By LARRY VAUGHT
Derrick Ramsey’s journey to becoming the first African-American quarterback at Kentucky was not an easy one but it eventually led him to being a Super Bowl champion, college athletics director and even Kentucky government cabinet secretary.
Ramsey shares his story — and the values his parents instilled in him — in his new book: “They Call Me “Mr. Secretary” with Dr. John Huang.
Ramsey grew up in Hastings, Fla., and says he “owes everything to my parents” who taught him that coming from humble beginnings did not negate a path to future success.
“My mom got pregnant at age 15 but my parents were together for 56 years until my mom passed away,” Ramsey said. “My father always had great advice for me. I still remember him telling me that ‘you either get to the table or whatever scraps fall off is what you get.’”
Ramey learned that if he could “get to the table” he could be part of the decision-making process.
“I never forgot those words. All my life, I’ve been trying to get to the table,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey left his home in Florida to play his final two high school seasons in Camden, N.J., before coming to Kentucky to play for coach Fran Curci. He led Kentucky to its first bowl bid in 25 years in 1976 and then in 1977 the Cats were unbeaten in SEC play and won 10 games — something UK didn’t do again for 41 years.
At Kentucky he ran 446 times for 1,764 yards and 25 touchdowns and completed 130 of 273 passes for 1,653 yards and 14 scores. He went on to play tight end in 122 NFL games in 10 seasons with Oakland, New England and Detroit with 38 starts. He caught 188 passes for 2,364 yards and — 12.6 yards per catch — and 21 touchdowns.
So why did Ramsey decide to write this book and share his life story?
“It has been coming for a while. I had been thinking about what I was going to say and how I would say it,” Ramsey said. “There were a lot of people I wanted to thank but in particular my parents for raising me the way they did.
“What I was able to accomplish as an AD, deputy secretary and then secretary (of commerce), those things were not supposed to happen. But thankfully at our family table there was never a shortage not only of inspiration but also expectation. My mom got her GED after I graduated from UK.”
Ramsey has a lot of great memories from playing at Kentucky, including a phone call from the legendary Vito “Babe” Parilli that he almost missed. Parilli played for Paul “Bear” Bryant at UK was a consensus All-American in 1950 and 1951 and led UK to consecutive New Year’s Day bowls. He also played professionally for 18 years.
“In 1976 after we got our bowl bid and tied for the SEC championships, I got a call from Babe Parilli. I hung up the phone. He called back and I hung up again. I thought it was one of my buddies messing with me,” Ramsey said. “He called back and I said, ‘Santa Claus’ and hung up. He called again and asked me to please not hang up. I told him I really thought it was a teammate playing a joke on me because they knew how high esteem I hold you.
“He just wanted to congratulate me on getting UK to a bowl game for the first time in 25 years. I told him I just hoped it would not be another 25 years before UK went to another bowl game. But in three more years it will be 50 years since Kentucky has gone unbeaten in SEC play and I’m afraid our record is going to stand for a while.
“We had 10 guys drafted in the NFL and CFL (Canadian Football League) and that did not include (linebacker Jim) Kovach who came out the next year because of an injury. I was blessed to have coach (Perry) Moss come in (as offensive coordinator) or my career might have gone a different direction. I was set to transfer because I was not happy in the system we were using because I was God-awful running the veer offense. I needed coach Moss’ offense to spread my wings.”
Ramsey also takes great pride in being one of the few quarterbacks in college football at the time who called the majority of plays.
“They would send in plays from the sideline but I had veto power as well and often did say, ‘We are not running that because it won’t work as well as this play.’ The coaches trusted me to make those calls and so did my teammates.”
The book is available at https://www.amazon.com/They-Call-Me-Mr-Secretary/dp/B0CMPN9W8P. Ramsey also hopes to have future book signings across the state.