RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And let's think of moving your body, sports. On this Wednesday, commentator Frank Deford brings us a tribute to one of the nation's outstanding football players.
FRANK DEFORD: You may never have heard of Dick Kazmaier. After all, he played in the Ivy League, never went to the NFL and he filled a position, tailback, in a formation - the single-wing - that has long since disappeared. But as the years have passed, that is what makes Kazmaier so special, that he best represented another time, when there was more whimsy and capriciousness to college athletics.
He was only five-foot-eleven, 155 pounds, come from nowhere which was Maumee, Ohio, an unknown to the football staff, when he arrived at Princeton in 1948. On the freshman football team, he was fifth-string. Only three years later he was the famous Kaz, on the cover of Time magazine, winner of the Heisman Trophy, voted Male Athlete of the Year. And then, instead of the Chicago Bears, he went to the Harvard Business School.
Athletes still came out of nowhere back then and sometimes moved right on to somewhere else.
The single-wing was all but gone then, replaced by the T-formation, the quarterback taking the ball under center. At tailback, Kazmaier caught the hike. Remember hike? And several yards back, and both ran and passed. Sometimes tailbacks quick-kicked, too, and were known as triple threats. Oh, a tailback was glamorous, but so demanding that it was really too much for one player. His Heisman year, for example, Kaz threw for 966 yards and ran for 861. So then we had to have quarterbacks who passed and running backs who ran.
It's ironic that 60 years later, some quarterbacks have become at least neo-tailbacks, as the T-formation has evolved into the shotgun, into the pistol. Modern quarterbacks who run are not exactly the heirs to Kazmaier, but they do offer us a chance to imagine the past, like clothes that come back into fashion - only not quite the way they were, maybe another pleat here, a cinch there. A tailback was of his time.
Kaz was, as you might expect, modest and so well-liked. He's the sort of fellow my father always called: A Honey of a Guy. After football, as a businessman and philanthropist, he lived a full, happy life but for one great tragedy, when one of his six daughters, Patty, died of a blood disease - only age 28. A natural athlete, like her father, Patty's best sport was ice hockey, and the trophy for the top woman college player is named for her: The Patty Kazmaier Award.
Dick Kazmaier devoted himself to the cause of women's sports. He was not a man to press his sadness on others, but because I'd lost a daughter before him, he felt he could speak to me once about how much he missed Patty. He wanted to know how long the missing kept hurting. I said the best I knew it never got easier, but it did somehow get softer. Yeah, he said, and then he smiled through his tears.
Dick Kazmaier died the other day, age 82. He was the epitome of a tailback and A Honey of a Guy.
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MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene.
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