By John L. Pitts
Here are a few NFL players, whose names you’d probably recognize, all born in 1957:
Art Monk, Kellen Winslow, Dan Hampton and Dwight Stephenson.
All four, long retired from the game, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tupelo’s Henry Roop, also born in 1957, is still playing football. And he’s a recent inductee in the AAA Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The former Ole Miss walk-on – under Steve Sloan, mind you, in the late 1970s – plays offensive lineman for the Jackson-based Mississippi Maddogs.
“When we put on the gear, we’re pretty much all the same,” Roop said. “I hear some stuff from opposing teams. Young guys, they like to talk a lot. I don’t do much trash-talking.”
It’s strictly a labor of love for Roop, a former drug company sales rep. “You don’t get paid much,” he said, an average of about $400 per game.
As with any football player, there’s a price to pay, too.
“I do feel some aches and pains the morning after a game,” Roop said. “Especially my shoulders.”
If Roop’s story sounds like it could be made into a feel-good movie, consider that he found the inspiration to try football again in the 2006 Mark Wahlberg movie “Invincible,” about 30-year-old Vince Papale’s successful long-shot effort to play for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970s.
“That totally inspired me,” he said.
He had dabbled with boxing – until he broke an arm – and rugby, but found his outlet in semi-pro football.
“There were open tryouts at Robbins Field at 9 a.m. one day,” Roop said. “Now, I’m the oldest player in semi-pro football.”
Roop, who was born in Memphis, has lived for the past 34 years in Tupelo after graduating in 1980 from Ole Miss with degrees in microbiology and secondary education. He’d played two seasons at Northwest Mississippi Community College before transferring to Oxford.
In 2012, he appealed to the NCAA for a chance to play college football, but the fact that he had already graduated years ago had closed his window of opportunity. “I had burned the candle at both ends as far as regaining eligibility,” he said.
Foiled in that attempt, he joined the Mississippi Stallions semi-pro team that played in Tupelo in 2012. “We won the Midsouth Division, I won a championship ring and played in the all-star game. We won 20-12.”
Last year, with the Maddogs, Roop got to play in the AAA’s version of the Super Bowl, where the Mississippi squad lost.
After the season, he got the surprising call that he’d been judged worth of being a Hall of Famer.
“It’s a great honor,” he said.
Roop was inducted into the Semi-Pro Hall of Fame on Jan. 10 in Palm Springs, Calif. As part of the induction weekend, he was the oldest player ever invited to play in the National Semi-Pro All-Star Game against the Southern California Coyotes.
“We won 38-35,” he said. “After the game, four of the guys signed with the NFL and eight more signed with Arena League teams.”
For his part, Roop came home and hit the gym.
“The younger guys I see in the gym, they ask why I keep playing,” he said. “It’s because I love it.”
The 2014 Mississippi Maddogs season is scheduled to begin in May and runs through early August.
How much longer does Roop, who turns 57 in August, plan to play?
“I’ll keep going until I’m not productive, until I’m not able to do the job. Right now, I’m ready to play.”