Words: Chris Houghton
Originally published in ego trip #9, 1996.
A recent phone exchange:
“Hello, Miami Northwestern High.”
“Hey, could you transfer me to the athletic department? I’d like to talk to someone who was around back when Buster Rhymes played there.”
“Buster Rhymes never went to school here.”
“Sure he did, way back in the early ’80s.”
“Nah, we’d know if he was from here.”
“I’m not talking about the rapper, I’m talking about the football player, Buster Rhymes. The nationally famous high school football player from 15 years ago.”
This level of ignorance, though common, is a damn shame. And it’s especially a shame in Miami because back in the day, back before Strong Island rap heroes Busta Rhymes and Leaders of the New School began bumping heads with the Bomb Squad and appearing on In Living Color, Northwestern High’s George “Buster With the Luster” Rhymes was THE MAN. Described as “an all-world running back” by Sports Illustrated, all-state in football and basketball, Miami Dade County Athlete of the Year – 6’3″, 200 lbs worth of running back with 4.4 speed and all the moves a college coach could ask for.
And ask they did – by the busload according to John Askew, Northwestern’s defensive coordinator at the time. “He was the biggest recruit in the state, one of the biggest in the nation,” coach recalls. “All the top 10 schools wanted him.” Who got the prize? The University of Oklahoma, led by everyone’s favorite sharecropper’s son, Barry Switzer.
Mind you, this was 1982 – back when Tom Osbourne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers were college football’s shining white knights of virtue (things change) and Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions were a bunch of boring, self-righteous fucks (things stay the same). But the biggest stars in the collegiate pigskin universe were Switzer and his gang of knuckleheads, the Sooners. You could have called them the Oakland Raiders of college ball, but you’d be damning them with faint praise. These guys raised hell. How did our man Buster do when thrust into this environment? Well… let’s just say he was never one to stand on the sidelines.
Still, he never shot anyone, not like a few of his teammates. And who really knows how that stereo he got accused of stealing turned up in his dorm room? The important thing to remember is that buster made it out of Barry’s brown berets. Switzer bumped him to wide receiver after a year at running back and, though he didn’t pile up huge numbers, he showed enough chops to get drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. A few years of catching snowballs in the Twin Cities, followed by a few more in the CFL, and the man with the luster was ready to call it a career, leaving his famous name up for grabs to the first guy clever enough to boost it.
Now working in Minnesota as a youth and family advocate, Buster (“Nobody calls me George”) causes some confusion among his younger clients.
“They always ask me if I have two jobs,” says Buster. “They say, ‘You’re a rapper too, right?’” Some know of his athletic career, but many do not. “People usually want to know who came first. I tell them I think I was, but that I’m not sure.” Well, Buster, let there be no doubt, and spread the word as you walk through life. Before some rapper took it, the name Buster Rhymes was yours and yours alone.
Miami native Chris Houghton can be found in Brooklyn every weekend, glued to the television during Hurrican and Dolphins games and listening to Dazz Band records.