A Man For All Seasons

Decatur Daily – April 22, 2001
By Winford Turner

CULLMAN — Tom Drake said he has been “wrestling and tumbling around in sports and politics most of my life.”

He is about to “wrestle and tumble” into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame later this month and into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Newton, Iowa, in June. And, if that is not enough, the 70-year-old attorney said he might enter politics again in 2002, possibly as a candidate for governor.

“God has been good to me,” Drake said. “I feel he possibly has something else for me to do before I leave this world. The two events coming up soon are honors that I never dreamed I would receive.”

He will be inducted into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame on April 28.

He and his wife, Chris, will go on June 16 to Newton, where he will be honored for his years as a professional wrestler. There, he will be reunited with a longtime friend, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who like Drake went from the professional wrestling ring to politics.

“Jesse and I did a lot of wrestling and tumbling in our younger days, and we’ve proved that we’re not through by taking our acts into politics,” Drake chuckled. “A lot of people say wrestling is fake, but I would like to see them out there doing what we did. Fake or not, it was hard work and a lot of fun. We even made some money doing it.”

Ventura speaks highly of Drake.

“Tom is one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met,” Ventura said. “The honors that he is about to receive are well-deserved. I know he is a popular person in Alabama, and I would not want to run against him if he does decide to enter the political arena again.”

Drake retired from the Legislature in 1998.

He was speaker of the House of Representatives from 1982 until 1987. He was a floor leader for Govs. George Wallace, Lurleen Wallace, Albert Brewer, Guy Hunt and Jim Folsom Jr.

Drake made an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 1978. He regained his legislative seat in 1982 and was selected speaker of the House.

He was born in 1930 in Falkville but moved to Cullman County at an early age and has lived there since.

“I still consider Morgan County my second home,” Drake said. “I have plenty of relatives and friends there.”

He is the nephew of the late Morgan County Circuit Judge Newton Powell.

“Uncle Newt had a lot of influence on my life,” he said.

It was obvious from the beginning, he said, “that I was going to be active in sports.”

Drake’s days as a football, basketball and baseball player at Cullman High School led to him being awarded a scholarship at the University of Chattanooga in 1949.

He was an all-star guard on the football team at Chattanooga and wrestled. He was a Little All-American at Chattanooga for his play on the football field.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League drafted him. He had a short career in the NFL.

“I came from a very poor family and proud of it,” Drake said.

“That scholarship at Chattanooga meant a lot to me and my family.”

He played in the 1953 Blue-Gray football game in Montgomery and the 1954 Senior Bowl in Mobile. In the Senior Bowl, he met and played for Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Shortly after Drake graduated from college in 1954, he began a professional wrestling career, which lasted until 1978 on either a part- time or a full-time basis.

“Coach Bryant hired me as his wrestling coach in 1959, but I continued my professional wrestling career,” Drake said.

“I also served as an assistant football coach during that time.

“Coach Bryant and I had a special relationship,” he said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that he was the greatest college coach that ever lived.”

Drake traveled the country as a professional wrestler.

“This was a career that I loved very much and sort of became famous for,” he said. He used some of the money that he made from professional wrestling to complete law school.

During his last semester at The University of Alabama Law School, he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives. He remained in the Legislature until 1998.

“Someone once told me that I had gotten mixed up in two dirty businesses, wrestling and politics,” Drake said, grinning.

“I’ve been able to work for the greatest football coach of all time in Paul Bryant, and was a close friend to George Wallace, the greatest governor and politician in the history of Alabama,” Drake said.

“Of all of the honors that I’ve received, I am prouder of being inducted into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame. This is local, and it will always be special to me. There is nothing like being honored by your friends at home.”

While a professional wrestler, Drake was on the “What’s My Line” network television show where the panelists tried to guess his profession.

“Do you do what you do standing or lying down?” Drake recalled being asked by one of the panelists.

“I looked at him and said, ‘A little of both.'”

The late state Sen. Finis St. John of Cullman, who served many years in the Legislature with Drake, once said, “Tom has a feel for politics. Somehow he gets in with every governor that we’ve had. There is not a better person and politician anywhere. He loves politics.”

Drake practices law in Cullman with his wife, Chris.

“I know he loves politics and misses it,” Mrs. Drake said. “If he decides to enter politics again, he will have the support of his family.”

Drake said if he runs in 2002 it will be as a Democrat.

“I believe I can get the support of a lot of Republicans out there,” he said. “I feel like right now that I would like to try it again. But that is something that we’ll decide not far down the road. If I decide to enter the arena again, it probably will be for something higher than I had in the Legislature.”

Drake said he thinks Gov. Don Siegelman has his priorities wrong.

“I don’t think constitutional reform is as important as finding proper funding for our schools.”

Montgomery lobbyist Milo Dakin said if Drake runs for governor, “don’t count him out, (but) raising enough to make a run for governor could be a problem.”

Drake and his wife have four children, Mary, Tommy, Whit and Christy.

He is vice chairman of the board of Peoples Bank of North Alabama.

“I’ve taken a lot of licks playing football, wrestling and in politics,” Drake said.

“And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

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