A Tale of Two Lances
In November of 1970, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Lance Rentzel had it all.
Back in college, at the University of Oklahoma, Rentzel had been a star running back. Under coach Bud Wilkinson, Rentzel never lost a single game in three years of competing for the Sooners teams, and in 1965, his senior year, Rentzel's yards-per-carry average was second only to Gale Sayers in the Big 8 conference.
Rentzel's pro career got off to a bad start, but after two injury-plagued seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, he was traded to the Cowboys, who moved him from halfback to flanker. The position switch was a smashing success; alongside "Bullet" Bob Hayes, Rentzel was half of the top wide receiver tandem in the game. In 1969 he tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns scored with 13.
Off the field, the ruggedly handsome Rentzel was scoring with similar ease, both in Dallas singles bars and on the road. New York had Broadway Joe Namath. Dallas had both Dandy Don Meredith and Lance Rentzel. And then the 27-year-old Rentzel finally settled down with leggy, platinum-blond, sultry-voiced Joey Heatherton, a nationally renowned TV and movie star and sex symbol.
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And Rentzel was leading the Cowboys in receiving yards again on the fateful day in November of 1970, when, for reasons he has struggled to understand for all the rest of his days, he exposed himself to a ten-year-old girl who was playing in her front yard in the high-end University Park suburb.
The victim's family would not settle the case for any amount of money. Nor would they let Rentzel get off with a trip to a psychiatrist. They pressed charges and the story made it in the papers.
Once the story broke in Dallas, it came to light that Rentzel had been involved in a similar incident in Minnesota in 1966, although that case was eventually busted down from indecent exposure to disorderly conduct.
Rentzel's ex-wife Joey Heatherton: Divorce came not long after scandal.
The scandal absolutely rocked the NFL and the sports-loving public. (In today's terms, it would be like Tom Brady slipping away from Gisele Bündchen and flashing some kids.) Syndicated sports columnist Jim Murray struggled mightily to understand how a golden boy like Rentzel, who had also been an academic champ at OU, could also be "that most despised of human flotsam -- a compulsive exhibitionist."
The Cowboys traded Rentzel to the Los Angeles Rams. Heatherton divorced him -- some believe she never mended from the psychic damage the revelation caused her self-esteem. And rival fans jeered mightily, calling Rentzel "No Pants Lance" and cracking jokes like "Don't worry if we're still down in the fourth quarter. Ol' Lance will pull it out."
Rentzel's career spiraled ever downward and he was out of football by 1975. (Rentzel wrote an autobiography called When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow and put himself through years of psychiatric treatment, and it appears that he has not re-offended.)
Even in the darkest of his days, Rentzel did have one young suburban Dallas girl still in his corner. Less than a year after the scandal broke, that girl, 17-year-old Linda Mooneyham, was in trouble -- pregnant and a high school junior. Against the wishes of her mother and the child's father, Eddie Gunderson, she decided to keep the child.
Gunderson eventually went along with her plan and the two were wed, and on September 18, 1971, their son was born. In spite of Rentzel's fall from grace, the Gundersons named their boy Lance, in honor of the fallen Cowboy hero.
Sadly, but not surprisingly given their age, the Gundersons divorced around the time Lance was two years old. Eventually, Eddie Gunderson signed away his parental rights to Lance and pretty much forgot all about his son.
On May 18, 1974, Linda married a man named Terry Armstrong. Not long after that, Terry adopted young Lance, who changed his last name to match that of his new daddy.
And one day Lance Armstrong's athletic feats, and subsequent fall from grace, would dwarf even those of his namesake Lance Rentzel.
And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, you know...the rest of the story.
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