Sports Outside the Beltway

Former AFL and NFL Quarterback Jack Kemp dead at 73

His pro football playing days were before I began to watch the sport. I do remember his long career in politics. He helped to shape the modern Republican party. RIP.

Jack Kemp, the ex-quarterback, congressman, one-time vice-presidential nominee and self-described “bleeding-heart conservative,” died Saturday. He was 73.

Kemp died after a lengthy illness, according to spokeswoman Bona Park and Edwin J. Feulner, a longtime friend and former campaign adviser. Park said Kemp died at his home in Bethesda, Md., in the Washington suburbs.

Kemp’s office announced in January that he had been diagnosed with an unspecified type of cancer. By then, however, the cancer was in an advanced stage and had spread to several organs, Feulner said. He did not know the origin of the cancer.


Kemp was a 17th round 1957 NFL draft pick by the Detroit Lions, but was cut before the season began. After being released by three more NFL teams and the Canadian Football League over the next three years, he joined the American Football League’s Los Angeles Chargers as a free agent in 1960. A waivers foul-up two years later would land him with the Buffalo Bills, who got him at the bargain basement price of $100.

Kemp led Buffalo to the 1964 and 1965 AFL Championships, and won the league’s most valuable player award in 1965. He co-founded the AFL Players Association in 1964 and was elected president of the union for five terms. When he retired from football in 1969, Kemp had enough support in blue-collar Buffalo and its suburbs to win an open congressional seat.

In 11 seasons, he sustained a dozen concussions, two broken ankles and a crushed hand — which Kemp insisted a doctor permanently set in a passing position so that he could continue to play.

“Pro football gave me a good perspective,” he was quoted as saying. “When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded, and hung in effigy.”

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