SEPTEMBER 13, 1971
Not even Dennis Miller would dare say that playing pro football is easy, but to Tommy Casanova, who spent six seasons as a safety with the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1970s and was thrice All-Pro, the NFL barely qualified as work. "You showed up at 8:30 and were home by three, then you were free until the next morning," Casanova says. "It was the life of Riley." Then again, Casanova's perspective isn't that of the typical former NFL player; since retiring from football he has pursued two demanding careers, as an ophthalmic surgeon and as a state senator.
A three-time All-America at LSU, he melted the hearts of Bayou Bengals fans by playing cornerback and running back while also returning punts and kickoffs. Casanova did it all with a flair worthy of his surname. SI anointed him the nation's best player before his senior season in 1971, though the dread cover jinx may have struck when Casanova pulled his right hamstring in the opener and he missed half the season.
That didn't stop Cincinnati from making Casanova a second-round draft pick. He immediately joined their starting lineup and stayed there until his aching knees persuaded him to retire in 1977. A premed major at Louisiana State and the son of an ophthalmologist, he'd been attending medical school part time at the University of Cincinnati since his second year in the NFL. After a residency in New Orleans and an ophthalmic plastic surgery fellowship at the University of Utah, Casanova returned home to Crowley, La., in '84, to join his father's practice and exercise his surgical skills at American Legion Hospital. The 50-year-old Casanova and his wife of 12 years, Jeanne, still live in Crowley, with their 11-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.
Hoping to improve the future for Louisiana's children, Casanova ran for and won a four-year term in the state senate as a Republican in 1995. "Sometimes people tell me they won't run because they hate politics," Casanova says. "Heck, that's why you should do it. If you don't like what's going on, get in there and change it."
Casanova, who stepped down in 1999 to focus on medicine and family, found his tenure both frustrating and rewarding. He was dismayed by his inability to gain passage of legislation he considered important, like a bill to ban gambling, but buoyed by his work on the senate's education committee. He doesn't rule out a return to politics, but for now Casanova is content to wear just one hat: a surgeon's cap.