Jeff Gaylord, a football player turned pro wrestler, has died. He was 64.

His brother, Joel Gaylord, posted the news:

I am very very sad to report that my brother, Jeffrey Scott Gaylord passed away after a short illness. He was 64. He was a member of a Shawnee Mission South State Champion Football team. He graduated on to professional football where he played for several years. Jeff matriculated to the entertainment industry and was a professional wrestler for many years. Recently he was doing outreach work for his church and provided warm clothes to folks living off the grid on the streets of Denver. We miss him dearly; however, we are content with the knowledge that Jeff is enjoying the Precious Gift of Eternal Life!

Jeff Gaylord was born October 15, 1958, in Des Moines, Iowa. He grew into a 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive tackle and linebacker. His Shawnee Mission South high school team, based in Overland Park, Kansas, won the state title in 1975. Under coach John Davis, the Raiders beat Wichita Southeast for the Class 5-A football title. Gaylord was a noseguard on that team.

Up next in 1977, Gaylord went to Missouri. In his freshman year at Mizzou, Gaylord broke his sternum in a traffic accident, and had to redshirt. He was an afterthought in many ways, and rose to prominence in the 1981 season.

He was unexpectedly — by his account — named to the Associated Press All-America team in December 1981. “Are you kidding? This is wonderful,” he said in the story that moved with the announcement. “This is something I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a little kid and first started playing organized football. Everybody hopes something like this will happen for them.” He had also been named the Big Eight’s defensive player of the year by the Associated Press.

“When I was a freshman I said to myself that some day my picture would hang there [in the training room] along with all the other Missouri All-Americans from the past. But then I sort of forgot about it,” Gaylord said.

He was taken 88th overall, in the fourth round, by the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, but was cut in camp. During the summer of 1982, he played four games for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

The United States Football League’s Boston Breakers were next, and he fit in with the collection of misfits that made up the league.

In the fascinating book about the upstart league, Football For a Buck, Jeff Pearlman wrote about Gaylord:

Perhaps the best training-camp narrative belonged to a pair of Boston Breakers. First, there was Jeff Gaylord, a nose tackle and former fourth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams who, while attending the University of Missouri from 1978 to 1982:
– Went on a five-month cocaine binge that, he recalled, “fried my brain.”
– Agreed to fill in for an absent male stripper at the nightclub where he worked as a bouncer. Gaylord purchases a tin of green paint, coated his body head to toe, and nicknamed himself “the Incredible Hulk.” That night he was arrested for indecent exposure and fined $50.
– Filled his body with every imaginable steroid and steroid knockoff.
– Served as a certified chiropractor who arrived early to the stadium to crack his teammates’ backs before games.

Gaylord played 13 games with the Breakers, and moved with the team to New Orleans, and finished out his days with the San Antonio Gunslingers. In total, he recorded 10.0 quarterback sacks in his USFL career. He wore #61 in all his pro stops.

Pearlman talked with Gaylord about the Breakers playing in New Orleans: “Drugs, drugs, drugs—accessible everywhere in New Orleans, and we had so many guys who used,” he said. “Most of us were poor, and once the checks started coming, so did the coke. The white guys snorted it, the black guys smoked it. We fell apart.”

In another section, Gaylord went further. “Drugs were huge in the USFL,” said Gaylord. “I once went to my coke dealer, got a $1,000 bag, tooted it, stayed up all night, and played. That’s how it was in the 1980s in sports.”

Downtown Bruno (Bruno Lauer, who was also Harvey Whippleman) and Jeff Gaylord.

After suffering a major knee injury, and his football career over, Gaylord with his impressive physique — he’d done some bodybuilding competitions — turned to pro wrestling.

Gaylord debuted as a pro wrestler in October 1985, in San Antonio, where his football days ended. He’d run into Scott Casey and Tom Jones in a San Antonio gym. According to Gaylord, “They trained me in 100-degree weather in a tin shack … There was no breeze and no water. They taught me two years’ worth in four months.”

The Kansas City Times covered the early days of Gaylord’s wrestling mayhem, catching up with him in February 1986 when he was wrestling for Bob Geigel‘s All-Star Wrestling. “It’s flattering to have the shrieks,” Gaylord told columnist Jonathan Rand. “I’m trying to be the good-looking, humble guy.”

“I don’t want to sound cocky, but I have been blessed with a unique body,” Gaylord added, “and have been told that in six months I could be Mr. Olympia material because there’s nobody my size as cut up (well-defined) and well-proportioned in any sport.

Geigel saw potential, telling the Times, “He’s a big, good-looking kid, isn’t he?”

It was a time of upheaval in pro wrestling, with the territories drying up. Gaylord worked in the early days for Bill Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation, though most of his matches were mid-card at best.

In World Class Championship Wrestling, out of Dallas, “Missouri Tiger” Gaylord got a bigger push. He started out under a mask as The Hood. Then World Class and the Memphis-based USWA became one, and he was in the mix, winning the USWA tag team titles with Jeff Jarrett on two occasions. By 1995, he was gone from the USWA, and working where he could, including the short-lived American Wrestling Federation.

There were a couple of WWF tryouts — he was one of Shawn Michaels’ masked Knights too — and one appearance with WCW.

Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter wrote in 2009 that “Gaylord had a bad reputation in wrestling, and once ambushed and beat up Eddie Gilbert in a dressing room when both worked for the Global Wrestling Federation allegedly as a hit from a promoter. Gordon Scozzari, who promoted some TV tapings where Gilbert was supposed to be the booker, but then no-showed the tapings, always denied he put Gaylord up to it. He also had a bad rep in the dressing rooms.”

Life post-wrestling was complicated.

In 2001, robbed a bank in Aurora, Colorado, stealing $5,000, and robbed the same bank four months later and was caught. He spent six-and-half-years in prison after pleading guilty.

In January 2009, he was arrested after robbing a U.S. Bank branch in Monument, Colorado, and charged on that as well as another attempted bank robbery of a U.S. Bank branch in Castle Rock, Colorado. He blamed “personal economic conditions” for the robberies.

Chris Hero and Jeff Gaylord.

There is a 2001 interview that Chris Hero did with Gaylord for the Highspots Wrestling Network. It is available on Vimeo but it is not the most coherent of interviews.

Further information on Gaylord’s illness and his passing is not known at this time. It is believed that he died on March 15, 2023.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Chris Hero interview with Gaylord was added post-publication.