Retired football star Jim Lynch looks back at career

First Posted: 1/22/2015

LIMA — To this day, Northwest Ohio — and the south side of Lima in particular — holds a special spot in the heart of Jim Lynch. That’s where he learned many of the life lessons that led to his success.

Lynch is synonymous with Lima’s football history. During the 1960s and early ’70s, he played in a golden era that saw Lima produce four professional football players: Joe Morrison, Tom Barrington, Mike Current and Lynch. Sadly, at age 69, only Lynch is alive today.

During a recent hour-long interview, Lynch talked about a football journey that saw him star at Lima Central Catholic; become a captain of a Notre Dame team that won a national championship; and play in the Super Bowl.

Here’s what he had to say:

Lima’s Influence

“I felt so very fortunate being raised in Northwest Ohio and, especially, in Lima. We were southenders, and, without a doubt, my mother was my greatest influence, growing up in a German-Irish family. Of course, Germans have long been known for their strong work ethic, and that’s certainly what Mom demonstrated to me and my brothers Rod, Tom and Ray and my sister Cheryl. I really believe the successes we’ve had were largely attributable to her. She was happiest when she was working. What a wonderful role model she was.”

His success on the football field followed that of his brother Tom, who was three years older. Tom starred at LCC and for the U.S. Naval Academy, where he played both linebacker and center, snapping the ball for future Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach. By Tom’s senior year, he was named captain, and the Midshipmen went on to a No. 2 ranking and a Cotton Bowl appearance. His 31-year Naval career after football saw him become a rear admiral and receive an appointment as the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Jim Lynch credits many at LCC for providing him guidance, including Father Heintshel, basketball coach Don Lane and football coach Barney Otten. However, the biggest influence, without a doubt, was Father Herr.

“It was he who taught me the true meaning of empathy. I know a lot of former students will remember he preached resilience. … but, for me, it was his compassion for and his passion to help others that I will never forget.”

With college football teams across the nation showing interest in Lynch, Herr helped him through the recruiting process.

“Even back in the early 1960’s, recruiting was pretty brutal. At 18, you’ve got this life-changing decision to make at a time when your main concerns are acne and trying to reign in raging hormones. I was raised to try to impress adults, and you’ve got all these great leaders, men like Woody Hayes and Northwestern’s Ara Parseghian and Navy’s Wayne Hardin and others all coming after you.”

He said Father Herr emphasized with him that “I needed to make the decision based on what was right for me, not to please someone else. Eventually, I narrowed it down to three schools: the Naval Academy, Northwestern and Notre Dame. Despite how drawn I was to the Academy, where my brother Tom would have been a senior, and Northwestern as well because of how dynamic Coach Parseghian was, I just felt Notre Dame was the best fit for me.”

Notre Dame years

During Lynch’s freshman year in 1963, the Irish went 2-7 under Coach Hugh Devore. It was the fifth consecutive losing season for the Irish, and in South Bend, that meant the search was on for a new football coach.

It couldn’t have worked out better for Lynch as the coach chosen to resurrect Notre Dame’s football fortunes was none other than Ara Parseghian.

“I was ecstatic when he accepted the Notre Dame job. He turned out to be not only the best coach for whom I ever played, but also, perhaps, the finest man I ever met.”

The football fortunes for the Irish flipped immediately in Parseghian’s first year. Notre Dame went 9-1 with only a tight loss to Southern Cal in the final game of the season preventing them from winning a national championship.

“Coach Parseghian put so much pressure on himself and his coaches that I had a feeling he wouldn’t coach a long time. He arrived on campus at 40 years old and left 11 years later.”

However, that was long enough to wake up those Irish echoes and etch his name as one of the school’s great coaches. Parseghian never had a losing record, posting a 95-17-4 record and winning two national titles. His time at Notre Dame even prompted an epochal moniker, “The Era of Ara.”

During that 9-1 campaign Lynch’s season was cut short by injury in a game six 40-0 win over Navy. Recalls Lynch, “My teammate and fellow Ohioan from Canton, Alan Page, and I were trying to tackle Roger Staubach, another Ohioan who graduated from Cincinnati Purcell. Alan tackled me instead.”

Lynch’s injury wasn’t serious enough to warrant surgery, and he was back on the field as a junior in ’65. It was a season in which Parseghian was forced to replace a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in John Huarte, who’d graduated.

“We went 7-2-1 with Bill Zloch at quarterback. Bill probably worked harder than any player on the team and is a terrific guy who went on to become a federal judge in Florida. Well, he had a terrific arm, probably could’ve thrown the ball out of the stadium. The only problem was he couldn’t hit a kick on a flair!”

During his senior year, Lynch was named a captain of the 1966 team that finished 9-0-1 and won the national championship. The lone small blemish was a 10-10 tie in week 9 against Michigan State. The contest remains one of college football’s most memorable.

“We both were 8-0 going in, and the game was played in East Lansing. The year before in South Bend they beat us in one of the hardest-hitting games of my career. Well, the ’66 game topped that. It was a game with so many great players, like Alan Paige and Pete Duranko and Rocky Bleier for us and Bubba Smith and George Webster and Clint Jones and Gene Washington for Michigan State, all future pros among others. It really was an unbelievable experience for me,” said Lynch, who had an interception in the game.

The way the game ended, with some claiming Parseghian elected to go for the tie by running out the clock on the Irish’s final possession, is a claim that still rankles Lynch almost a half century later.

“The criticism is totally unfair. We lost our best running back, Nick Eddy, when he slipped on some ice getting off the train we took to East Lansing and didn’t have him. Then we lost our quarterback, Terry Hanratty, when a brutal hit by Bubba Smith separated his shoulder. We’d battled back behind our backup Coley O’Brien after falling behind 10-0.

“While Coley did a great job bringing us back, he was just a sophomore, and when we got the ball back that last time, we were 70 yards away from Michigan State’s goal line with about 90 seconds left against a team playing back for the pass in bitter cold conditions on a deteriorating field. Coach Parseghian just felt we’d battled too hard to make a critical mistake and give the game and a possible national title away at the very end.”

In the season’s final game the next week, the Irish went out West and crushed a Rose Bowl-bound Southern Cal team 51-0, a convincing enough win to earn Notre Dame a national championship over 9-0-1 Michigan State and Bear Bryant’s 11-0 Alabama Crimson Tide.

Lynch was named first-team All-American in his final season and also won the Maxwell Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best player by a panel of sportscasters, sportswriters and college head coaches.

As for Lynch’s most memorable teammates while at Notre Dame, he first makes a point about what he called Notre Dame’s commitment to “full immersion” of her scholar-athletes.

“My roommates and best friends were always non-athletes. While many might be surprised by this, I’d say about 80 percent of my best college memories aren’t really related to football.”

Lynch continued. “But, since you asked about teammates, I’ll tell you that we were both a team with great character and a team with great characters. Of course, there were nationally known guys on offense like Terry Hanratty and Rocky Bleier and Jim Seymour, but as a linebacker, I probably had stronger ties to guys on the defensive side of the ball like defensive end Alan Page and fellow linebacker John Horney and our All-American defensive tackle, Pete Duranko, who, even at 250 pounds was so nimble that, in full uniform, he could do a standing full forward flip and stick the landing.

“Page and Horney went on to such great things after their playing days were over. Of course, Alan was a great pro with the Vikings and has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and then went on to become a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court, and John became a nationally renowned doctor, specializing in gastroenterology.

“Sadly, Pete, a man once so very nimble, was stricken with ALS and succumbed to the disease in 2011.”

Hello, pro football

The pro football draft in 1967 was certainly historical from the standpoint it was the first time a joint draft was held to include all teams from the American Football League, still an upstart in its eighth year, and the established National Football League, founded 40 years before the AFL in 1920.

Proof of how strong that Michigan State team was that had battled Notre Dame to a 10-10 tie came early in the draft, with four of the first eight picks being Spartans: No. 1 Bubba Smith, defensive end; No. 2 Clint Jones, running back; No. 5 George Webster, linebacker, a player Lynch felt was so good that he should have won the Heisman Trophy in ’66; and No. 8 Gene Washington, wide receiver.

Lynch was selected in the second round, the 47th overall pick, by the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, a team that had relocated from Dallas, where they were the Texans, in 1963.

“At that time the money in pro sports wasn’t all that great, so I knew I had to begin using that Notre Dame education right away and look for a career beyond football. To be honest, I really couldn’t envision playing much more than three or four years of pro ball.”

Thus began Lynch’s 11-year pro football career, one that lasted much longer than he initially envisioned. Before the end of his rookie season, he slid into a starting linebacker position along with two future Hall of Famers, Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell.

“While I was a middle linebacker at Notre Dame, I moved to right outside linebacker to accommodate Willie, who played in the middle. Bobby played the outside ’backer on the left. I feel so blessed to have played almost my entire career with two of the greatest ever to play the position,” Lynch said.

Lynch’s 11-year pro career bridged the AFL and NFL, with the two leagues merging after the 1969-70 season, the year after the Chiefs became the second and last AFL team to win the Super Bowl, 23-7, over the Minnesota Vikings.

Recalling his Super Bowl moment in New Orleans at Tulane Stadium, Lynch said, “Although we were 12-point underdogs, those who really knew football and had followed us all year and watched our defense really weren’t surprised we won convincingly.”

Life after football

Lynch’s career ended in 1977, with all 11 years being spent in Kansas City, his home today.

“Back when I played, you really couldn’t afford not to look beyond football, so most guys worked another job in the off-season. Pro careers were short, and the money really wasn’t what it is today. I suppose now players can’t afford not to make football their 12-month job, but that’s certainly not the way it was in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

In 1973, he became a partner with Daniel Thomas Hogarty in the food-brokerage business, with a primary attention to food-packaging technology. The name of the company is D. Thomas and Associates.

“Now, over 40 years later, we’re still going strong and headquartered in Kansas City with satellite offices all across the country. As it turned out with my career in football, I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity or a more fulfilling and successful life after football.”

Lynch has been equally blessed, having married his high-school sweetheart, Georgia Quatman. They have two daughters, Megan and Kara; a son, Jake; and nine grandchildren.

Lynch returned to Lima for his 1963 LCC reunion in 2013 on a weekend in which his high-school jersey, No. 17, was retired and remains so impressed both with his hometown and also his old high school.

“I so enjoyed my visit to Lima and was impressed with the changes downtown. It was also gratifying to see that, LCC, while much smaller today than during my time, still has such strong leadership and vision and continues to do such a great job helping to mold its young men and women.”

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