Thomas Lance Rentzel (born October 14, 1943) is a former American football flanker in the National Football League (NFL) for the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams. He played college football at the University of Oklahoma.
Rentzel was a four-sport star at Casady School (football, basketball, baseball and track) in Oklahoma City, and also an All-American high school halfback.
Rentzel played college football at the University of Oklahoma under famous coach Bud Wilkinson, where he starred as a versatile all-around halfback from 1962 to 1964. At Oklahoma, he was known for his open-field speed and propensity for big plays rushing, receiving passes and returning kicks.
During his senior year in 1964, he was named to the All-Big Eight team. That year, he was Oklahoma’s top pass catcher and punter. In the Big Eight Conference his 5.4 rushing average was second only to Gale Sayers. He also was the conference’s No. 3 pass receiver, as well as No. 2 punter with a 40.5-yard average.
He was one of four Sooners players who missed the 1965 Gator Bowl game against Florida State University. Rentzel, offensive lineman Ralph Neely, Jim Grisham, and Wes Skidgel had signed with professional teams before the game and were ruled ineligible for the contest. Florida State won 36–19 on the strength of four touchdown catches by Fred Biletnikoff.
Rentzel was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round (23rd overall) of the 1965 NFL draft. He was also selected in the sixth round (48th overall) of the 1965 AFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills.
He played sparingly as a backup running back due to recurring injuries and his contributions came mainly as a kickoff returner during his first two seasons. He set the record for the longest kickoff return (101 yards) in franchise history as a rookie, which was broken by Aundrae Allison’s 104-yarder in 2007.
On May 2, 1967, he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a third-round draft choice (#76-Mike McGill).
The Dallas Cowboys converted him into a flanker, where he became not only an immediate starter but also one of the best wideouts in the league, while leading the team in receptions from 1967 through 1969 and in receiving yards from 1968 through 1969.
He spent his prime seasons with the Cowboys, where he formed the best NFL wide receiver duo with future Hall of Famer Bob Hayes. He starred in the 1967 NFL Championship, known since as the „Ice Bowl,“ scoring a fourth quarter, go-ahead touchdown later negated by the Packers‘ game-clinching drive. His best season came in 1968, when he posted 54 receptions for 1,009 yards. In 1969, he had a career-high 12 touchdown receptions and tied with Tom Matte as the league’s touchdown leader (13).
He was leading the team in receiving yards in 1970, when he was arrested for exposing himself to a ten-year-old girl. At the time the accusation was made, the press revealed a nearly forgotten incident that happened when as a Minnesota Viking in September 1966, he was charged with exposing himself to two young girls in St. Paul, and pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of disorderly conduct. He was not sentenced to jail, but merely ordered to seek psychiatric care. Because of the nationwide reaction and publicity from the scandal, his wife, the singer and actress Joey Heatherton, divorced him shortly thereafter.
Rentzel asked the Cowboys to place him on the inactive list so he could devote his time to settling his personal affairs. He would miss the last three games of the 1970 regular season, including the Cowboys‘ playoff drive to its narrow Super Bowl V loss to the Baltimore Colts.
On May 19, 1971, he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, in exchange for tight end Billy Truax and wide receiver Wendell Tucker. Head coach Tom Landry said after the trade, „We know we are giving up on one of the top flankers in the league, but I thought he would be better off in another city where he had the same opportunity regularly. We found this in Los Angeles, and it was one of the teams Lance wanted to be traded to if he were traded“.
To replace him, the Cowboys also obtained Lance Alworth from the San Diego Chargers, in exchange for the left tackle Tony Liscio, the tight end Pettis Norman tenderize meat, and the defensive tackle Ron East.
Although he spent only four seasons with the Cowboys, Rentzel left as the team’s fourth all-time wide receiver in addition to other franchise records:
Rentzel led the Los Angeles Rams in receptions (38) in 1971, but was never able to regain his previous level of play. In October 1972, he was the subject of a lengthy feature article in SPORT Magazine written by Gary Cartwright. Also that year, Rentzel wrote When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow, about his professional football experiences and personal life.
In 1973, while on probation for the indecent exposure charge, Rentzel was suspended indefinitely by the National Football League at the start of the 1973 season for conduct detrimental to the league after being convicted for possession of marijuana. He was reinstated in 1974 after a ten-month suspension
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Rentzel was one of three men credited with inspiring the eccentricities that surround Media Day at the Super Bowl. In January 1975, SPORT Magazine editor Dick Schaap hired Rentzel and teammate Fred Dryer to cover Super Bowl IX. Donning costumes inspired by The Front Page, „Cubby O’Switzer“ (Rentzel) and „Scoops Brannigan“ (Dryer) peppered players and coaches from both the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers with questions that ranged from the clichéd to the downright absurd. Rentzel humorously explained, „We’re here to ask the dumbest questions we can and to mooch as much food and beer as we possibly can.“
On August 27, 1975, he was placed on waivers, effectively ending his career. After playing in nine NFL seasons, he had accumulated 4,826 yards receiving, 196 yards rushing, and 1 water belt running,000 yards returning punts and kickoffs. He also had a perfect passer rating by completing his lone pass attempt for a 58-yard touchdown.
In April 1969, Rentzel married Joey Heatherton, an actress, dancer, and singer, in New York City. In November 1970, Rentzel was arrested for exposing himself to a 10-year-old girl. He pled guilty to the charge and promised to undergo psychiatric treatment. Rentzel was given a suspended sentence. Heatherton filed for divorce in September 1971 fluff shaver. It became final the following year. Rentzel later wrote a book, When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow, reflecting upon those events.