Hackett's motor never ran idle Former ASU backer saved best for last
By Steve Behr
Dino Hackett saved his best game for last at Appalachian State.
Hackett, an inside linebacker at ASU, made a school record 27 tackles in a win over East Tennessee State back in the final game of the 1985 season. The Greensboro native wanted to have a huge senior season and capped it with a masterpiece to remember.
So not only did he make all of those stops, he also blocked two punts,
|Dino Hackett will have his number retired by Appalachian Sate Saturday at halftime. Though he wore 56 with the Kansas City Chiefs, Hackett wore No. 38 with Appalachian.
intercepted a pass and recovered two fumbles.
Not a bad way to end a college career.
“I wanted to play so hard and in that last game, I knew that it would be the last game I would ever put on the black and gold,” Hackett said. “It was the last game, so it felt special, but it was also my senior year and I felt a huge sense of urgency. I knew I wanted to play the game I love the best that I could.”
The East Tennessee State game, which the Mountaineers won 20-3, capped a career that few can parallel at Appalachian State. This Saturday, Hackett will receive an honor that only two other Mountaineers — running back John Settle and linebacker Dexter Coakley — have received: having his number retired.
Hackett’s No. 38 will be retired during halftime of the Mountaineers’ game with Chattanooga at Kidd Brewer Stadium. Post-career honors are nothing new to Hackett, who was named to the Southern Conference's all-time team and to Appalachian State’s 75th Anniversary all-time team.
But the current Greensboro resident puts Saturday’s honor at least equal to the others and even a step higher.
“It’s one of the top honors I’ve ever had in the game of football,” he said. “It’s as big as any of them.
“Football has been a huge part of my life and I really learned all about it at Appalachian State,” he added. “To be thought of in that regard as one of the best to play at that school and for that program means so much to me.”
Next stop, ASU
Hackett’s career, both in college and professionally, has had its share of ups and downs. A 6-foot-3, 190-pound strong safety at Southwestern Guilford, Hackett played in the East-West All-Star game and the Shrine Bowl after his senior year.
He received an offer from North Carolina State, but then head coach Monte Kiffin, now the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was fired and it was withdrawn.
Other schools such as Western Carolina and Elon, where his brother Joey attended and played football and baseball at, also showed interest. Dino Hackett eventually chose Appalachian State because he could play football and baseball.
Mike Working signed Hackett in 1982, but was fired after the Mountaineers finished 4-7. Mack Brown spent one season as head coach, but he left after a 6-5 season and Sparky Woods took over for Hackett’s final two years.
“I decided to come here and Mike Working got fired,” Hackett said. “Then Mack Brown came and made a bunch of changes, one of which was no more baseball. It turned out to be one of the best things to happen to me. Things kind of stabilized with Sparky.”
Hackett’s college career took off under Woods, particularly during his senior season. Hackett became the first Appalachian State player to record over 100 solo tackles (106) since the stat was kept in 1980. His 200 tackles in 1985 is still a team record.
Not only did Hackett record 27 tackles against East Tennessee State, but he also had 24 in a loss to Furman, 23 in a win over The Citadel, 22 in a win over James Madison and 21 in a close loss to South Carolina. He also made 20 stops in a loss to Wake Forest.
The Furman game stood out mostly because the loss cost Appalachian State a Southern Conference championship. Even though the Mountaineers finished 8-3 overall, 6-1 in the SoCon, the loss cost them a shot at the Division I-AA playoffs.
The South Carolina game, a 20-13 loss, stood out because the Mountaineers had a chance to upset the I-A Gamecocks. But that last game saw Hackett in the locker room at the Memorial Center in Johnson City, Tenn. not wanting to take his uniform off.
“I remember my senior year playing every game as hard as I could play,” he said. “That particular game was the last one and I remember being in the locker room. Everybody else was on the bus, but I had my uniform on. I didn’t want to take it off.”
The next level
Hackett wanted to play professionally, but networks such as ESPN were still young and though the all-sports network was still growing, in 1985 it had not expanded to what it is today. That meant that players from smaller schools did not get the exposure they get today with the berth of other networks, such as Fox networks and other cable outlets.
Hackett felt he could play in the NFL, but got only marginal interest. He got a break when he was invited to the NFL combine, which was in New Orleans at the time.
“I ran a 4.4 40-yard dash and the next week every team in the NFL opened a can of film,” he said. “They saw my senior year and I felt like in my senior year, for 11 games, I played as hard as I could and it showed on the film.”
Originally slated to be picked in the fifth round, the Jets and the Buccaneers both called Hackett the night before the draft and showed interest. Kansas City had the seventh pick in the draft and called before making its selection.
“The Chiefs were always high on me,” Hackett said. “I was sneaking up there and they found me and didn’t want anyone else to know.”
Kansas City ended up taking Brian Jozwiak, an offensive guard from West Virginia. Hackett lasted until the ninth pick of the second round when the Chiefs took him with the 35th overall pick.
He was the second linebacker taken overall in the draft. He also was tailor-made for Kansas City’s 3-4 defense. While other linebackers such as Gary Spani, Walker Lee Ashley, Jack Del Rio and Percy Snow came and went at the other inside position, Hackett played with the Chiefs for seven years before an inner-ear injury that caused him to experience vertigo caused the Chiefs to release him three games into the 1992 season.
He finished his pro career in Seattle in 1993 before retiring from football for good.
“My first four or five years, I was still running well,” Hackett said. “I had some injuries, but I played with the injuries. I had a really bad neck problem that I had from college and I had bad ankles that went back to college. You name it, I had it.”
The Chiefs finished 10-6 and made the playoffs in Hackett’s rookie season for the first time since 1971 (Hackett made 140 tackles that season), but coach John Mackovic was fired at the end of the season anyway. Special teams coach Frank Gantz took over and the Chiefs struggled, winning no more than four games in his two-year tenure.
Hackett made the Pro Bowl in 1988 despite the Chiefs’ 4-11-1 record.
Marty Schottenheimer was hired in 1989 and Kansas City finished 8-7-1. The Chiefs went 11-5 in 1990, 10-6 in 1991 and 10-6 in 1992, all under Schottenheimer’s guidance.
Then in 1992, football changed for ever for Hackett. He injured his inner ear while taking on a fullback and a guard on a play in the Chiefs’ final preseason game and was put on injured reserve. Three games into the season, he was released.
The next year, he took a physical for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were being coached by former Chiefs defensive coordinator Bill Cower. Hackett failed the physical and word got out that he was, in his words, “damaged goods.”
Hackett eventually hooked up with the Seahawks, but played just three games before retiring. After 85 games with the Chiefs and three with the Seahawks, Hackett was out of football, a game he loved.
“You always think you can still play,” he said. “You think you can play on the levels you’ve always played, but your body doesn’t last, for some of us, as long as others.”
Life after the NFL
Hackett came back to North Carolina and went into real estate with his brother Joey, who had played in the USFL and with the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers in the NFL. Now Hackett develops apartment buildings and multi-family dwellings, mostly in the Greensboro area.
He said that he’s been able to apply the basics of football, including hard work and preparation, into the real estate business.
“Characteristics from the game of football apply in the real world,” he said.
He also keeps up with Appalachian State’s football program and usually gets to one or two games each season. He’s looking forward to returning to Boone Saturday.
“It’s an honor and really kind of a defining moment for me,” he said. “The game of football defined my life and helped me become who I am.”