Lance Rentzel was a talented and successful wide receiver in the National Football League (NFL) in the 1960s and early 1970s. He played for the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, and Los Angeles Rams, and was selected to two Pro Bowls.
However, his career and personal life were marred by a series of scandals involving indecent exposure to young girls, which led to his divorce, legal troubles, and eventual retirement from football.
Lance Rentzel was born on October 14, 1943, in Flushing, New York. He later moved to Oklahoma City and attended Casady School, where he excelled as a multi-sport athlete and became the valedictorian of his graduating class.
In addition, he received a football scholarship from the University of Oklahoma and played under famed coach Bud Wilkinson. Known for his versatility and speed, Rentzel excelled as a running back, receiver, and punter, earning recognition as an All-Big Eight selection in 1963 and 1964, as well as an All-American in 1964.
Rentzel emerged as a top prospect in the 1965 NFL draft, although he encountered controversy when he and three other Oklahoma players were deemed ineligible for the 1965 Gator Bowl game due to having signed with professional teams beforehand.
Despite being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round and by the Buffalo Bills in the AFL draft, Rentzel opted to pursue a career in the NFL.
Rentzel's professional career had a slow start due to injuries, leading to limited playing time as a backup running back and kickoff returner for the Vikings. Despite this, he achieved a franchise record for the longest kickoff return (101 yards) as a rookie, remaining unbeaten until 2007. Subsequently, Rentzel was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 1967, marking a turning point in his career.
Positioned as a flanker, Rentzel excelled as one of the league's top wide receivers. Leading the Cowboys in receptions during 1967 and 1968, he ranked second only to Bob Hayes in receiving yards. Additionally, Rentzel led the NFL in both receiving touchdowns (12) and yards per catch (22.3) in 1969.
His standout performances earned him Pro Bowl selections in 1966 and 1968, as well as All-Pro recognition in 1966. Crucially, Rentzel played a pivotal role in the Cowboys' four consecutive playoff appearances and their Super Bowl appearance in 1970.
After being traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1971, Rentzel remained a productive receiver, leading the team in receptions in 1971 and 1972 and ranking second in receiving yards. His contributions also helped the Rams secure the NFC West division title in 1973. Rentzel retired after the 1973 season, concluding a nine-season NFL career with 328 receptions, 5,539 yards, and 52 touchdowns.
Rentzel married Joey Heatherton, a renowned actress, singer, and dancer, in 1969. The couple was celebrated as one of the most glamorous pairs in Hollywood, featuring in commercials, TV shows, and magazines. However, their relationship had a darker aspect.
In addition, he struggled with a compulsive disorder that led him to expose himself to young girls. This behavior occurred multiple times without detection or reporting. He explained that it was his way of dealing with the anxiety and pressure of his football career and that he was filled with guilt and regret after each incident.
His secret came out in November 1970, when he flashed a 10-year-old girl in a Dallas suburb. He was charged, arrested, and suspended by the Cowboys. He admitted to indecent exposure, paid $1,000, and got two years of probation and therapy.
The scandal ruined his career and reputation. He was traded to the Rams, where he met hate and threats. He lost his endorsements and businesses. The former NFL star and Heatherton split in 1972 after she claimed he abused her. He said it was his worst nightmare, and he was sorry for hurting his loved ones and fans.
After facing challenges post-football, Rentzel wrote the autobiography "When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow" in 1973, candidly sharing his struggles. He ventured into acting with roles in "The Longest Yard" and "Police Story", and later became a motivational speaker and sports commentator. As some reports, he remarried, had two children, embraced Christianity, and supported charitable causes.
Rentzel faced legal and financial challenges, including arrests for drunk driving and marijuana possession in the 1970s, followed by bankruptcy in 1981, leading to the loss of his home and assets.
Additionally, he dealt with health issues like arthritis, diabetes, and heart problems. He later moved to Washington, D.C., working as a lobbyist and consultant before returning to Dallas, where he resides as of 2021.
At 80 years old, Rentzel has maintained a low public profile. He has articulated remorse for past actions, seeking forgiveness and understanding. While acknowledging his football achievements with pride, he aspires to be remembered for his positive contributions rather than his missteps.