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Racine Raiders Football Club | Racine, Wis. |

FLASHBACK: 1977 – Football, simply for the love of it

(This article was written by Mark Eickhorst and originally appeared in the Sunday, June 5, 1977, edition of the Racine Journal Times.)

Dave HiltA football. An elusive dream. A so-so arm. A battered body. Put this all together with a dozen different uniforms and It equals a lifetime of frustration.

Dave Hilt…this Is your life.

Hilt, a former quarterback with the Racine Raiders, is still playing semi-pro football at the age of 35.

By his own admission, he can’t be called great. Since 1963, he has bounced around semi-pro football teams in Wisconsin, Illinois and Florida.

He’s spent a lot of time on the bench In those 14 years, but he continues to play the game. He plays it for the love of the sport, which, of course, makes him a winner.

“I remember in high school I didn’t even like football,” Hilt said. “I was a baseball man. I only went out for football because it was the thing to do. When I signed up for the team, I couldn’t even spell quarterback.”

But it was In high school Hilt learned how to spell and how to play quarterback.

The beginning of a career…

His college days were far from successful. He attended both Southwest Missouri State and the University of Missouri, where he had a brief stint under Dan Devine.

“I had two things going against me at that time,” Hilt said. “My wife and Dan Devine, and not necessarily in that order. My 5-foot-10 body had something to do with it, too.”

Problem No. 1 — his wife.

“My wife didn’t want me to play football, but that’s a necessity of marriage — contact sport,” said Hilt, who eventually got a divorce. “I guess it was six to a half dozen to the other. She probably got tired of both football and me. She asked me to make a decision and, I have to regret, I chose football. That was immature on my part.”

Problem No. 2 — Dan Devine.

“Dan Devine Is a strange person. I think that can be noted by the way he got a long with people in Green Bay,” Hilt said. “He tried to insure himself too much as a super disciplinarian. I believe in training rules and all that, but he was ridiculous.”

“It was do what you want to do as long as it was before November and after July. The rest of the time it was rah-rah-rah. I only was there for a half of year — that’s what I thought of the (bleeper).”

And then there was his size.

“The worst thing a defensive lineman could do to me wasn’t a blind-side tackle. It was stand up,” Hilt sold with a laugh. “I just learned to drop back further and throw quicker.”

Hilt’s college career amounted to two years of credits and a few more bumps and bruises.

“When I think of college, I think of something Will Rogers said,” Hilt said. “My parents wanted me to go through college, so I went In the front door and out the back.”

His college career was over. So was his marriage. Hilt wanting to stay active in the game, so he coached junior high football and began playing semi-pro ball. He’d play flag football on Saturday.

He was In love.

Hilt read newspapers and sports magazines to find out where the pros were holding tryout camps. He wanted a chance and got one, a 24-hour tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“It was kind of a joke,” Hilt said of the tryout. “When I look back now, I was stupid. I could have gotten killed. I was so out of shape, the only thing I could throw was up.”

That was 1964. From that point, Hilt began his collection of semi-pro football uniforms.

Football - I wish it was only a game cartoonIt all started In the Central Sates Football League. He blazed his trail with the Elmhurst Travelers, Rockford Rams and Chicago Panthers. He even dressed with the Miami Dolphins for two
exhibition games. After that, he played with the St. Petersberg Blazers# l n the North American Football League.

“Huntsville, Alabama, were the champs of the league,” Hilt said. “The thing I remember about them is they were so big. I think they went in the swamps and dressed alligators.”

More teams…

Hilt found his way back to the Central States Football League and the Lake County Rifles. Shoulder problems prompted him to assist the coaching staff.

“I still would like to be a semi-pro coach,” Hilt said. “I figure if I can coach kids on their way up, I can coach guys on their way down.”

In 1973, the Rifles won the league title and Hilt received a championship ring. He still wears it — he considers it his Super Bowl ring.

Lake County folded…

Hilt went to the Delavan Red Devils — as the backup quarterback.

“They (the Red Devils) had some guy making the super sum of $125 and the coaches had to use him,” Hilt said. “But if his receivers weren’t 15 yards ahead of him, he couldn’t find them.”

“I came back in 1975 figuring I was the incumbent quarterback, or at least I wanted the opportunity to feel that way. But when I walked on the field, there were five quarterbacks. I knew my days with Delavan were numbered.”

Enter the Racine Raiders…his biggest thrill.

Hilt had tried out with the Raiders previously, but says he didn’t feel comfortable. Then came a Raider-Red Devil game.

Frustration.

“I wanted to play football. I just wanted to feel useful,” Hilt said. “I went over to the other side of the field to congratulate the players. I asked Bob Milkie (the Raiders’ All-League center) If Racine needed a back-up quarterback.

“The next week I was at Pershing Park with the Raiders.”

“I always wanted to play in Racine. Everyone was so enthusiastic. Win, lose or draw, the fans would be ready to throw beer cans by the fourth quarter. The Raiders had a starting quarterback by the name of Brian Lindstrom. It was an honor just to be on the same field with him. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Hilt’s Raider uniform was only a week old. The Raiders were playing Manitowoc.

“Larry Benjamin walked over to me in the dressing room, put his hand on shoulder and said, ‘Dave, Brian is going to be late tonight — you’re starting. I said; ‘Oh-oh. How late is he going to be?’ I just kept praying he would show up. Six plays into the game, he did.”

Racine is a town full of memories for Hilt. Some good, some bad.

“I remember when Lindstrom got hurt and I took over at quarterback,” Hilt said. “I remember the press came out and talked to me about our next game and how I felt about taking over. I said I thought the team with the best quarterback would win. I never go beat up so bad in a game in my life. We got killed. I needed ketchup to eat my words.”

Memories…

“I have to credit the Racine fans except for the press,” Hilt said. “Someone wrote a column on the Raiders and compared me to Joe Kapp of the Vikings. He said my passes looked like ruptured ducks. But I didn’t see him running up and down the field getting the crap beat out of him. In fact, I never saw him.”

“The gentleman wrote about me, but didn’t even know me. At the Raider banquet that year, Milkie asked him if he knew who I was. He said, ‘No, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.’ But I don’t begrudge him. It got so people were coming out to the games just to see if I was as bad as he said I was.”

“Someone always has to be the scapegoat, and I have big shoulders. Even the greatest get booed…from Unitas to Namath.”

Another memory — a good one.

“The high point of my whole career came in 1975 with the Raiders,” Hilt said. “We played the Niles Saints in the longest game of my life. It started at 7:30 and almost went to midnight. I played the whole game. I threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Rick Johnson and we won the game 9-3 in sudden death.”

“If there ever was a time In my life I was too pooped to pucker, it was then.”

Hilt now lives in Illinois and works for the Sierra Screw & Nut Company.

This year, Hilt will be playing with the Chicago Fire of the Chicagoland league. He still returns to Racine two or three times a week.

“I was really sad to see the Raiders fold,” he said. “When the Raiders folded, so did the league. It was caused by a couple of greedy ballplayers looking for money. Anybody that thinks they’re going to make money playing semi-pro ball is crazy. They not only ruined a team and a league, they ruined a history.”

“At the same time, I really believe semi-pro football is on its way back. But I know by the time It reaches a peak again, I’ll be long gone from the game.”

Actually, it’s not the town that brings Hilt back each week, it’s his girlfriend, Kris Simpson.

“She’s the only girl I’ve ever gone out with that when I start talking about retiring, she asks ‘Why,'” Hilt said.

Retirement…when will it come?

“I love this game,” Hilt said. “I guess every time I walk on a field or pick up a football, mentally I’m playing for some super team like the (Pittsburgh) Steelers. I want to go out a success. I want to have a successful year before I hang It up. I hope I can.”

“I think Dick Butkus once said that when you hurt as bad on Saturday as you did on the previous Monday, it’s time to retire.”

“Right now, I’m at Wednesday noon.”