UK Football

Mark Story: Ex-UK football great Art Still helping bring sports to Samoa

Former UK great Art Still made the "Y" in the spelling of Kentucky as UK defeated Vanderbilt 70-60 in January 2009.
Former UK great Art Still made the "Y" in the spelling of Kentucky as UK defeated Vanderbilt 70-60 in January 2009. Lexington Herald-Leader

How many 56-year-old men could wear a sarong — and pull off the look?

If plans work out, former University of Kentucky football great Art Still will spend much of the upcoming school year in Samoa doing just that.

This fall, if the details come together, Still, a married father of 11 and grandfather of 11, will spend six to seven months in the Independent State of Samoa. He will be there as part of an effort to install sports programs — with emphasis on the American staples of football, basketball and baseball — in the island nation.

"There are still a lot of details to be worked out," Still said last week in a phone interview. "But if things go as planned, there will be nine or 10 of us, the vast majority of the guys of Samoan descent, going over there. We'll be teaching them sports, the ultimate goal being to develop football, basketball and baseball."

For my money, Still is the most dominant football player to play for Kentucky in the Commonwealth Stadium era.

In 1977, the 6-foot-7 defensive end was the cornerstone of a stifling Kentucky defense that held foes to 10.1 points a game. That year, Fran Curci's Cats compiled a 10-1 record that included a perfect 6-0 SEC mark. Still was a consensus first-team All-American.

The Kansas City Chiefs selected the UK star with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1978 NFL Draft. He went on to make four Pro Bowls in Kansas City before finishing out his pro career with the Buffalo Bills.

Still's interest in Samoa dates back to his NFL playing days. One of his teammates with the Chiefs was Frank Manumaleuga. "My Samoan brother," Still says.

Because of that connection, Still has visited Samoa before. "When I was over there in the '90s, I sort of fell in love with the lifestyle," Still said. "It's very, very family oriented. Young people there still show a lot of respect for their elders. It's all about family there. And I like that."

As has been well documented, there are a surprising number of football players of Samoan descent in both the NFL and American major-college football. When 60 Minutes did a story on the phenomenon in 2010, it reported that there were more than 30 players of Samoan descent in the NFL and more than 200 in Division I college football.

Most of those players have ties to American Samoa. An unincorporated U.S. territory, American Samoa forms the eastern part of a South Pacific island chain that is often referred to as Samoa.

The Independent State of Samoa — where Still is potentially going — is a separate entity in the western part of that island chain. From 1962, when it got its independence from New Zealand, until 1997 the country was known as Western Samoa.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency's World Handbook, Samoa is located roughly half way between Hawaii and New Zealand and has a population of some 194,320 (American Samoa has a population of some 65,000).

If the journey comes to fruition, Still said he expects to get settled for a few months, then have some members of his family join him.

The plan, Still said, is for grants to subsidize at least part of the effort to start the sports programs in Samoa. "We're also hoping we can get donations of sports equipment and stuff like that, if companies have some surplus stuff around," he said.

Should he end up teaching American sports in Samoa, Still will be living in a time zone some 19 hours ahead of his normal residence in the Kansas City suburb of Liberty, Mo. Yet part of the appeal of going there for him is that life in Samoa moves at a pace far more tranquil than here, he said.

"People talk about 'Samoa time,'" Still says. "Economically, there it is not like it is over here. Society there, it's like 25, 30 years behind life here."

Back when Still and his fellow Camden, N.J., product Derrick Ramsey, were the faces of the UK football program in 1976 and '77, Kentucky beat Penn State, LSU, Florida and Tennessee each in back-to-back seasons.

Still was such a defensive stalwart that, by the end of his Kentucky career, opposing teams literally stopped running plays to his side of the field. Old-school UK fans still remember Still rumbling 52 yards with a blocked field goal for a touchdown in Kentucky's 33-13 pasting of LSU in Baton Rouge in 1977.

The last time I saw Still, a few years back, he still looked fit enough to play. Or to rock a lava-lava.

If the Samoa excursion comes through, Still says he will wear the traditional Samoan sarong when appropriate.

"I still get up early and do my workouts," he says. "I'll look good in my lava-lava."