In the spring of 1991, the Jacksonville State senior football player was in his dorm. It was spring break and almost everyone was at Panama City Beach, Fla. Malone was soon to depart for the same destination when he got a call from athletic director Jerry Cole.
“‘Darrell, are you in the room,’” Malone recalled. “‘The Kansas City Chiefs are here to work you out.’”
The defensive back had skipped most of the pro-team combines because scouts were showing up at different times and expecting athletes to perform at their best multiple times throughout the day. On that day with nothing else to do on a nearly empty campus, he worked out for the Chiefs.
That April, while sitting at his girlfriend-now-wife’s apartment in Jacksonville, Malone received a call notifying him he’d been drafted by the Chiefs in the sixth round. He talked to general manager Carl Peterson, head coach Marty Schottenheimer, defensive coordinator Bill Cowher and defensive backs coach Tony Dungy before ending the call.
Twenty-two years later, Malone is part of the 2013 Class for the Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame. He will be inducted Saturday at the Oxford Civic Center. The banquet begins at 6:30.
As an NFL rookie, however, the dream wasn’t all it may have seemed. Malone was cut from the practice squad before being picked back up by the Chiefs in 1992.
“It’s not as easy as it’s shown on TV. While it’s a good life, it’s a stressful life,” Malone’s wife Denise said. “It’s a job. I don’t think I ever heard Darrell say, ‘I’m going to play football.’ He always said, ‘I’m going to work.’ It wasn’t football practice, it was work.”
Four games into the 1992 season, with Malone on the injured reserve list, Miami Dolphins assistant coach Mike Shula wanted to pick up the defensive back, which at the time was an option because Malone was on the Chiefs’ inactive roster.
When Shula called, Malone initially didn’t believe the situation.
“We thought it was a prank call,” Denise Malone said.
“Sure enough,” she added, “Mike Shula was on the phone and Darrell flew to Miami that night and signed with them.”
Malone would spend the next three seasons with the Dolphins, playing behind five-time Pro Bowler Troy Vincent at defensive back.
“The funny thing about the pros is when you get there you see guys you would see on TV all the time,” Malone said. “Actually, when I was with the Dolphins, my locker was next to Dan Marino’s. At first I was wondering if I was supposed to be there, but when I got on the field and started playing it was all right.”
Malone got the hang of things playing mostly on special teams, but did start two games for Miami and recorded 14 tackles and intercepted four-time Pro Bowler Boomer Esiason.
But as quickly as it started, it ended.
An injury during a 1995 preseason game ended Malone’s career.
“I got hurt in a preseason game, but tried to keep playing, but had nerve damage in my ankle,” he said. “They let me go.”
The career-ending injury came a decade after Malone led Jacksonville High to the Golden Eagles’ first playoff appearance and first area championship in 1984, his junior year.
Malone made all-county his junior season as a running back; he was all-county as a defensive back his senior year. He also made the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Class 5A All-State first-year team as a defensive back his junior season.
“That was a good year for our program,” Malone recalled. “It was the first time we beat Oxford, so we almost ran the table by also beating Wellborn and other teams we hadn’t beaten in the past. It had been a long time coming because years in the past we didn’t do very well.”
Malone was also a key member of Jacksonville State’s 1989 team that lost to Mississippi College 3-0 in the Division II National Championship, after beating the Choctaws 23-3 earlier in the year.
“I thought we had a pretty good chance of winning it the season before. We lost to Portland State, but that was a good year,” Malone said. “But we came back the next year and went to the national championship, but the snow put a damper on everything.”
Malone called the loss “heartbreaking.” It didn’t make things easier when Mississippi College was later stripped of the title due to recruiting violations.
“You have to win it on the field,” Malone said. “But it was a messed-up deal.”
After Malone retired from the NFL he remained in the Miami area, living in Weston, Fla., where he, Denise and their three children — Darrell Jr., 15, William, 14, and Katelyn, 11—reside. The NFL paid for Malone’s masters’ degree and he now owns a Jani-King janitorial franchise in south Florida.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.