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Douglaston loses one of its finest, a football Giant

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Dick Lynch, all-pro football player, Giants color commentator, wonderful husband, father, grandfather (of 11), brother and a Giant among men, passed away Sept. 24, 2008.

The Time: The early 1960's. The Place: Yankee Stadium, after a winning Giants football game. A young fan jumps over the railing onto the playing field to reach one of the stars of the game. He catches up with him before the player can run into the locker room. (At Yankee Stadium, the fans were allowed to spill onto the field following every game.) The fan pats him on the back. The player thanks the fan and disappears into the confines of the stadium.

The Time: 1993. The Place: A sofa in the lobby of a hotel in San Francisco. The same, but now older, Giants fan is sitting on that sofa in a state of depression. He had just returned from a football game in which his beloved Giants lost to the San Francisco 49ers. The loss eliminated the team from the playoffs. He feels a pat on the back and hears very comforting words:

"Don't take it so hard. The Giants had a great season," said the voice. The fan turns around and was surprised to see that the bearer of the consolation was his same football hero (now retired), who then disappears into the elevator.

The Time: Autumn, 1995. The Place: Outside Giants Stadium before a Giants football game. The still older fan sees the same former player walking in the crowd. The fan stares at his hero. He is surprised when the former player approaches him, stops and informs him that he reads the fan's column every week in the Little Neck Ledger. Both pat each other on the back and disappear into the stadium together.

The Time: Feb. 3, 2008. The Place: Phoenix, Ariz., where the Giants have just won the Super Bowl. At the victory party, the fan pats the back of the player, the radio voice of the Giants, and both hug each other.

That player was Dick Lynch. That fan was me.

Lynch was an all-American halfback at Notre Dame. In 1957, he scored the winning touchdown against Oklahoma State University to spectacularly snap Oklahoma's 47-game, four-year winning streak. He was a great defensive back for the N.Y. Football Giants from 1959 to 1967. In his final year, when he had to defend against speedy receivers like the Cowboys' Bob Hayes, the world-class sprinter, it was time to retire. He ultimately joined the Giants' radio booth from 1967 until 2008.

As a columnist, I dreamed of writing about Lynch but I was too timid to ask. After all, how does one request one's hero to agree to an interview? Gloria, however, encouraged me to try. I thought, could I, would I, should I? Taking several deep breaths, I built up the courage to attempt it and I bravely telephoned. Lynch graciously agreed to the interview. I brought Gloria along for support.

Lynch greeted us at the door. He appeared in excellent physical condition. I immediately conjured up my familiar image of this defensive back, on the playing field once again, defending against the best receivers and covering them like a glove. I was surprised that there were not many football mementos adorning his house.

"My life today does not revolve around my football playing days," Lynch explained. "I did enjoy playing football — four years of high school football, four years of college football at Notre Dame and nine years of professional football for the New York Giants — all well and good. But that is now over. Today, I am living a normal life. Nothing can compare with it. I now spend more time with my family and friends. This is utopia for me."

I gathered then and there that Dick was a very unusual man.

Lynch was born to Tom and Jean Nann Lynch in Mineola, L.I. He was the third of eight children (six boys and two girls). His athletic-minded father steered his sons into sports. Dick and two of his brothers, Mike and Gene, starred on their high-school football team.

In 1954, Dick won an athletic scholarship to Notre Dame, where he had a spectacular football career. He won three football letters at Notre Dame and was the team's leading ground-gainer and top defensive back. He won All-Midwest honors and was selected to play in the 1958 college All-Star Game and North-South Classic.

Upon graduation in 1958, Dick's goal was not directed towards football. He just wanted to find a regular job, but his future plans changed when the Washington Redskins picked him in the NFL draft. However, as an ROTC student at Notre Dame, he owed the Army two years of military service. He ultimately served only six months active duty as a second lieutenant. Upon his discharge, Lynch got a job selling encyclopedias. The following season, the Giants acquired him from the Redskins in a trade. Dick decided to give football six months. The rest is Giants football history.

The goal of six months eventually became nine years. He was league interception champion in 1961 with nine steals, and repeated as champion in 1963 with an equal number. He ran back three of his 1963 interceptions for touchdowns, which set a league record. In addition, he was one of the hardest tacklers in the NFL and a tough defender to beat in any situation. Lynch was truly the "linch-pin" of a solid defensive backfield whose teams won the conference championships three times.

He met his wife, Roz Culp, a former airline stewardess, at a business exhibition in Chicago in 1958. Roz was representing American Airlines and Dick was an Eastman-Kodak spokesman. Roz had been the former Miss Pennsylvania of 1957. After a brief 10-month courtship, they were married and had six children (Jennifer, Nancy, Rosalie, Cynthia, Richard Jr., and John) and 11 grandchildren. (Richard, Jr. later perished in the World Trade Center tragedy at the age of 31, leaving a wife and child).

Roz recalled that she made Dick get a full-time job selling printing material while he was playing for the Giants as "protection" in the event that he got seriously hurt and could not play anymore. Lynch was the only player on the Giants who, after a hard Sunday football game, had to report to a regular job the following day. Would players of today ever think of doing the same?

She tells the amusing story of the game in which a rowdy fan, who was sitting above her in the stands, was booing Dick's performance. Lynch was playing with two badly injured ankles. In her sweet manner, she reprimanded the brutish scoundrel by informing him that he had every right to boo a player who had two healthy ankles. But, if the player had two injured ones, he ought to be quiet. The fan shut up.

Lynch's teammates were always concerned for his pregnant wife, especially if he got hurt while she was watching the football games. At one game, Lynch had suffered a severe concussion and was lying unconscious on the playing field. The Giants' doctor, aware that Roz was in the stands, waved away the stretcher-bearers and waited for Lynch to regain consciousness. Then several players picked him up bodily and walked Lynch off the field. This was done so Roz would not worry as much.

I left Dick and Roz with the knowledge that this former football great was a happy man. He was content to enjoy the rest of his life surrounded by the people he loves: his wife, his children, his grandchildren and his friends. Funeral Mass was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sept. 29. Dick was 72 years old.

Posted 6:37 pm, October 10, 2011
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