Roger Staubach? Dan Marino? Lynn Swann? Any of these guys qualify among your choices for the most iconic figure representative of NFL games televised during the 1970s and 1980s? Well, sure, but in reality they all must stand in line behind the figure who perhaps more than other symbolizes the airing of NFL games on TV during that period of history. The one and only Rollen Stewart.
If you were alive in the aforementioned period and regularly watched sporting events, you cannot help but remember Rollen Stewart. Well, you may never have known the name and you may may not recall the face, but you cannot possibly ever forget Rollen Stewart’s hair. Or, to be more precise, the wig Rollen Stewart wore over his hair.
Anybody out there remember Rainbow Man, the guy who seemed to show up at every major sporting event of the time and always managed to get the cameras trained on him? For awhile there, it truly seemed as if a Sunday was not really complete unless you caught a glimpse of Rollen “Rainbow Man” Stewart. The name, for those who weren’t around, was derivative of the fact that Stewart always showed up wearing a huge rainbow colored afro. Eventually, the instantly recognizable rainbow afro would become only one of two aspects of Rainbow Man’s singular appearance. After awhile, whenever you saw the afro, you also saw Rollen Stewart holding up a sign that read “John 3:16.”
What started as some kind of lark quickly transformed into some kind of offbeat crusade. Stewart became obsessed with Christianity and he saw his appearance on network TV as a totally creative and unique way of spreading the word of the Lord. That message seemed to show up everywhere. While the fondest memories of those who remember Rainbow Man are probably from his standard appearance behind the goalposts at NFL games, you must understand that his presence as one of the single most important individuals of pop culture during the height of his fame came as a result of showing up everywhere. The Master’s golf tournament? Rainbow Man was there. The NBA finals? Rainbow Man was there. Somehow Rainbow Man even managed to get into position for a classic shot standing behind the pit area of the winner of one of the Indianapolis 500 races. The man was everywhere.
The effort to spread the word of Christianity eventually took a turn down the dark side. The networks had grown increasingly bored with Rainbow Man and so took away his easiest claim to fame. Denied regular appearances at sporting stadiums, Rollen Stewart began going a bit mental. Stink bombings of churches, religious bookstores and the Crystal Cathedral indicated that Rainbow Man had moved to a completely different level when it came to spread the gospel.
The latter half of the 1980s were not as kind to Rollen Stewart as the latter half of the 1970s had been. The man who had once been as much a fixture of the American sports scene as Howard Cosell had to deal with his wife taking a powder after he had allegedly choked her, his car and residence was destroyed by a driver who had been allowed to get onto the road after imbibing far too much and he began to increasingly believe that the End was Nigh.
Fast forward to 1992. The Rapture was very near and Rollen Stewart felt that, like a rainbow, he would be lifted into the sky and then into paradise. For some reason, this belief led to his attempted kidnapping of two men that went wrong when they came face to face with a chambermaid in the hotel in which Rainbow Man planned to hold them hostage. The men escaped, the maid locked herself in a bathroom and Rollen Stewart planned to take advantage of the opportunity to give himself one last appearance on TV. The plan was to give a three hour long press conference about…who knows what. After nine hour police standoff, the police attacked, overpowered and arrested the guy many of them probably didn’t even know they’d grown up watching on TV.
Rainbow Man was sentenced to three life sentences for kidnapping. Parole is continually denied. He was the subject of a documentary titled “Rainbow Man/John 3:16 .”