th round of the 1988 MLB Draft, Peete ultimately decided he wanted to play quarterback in the National Football League.
In 2016, Peete told Sports Illustrated (via ANDSCAPE) that he would have wondered what it would have been like to play quarterback in the NFL if he had chosen baseball. He did not feel that way from the opposite perspective.
A Bout with the Measles
One of the most memorable games of Rodney Peete’s college football career was against the Trojans’ crosstown rivals, the UCLA Bruins, on November 19, 1988.
It was a game that became known in college football history as “The Measles Game.”
Heading into the highly-anticipated contest, both teams were vying for Pac-10 supremacy. In the bigger scheme of things, both the Trojans and Bruins were trying to keep their national title hopes alive.
After the Trojans manhandled the Arizona State Sun Devils 50-0 the previous week, Peete felt woozy during the plane ride back to L.A., per the Los Angeles Times‘s J. Brady McCollough.
Peete tossed and turned in bed the following evening. Team physicians eventually took him to a Pasadena, CA hospital for further evaluation.
The Trojans were trying to keep Peete’s situation from making national headlines.
Unfortunately, team officials spotted a sports talk show host receiving dialysis treatment at the same hospital. They quickly transferred Peete to St. Mary Hospital in Long Beach. Hospital administrators admitted him under the false name “Willie Jackson.”
Peete told the Los Angeles Times the name was a combination of his dad’s first name and his mother’s maiden surname.
Doctors at St. Mary Hospital told Rodney Peete he had measles. Somehow, word had leaked out to the media.
When Peete watched the 11:00 nightly news two days before the big game, the opening story mentioned he was still confined and was still unsure of suiting up for the USC-UCLA game.
Had Peete played today, he told the Los Angeles Times, he would have posted on Twitter or Instagram that he was in the hospital on the way to full recovery.
Peete, who lost 12 pounds in less than a week, decided to play for the Trojans.
When their team bus pulled up at the Rose Bowl entrance, Peete was shocked to see many UCLA fans with polka dots on their faces and wearing face masks. They were obviously taunting him.
An ailing Rodney Peete responded with 189 passing yards and a touchdown pass in USC’s emphatic 31-22 victory over UCLA.
— Rodney Peete (@RodneyPeete9) November 18, 2021
His counterpart, future Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, had 317 passing yards and two touchdown passes.
Although Aikman outplayed Peete, the latter ruined his chances of playing in a Rose Bowl before he declared for the 1989 NFL Draft.
“I had my hopes set on the Rose Bowl,” Aikman said (via the Los Angeles Times). “That’s the reason I cam there… and I didn’t do it. That really hurts.”
Peete and the Trojans lost to No. 1 Notre Dame the following week. They lost to the Michigan Wolverines in the 1988 Rose Bowl, 22-14.
Peete finished his collegiate career with 8,225 passing yards, 54 passing touchdowns, and 42 interceptions.
After wrapping up his four-year tenure at USC, Rodney Peete cherished the relationships he forged at the school.
“When I think of USC and specifically my time there, more than anything, it was about relationships, most of which I still have today, whether it be business or friendship,” Peete told USC’s official athletics website in December 2021.
Despite the crushing losses to Notre Dame and Michigan, Rodney Peete proved he was a top-tier college quarterback. He won a slew of accolades at the end of the 1988 NCAA season.
Peete won the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award and the Pop Warner Trophy that year. He also earned All-Pac-10 and First-Team All-American honors following his senior season with the Trojans.
Peete also finished second to Oklahoma State Cowboys running back Barry Sanders in the 1988 Heisman Trophy voting.
Unfortunately, Rodney Peete never became a Hall of Famer like his eventual Detroit Lions teammate Barry Sanders.
Instead, Peete embarked on a nomadic 16-year career with six teams in the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The Detroit Lions made Rodney Peete the 141st overall selection of the 1989 NFL Draft.
Peete watched the draft festivities at a Century City Hotel room with his mom, Edna.
In the spring of 1989, Peete admitted to the Los Angeles Times‘s Mal Florence that not getting drafted through the first five rounds gnawed at his ego.
Peete had a hard time going to sleep that night. He wondered why he, a Heisman Trophy runner-up who led the USC Trojans to two straight Rose Bowl appearances, was not one of the first eight quarterbacks drafted in 1989.
At one point, Peete thought he would become the second quarterback drafted after the Dallas Cowboys took Troy Aikman.
Peete had foiled Aikman’s Rose Bowl bid in the NCAA football ranks just five months earlier.
The Lions finally put Peete’s anxiety to rest when they informed him they were taking him off the draft board in the sixth round.
Peete told the Los Angeles Times Lions head coach Wayne Fontes broke the news. Peete felt Fontes’s excitement about drafting him. Fontes also seemed shocked Peete was still around in the latter rounds of the draft.
Peete downplayed the notion teams passed on him because of a rumored separated shoulder. He had merely bruised it. Peete felt he’d exceeded expectations at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN in February 1989.
Injury Delays His Debut with the Lions
Peete was ready to become the Lions’ starting quarterback in the 1989 NFL season.
Regrettably, he injured his knee during a preseason matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. He had to sit out the first three games of the 1989 NFL campaign.
Peete eventually suited up in eight games and had 1,479 passing yards, five touchdowns, and nine interceptions in his rookie year with Detroit.
#TBT is there any doubt that I’m changing the play to make sure @BarrySanders gets the rock! @Lions and FYI, my pops was coaching for @packers at the time! #memories #NFLKickoff @rams @BuffaloBills pic.twitter.com/8Q90TIoogj
— Rodney Peete (@RodneyPeete9) September 8, 2022
The Lions went 7-9 in 1989 and missed the postseason for the sixth straight year.
Rodney Peete was one of the lowest-paid starting quarterbacks in the NFL in 1989. He earned just $90,000 as a rookie signal caller.
“It’s ridiculous for me as a starting quarterback to be making $100,000,” Peete told the Los Angeles Times in the fall of 1990. “It’s ridiculous and they knew it.”
The Lions eventually signed Peete to a contract extension through the 1991 NFL season. Although they did not divulge the terms of the new contract. Peete received a significant pay raise.
Peete and his then-girlfriend, the actress Holly Robinson, founded the HollyRod Foundation in 1993.
Its mission is to assist families who have a relative diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or autism, per its official website.
Peete had 8,164 passing yards, 38 touchdown passes, and 49 interceptions in his five-year tenure in the Motor City.
Detroit averaged eight wins per season from 1989 to 1993. The Lions made the postseason twice during that five-year time frame but never made it past the NFC Championship Game.
Cowboys and Eagles
In the spring of 1994, Peete tested the free-agent waters and signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys.
He would play behind the man whom he had denied a Rose Bowl appearance six years earlier: Troy Aikman.
Peete appeared in seven games in a Cowboys uniform and had 470 passing yards, four touchdown passes, and one interception.
Dallas, which had won back-to-back Super Bowl titles, had a gaudy 12-4 win-loss record in Barry Switzer’s first season as head coach in 1994.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys lost to Steve Young’s San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game, 38-28.
Rodney Peete signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in the spring of 1994. He eventually spent the next four seasons in the City of Brotherly Love.
— Rodney Peete (@RodneyPeete9) June 10, 2020
Rodney and Holly
In 1994, while the actress was filming an episode of her sitcom, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Rodney Peete got down on one knee and proposed marriage to Holly Robinson on set, in front of cameras and a live studio audience.
The couple married in his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995. They would eventually have four children by 2005: three sons and a daughter.
Peete and Holly welcomed their twins, Ryan Elizabeth and Rodney Jr., in the fall of 1997. Rodney had just begun his third season as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.
It was not an easy pregnancy for Holly. She had been bedridden for three months. Her obstetrician advised her to undergo a C-section.
Holly and Rodney agreed to schedule the delivery after the Eagles’ weekend game against the Arizona Cardinals. The couple also agreed on induced labor so Rodney would be present when the twins entered the world.
While Rodney was strutting his wares on the field, his wife unexpectedly went into labor. She watched the Eagles beat the Cardinals in overtime.
As soon as the game-winning field goal sailed between the uprights, Rodney left the field, went to the airport, and boarded a plane bound for Los Angeles, where his family lived.
“I felt sorry for the guy who ended up next to me on the flight to L.A.,” Peete wrote in his 2010 book. “I hadn’t had a chance to take a shower.”
Rodney only spent two days with his family in Los Angeles. He had to fly back to Philly and prepare for an upcoming game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Traded to Washington
Peete had 4,945 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions as an Eagles quarterback from 1995 to 1998.
Peete spent his entire four-year tenure in Philly during the Ray Rhodes era. The Eagles averaged seven wins per season with Rhodes at the helm.
Philly averaged ten wins per season in Rhodes’s first two years as head coach from 1995 to 1996. He could not lead the Eagles past the NFC Divisional Round during that time.
In the spring of 1999, the Eagles traded Rodney Peete to the Washington Redskins for a sixth-round selection in 2000. That draft pick turned out to be center John Romero.
Peete spent just one season in the nation’s capital backing up Brad Johnson at quarterback.
Washington won ten games in 1999 but lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional Round, 14-13.
After Peete played out his contract with the Redskins, he signed with the Oakland Raiders in the summer of 2000.
Peete and his family received some bad news during his first season with the Oakland Raiders in 2000. Physicians diagnosed his son, Rodney Jr. (nicknamed “R.J.”) with autism.
Going back to California was a welcome change for Peete. He could spend more time with his family.
Alas, Rodney admitted in his 2010 book that he was not of much help because he and his wife Holly could not reach a middle ground on their son’s precarious health situation.
Instead of spending quality time with his family, Peete smoked cigars and drank scotch at the Grand Havana in Beverly Hills, CA on most evenings.
“The cigars and scotch would be flowing,” Peete wrote. “I convinced myself that the Monte 2 and Macallan was daddy time. Think of that—daddy time spent far away from the kids.”
He was by himself on some occasions. He hung out with his friends in other instances. They never discussed R.J.’s autism. In his 2010 book, Rodney confessed that he was terrified.
Peete was third on the Raiders’ depth chart behind Rich Gannon and Bobby Hoying. Peete took the field just once for the Silver and Black but did not produce any stats.
Oakland had an impressive 12-4 win-loss season in Pete’s lone season with the Raiders. Regrettably, they lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, 16-3.
The Carolina Panthers signed Peete almost three months later. He eventually spent the final three seasons of his pro football career in Carolina.
Despite the inauspicious beginning of his son’s autism journey, Peete and his family watched R.J. make progress over the years.
— Rodney Peete (@RodneyPeete9) October 17, 2020
R.J. began collaborating with specialists in 2002. By the time he was 13 years old, he was already enrolled in a regular school and played the piano.
Peete had 2,652 passing yards, 15 touchdown passes, and 14 interceptions in his three seasons with the Panthers from 2002 to 2004.
He retired from pro football following the 2004 NFL season.
Rodney Peete had 16,338 passing yards, 76 touchdown passes, and 92 interceptions in his 15-year NFL career from 1989 to 2004.
Rodney Peete and his family currently reside in Beverly Hills, CA.
— Rodney Peete (@RodneyPeete9) June 19, 2022
Peete embarked on a successful entertainment career after he retired from the National Football League.
He hosted The Best Damn Sports Show Period with John Salley, Rob Dibble, and Chris Rose on FOX Sports Net from 2001 to 2009.
Peete and his family were also featured in the Oprah Winfrey Network reality TV series, For Peete’s Sake.
Peete currently co-hosts the Lunchtime with Roggin and Rodney sports talk show on AM 570 LA Sports.
Rodney Peete is also enshrined in the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame and the USC Athletics Hall of Fame. He is also a member of USC’s board of governors.