NCSU Hall of Fame

Pack's Jim Ritcher had to adjust to offensive line

jgiglio@newsobserver.comOctober 2, 2012 

Jim Ritcher nearly cried the day N.C. State football coach Bo Rein told him he was moving to the offensive line.

Ritcher, a defensive end in high school, had every intention of spending his career chasing quarterbacks, not protecting them.

After a 16-year career in the NFL, which included four trips to the Super Bowl and two to the Pro Bowl, and a college career which ended with an ACC title, an Outland Trophy and an ACC rushing record, Ritcher is glad he didn’t have his way.

“I have to thank coach Rein for having the insight to move me to center,” Ritcher said. “It worked out well.”

“Well” is an understatement from the understated Ritcher, who would rather give the credit to his teammates at N.C. State and the Buffalo Bills than accept the praise associated with being in the inaugural N.C. State Hall of Fame class.

Ritcher, 54, still has the selfless mindset of an offensive lineman and doesn’t understand all the fuss.

“Why I got noticed, I don’t know,” Ritcher said. “If I looked good, it was because so many of my teammates made me look good. I was just the beneficiary of their hard work.”

The veer offense

When Ritcher committed to N.C. State in 1976, then-coach Lou Holtz recruited him to play defense. Holtz left for the NFL, to coach the New York Jets, before Ritcher got to campus.

Rein, who replaced Holtz, installed the “veer” offense, which required a center who could run. Ritcher, who was 6-3 and 240 pounds in college, fit the bill.

Rein called Ritcher into a meeting before the first practice. He explained Ritcher had a better chance of playing right away on offense than at defensive end.

“I think tears started coming down my face,” Ritcher said. “I wanted to say no to him, but he said try it for a week see how you like it.”

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With Ritcher at center for three of his seasons, N.C. State running back Ted Brown went on to rush for 4,602 yards – an ACC record which stands 34 years later.

In 1979, even with Brown in the NFL, N.C. State won the ACC, with a 5-1 record. The Wolfpack hasn’t won an ACC title since.

That same season, Ritcher won the Outland Trophy, given to the country’s top interior lineman. He was the first center to win the award. But Ritcher doesn’t remember that championship season for anything he did.

“The reason we won the ACC was the goal line stand by our defense down at Clemson,” Ritcher said, referring to the team’s 16-13 win over the Tigers.

Part of history

After his All-American career at N.C. State, the Bills made Ritcher their first-round pick in the 1980 draft, 16th overall, and promptly moved him to left guard. By his fourth season in the NFL, he was a fixture in the Bills’ lineup. He didn’t miss a start in 10 seasons, from 1983 to ’92.

Ritcher was a part of history with the Bills, who are the only team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl four straight years. They are also the only team to lose four straight times.

Given the way the Bills lost their first one, on a missed field goal by Scott Norwood on the last play to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV, some bitterness from Ritcher would be natural. If he is bitter, Ritcher doesn’t act like it.

“It was disappointing,” Ritcher said. “You wish you could have gotten at least one of those, but there are bigger things in life than winning the Super Bowl.”

Ritcher can still remember details from each of the four games. He remembers a breeze in his face before Norwood’s ill-fated attempt and who he was blocking against the Washington Redskins the following year.

And from two games against the Dallas Cowboys, he remembers the Bills offense turning the ball over nine times in Super Bowl XXVII and holding a 13-6 lead in Super Bowl XXVIII at the half.

“We were high-fiving each other like we were going to win,” Ritcher said. “Then Emmitt Smith just came out in the second half, and he wasn’t going to be stopped.”

The Bills lost 30-13, with Smith rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns. They haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since.

Ritcher left the Bills that offseason and spent two years with the Atlanta Falcons before retiring in 1995.

Ritcher started his second career, as a commercial pilot, four years after he retired from football. His wife, Harriett, whom he met at N.C. State, signed him up for flying lessons. He still flies for American Airlines, where he has worked for 14 years.

Ritcher and his wife have lived in Raleigh for most of their 31 years of marriage. Their two oldest sons, Jon and Harrison, played football at N.C. State. Their youngest son, Nick, is a sophomore lineman for the University of Richmond.

Ritcher was chosen by N.C. State to speak at Friday’s induction ceremony. There will be a video about each of the 10 inductees, but only Ritcher will give a speech.

“I’m honored, really,” Ritcher said, “but I’m nervous, too. Hopefully I can express what this means to me and the other inductees. We’ll see what kind of job I can do.”

If Ritcher handles the speech as well as he did the switch to offensive line, he’ll be just fine.

Next: Roman Gabriel

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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