By GREG HILBURN
Written for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association
When A&E Network officials approached Duck Commander Phil Robertson about creating a reality show in which he and his Louisiana family would star, he agreed on one condition.
“I informed the A&E people that I would not be available for filming during duck season; I didn’t care if they were paying $50 million,” Robertson said while stroking his signature beard and cradling a shotgun. “They said, ‘You’re not going to budge? I said, ‘No.’”
“Duck Dynasty” may have made the Robertson family famous in mainstream America, but the Robertsons have long been celebrities among hunters for their duck calls, hunting videos and outdoors TV hunting shows.
And long before his rise to “Duck Dynasty” fame, Robertson was a tall, talented quarterback at Louisiana Tech University in the late 1960s, where he and future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw were competing for the starting job.
Phil was more interested in answering the call of the wild rather than the call of cheering fans in a stadium.
He has often repeated a conversation he remembers having with Bradshaw.
“I said, ‘Bradshaw, here’s the deal. You’re a big strong kid, you’ve got a strong arm and you want to play in the NFL and you want to play football,” Phil recalled. “He said, ‘That’s right.’ I said, ‘I’m going after the ducks full time. I’d rather hunt ducks than have large violent men stomp me in the dirt . . . You go for it and I’ll see you later.'”
That decision has landed Robertson in the 2020 class of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as an outdoorsman rather than a football player.
Robertson will be inducted in Natchitoches, home to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, during festivities June 24-26. Visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255 for information and participation opportunities.
Phil designed the first of his famous series of calls in 1972, and he and his wife “Miss Kay” and their four sons Al, Willie, Jase and Jep have built an outdoors empire around it from their West Monroe headquarters in the decades since.
Phil, who blows his calls with the same passion as a master trumpeter, perfected his mallard music as a young man after leaving Louisiana Tech.
Jase explained how the empire began: “Dad was hunting on the (Arkansas-Louisiana) state line at Moss Lake in 1972 when his buddy told him he ought to manufacture the call because the ducks like them so much. He told Dad, ‘You don’t just call the ducks; you command them.’ That’s where the Duck Commander started.”
“The idea is for you to get ducks to think you’re one of them,” Phil said while standing on the bank of the Ouachita River outside his home deep in the pines and hardwoods of Ouachita Parish. “It will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you call one down.”
Robertson said his friends and Miss Kay were pensive about his entrepreneurial plan in 1972 to build and sell duck calls.
“I told them we’d just fish out of the Ouachita River until the duck call thing got going,” Phil said. “Kay said, ‘We may starve to death.’ I was getting 30 cents a pound for buffalo and (gasper) goo and $1 a pound for catfish.
“Isn’t that right Al?” Phil called to his oldest son.
“We ate a lot of fish,” Al said, laughing.
Phil recalled a few of his college friends visiting him in the early 1970s.
“They said, ‘Robertson, you’ve got a master’s degree in education and you’re out here fishing and talking about duck calls?’” Phil said.
“They later confessed that as they drove off they said, ‘Robertson’s an idiot,’” he said, smiling. “(Forty) years later they were calling me a genius.”
Starting next Saturday night, he’ll be called Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer.