He stands in the huddle at 6’3″ and weighing 250lbs, but he is agile, fast and quick for a person of his stature. The crowd is going crazy in the Rose Bowl and he, along with the rest of the offense can barely hear the quarterback signal out the play. After receiving the play call, he claps his hands together along with the six offensive skill players and the other four offensive linemen as they head to the nearest field marker.
He has his hands in the ground anticipating the snap of the ball. As the center snaps the ball, he breaks out of his stance immediately and attacks his assigned defender until the whistle blows and the referee has signaled touchdown.
For Randy Cross, football became an integral part of his life in his time as a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruin.
“It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I started being told by NFL scouts that I would be a first or second round pick,” says Cross.
Versatility was key for Cross maintaining a competitive advantage against his opponents back in college.
“I played two positions at UCLA, offensive guard and center. I played guard my junior year, played center my sophomore year and played both positions my senior year in college,” says Cross.
Excelling at more than one position was key for Cross getting the most out of his days as a Bruin.
“We had a rotating offensive line of nine guys my senior year, which paid dividends to my versatility. But I feel that I would have made every consensus All-American team if I played just guard,” continues Cross.
Cross exuded great confidence and a tenacious attitude when he stepped in between the lines as a Bruin. “I made 1st Team All-American as a guard, despite playing half the season at center,” says Cross.
Making the first team All-American team was not even the biggest accomplishment for Cross.
“Beating Ohio State in the Rose Bowl for the National Championship was my proudest moment in college because the Buckeyes were the number one team in the country and we really gave it to them that day beating them 23 to 10.”
“To me college football was everything. In my first game as a Bruin, we beat the number one team in the country, Nebraska. And my last game, we beat then number one Ohio State,” continues Cross.
For Cross, his tenure at UCLA helped strengthen his commitment to pursue a career in the NFL.
“Draft wise, having the luxury up being exceptional at more than one position was a plus in the scouts eyes’ and that versatility really improved my draft stock,” says Cross.
“The draft process back in my day was a thousand times less intrusive. Scouts went by the tape they saw on you and what they heard. There was no Google to perform background checks on players that teams thought about drafting,” continues Cross.
Cross anticipated a number of teams having interest in him at the NFL Draft.
“I initially got a call from the Cleveland Browns and they asked what I thought about the prospects of playing for them. I quickly responded with apparently the wrong answer when I responded saying you mean like playing in Cleveland, Ohio?” says Cross.
And for Cross, the draft process was a little less intense for him.
“There was no going to New York City to wait and hear your name called by a team. It was only me sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. The call came a little later than expected but the 49ers took me with the twelfth pick in the second round since they lost their initial pick in a trade,” says Cross.
“My draft selection was not bad in my opinion. I was an undersized lineman that never lifted a single weight,” continues Cross.
Cross was not handed the position at guard at the start of training camp, but it was an injury to the guy in front of him that helped form the opportunity of a lifetime for him.
“He blew his knee out the second week of practice, and from there I was given the opportunity to start by default and I never looked back,” says Cross.
Cross had a pretty successful career with the 49ers after he stopped relying solely on his natural gifts and started putting the work in.
“My best attribute as player was having a really strong work ethic and my strength paid dividends for me once I actually started lifting weights,” says Cross.
Cross had some bright moments at UCLA, but his brightest moments came on three different occasions in the NFL.
“I was fortunate enough to be on a great team, with great players, and coaches that helped me get three rings in Super Bowl 16, 19 and 23. I was really proud of the way we ran the ball and executed the west-coast offense,” says Cross.
In winning those Super Bowls, Cross linked a lot of his success with the 49ers to having great players.
“Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were screaming advantages and the opposing team just knew they couldn’t stop them. Jerry caught everything in his direction and won many games for us late with great grabs. And Montana was always poised, a great leader, and very reliable as a passer,” continues Cross.
Retirement was inching closer by the day for Cross. “I knew it was time to start looking at other things once I reached the age of 34. I was thinking to myself, I’m not performing the way I’m accustomed to and it’s not up to my standard. And plus my knee had been through enough after just having offseason surgery the season before,” says Cross.
“Super Bowl 23 was my last game in the NFL, and it ended beautifully with John Taylor catching an unbelievable pass from Joe Montana. After that, I was able to ride off into the sunset, and go be with my three kids and wonderful wife.”