Just 20 years old when the Packers offered him a contract in 1960, my dad needed a parental signature to launch his NFL career. That took some convincing.
My grandma, Julie Kostelnik, worried her young son would get hurt and she initially refused to sign.
As Phil Bengston, reporters, Dad and his college girlfriend Peggy Fey all crowded into my grandparents’ small living room, my grandfather, a coal miner named Mickey Kostelnik, chuckled.
“Hey,” he said. “Why don’t you interview a man who works for a living?”
Eventually, Grandma relented and signed the contract that paid my dad, a second round draft pick, $8,750 for the season. He used the $750 signing bonus he received to buy an engagement ring, setting up a memorable weekend the following June in which he and my mother hosted a rehearsal dinner on a Thursday night, graduated from the University of Cincinnati on Friday and married on Saturday. Less than a week later, following a send-off brunch at which all of my mother’s relatives cried because no one had ever heard of Green Bay Wisconsin, the young couple packed up and drove away.
My dad went on to play nine years in the NFL, earning five NFL championships including two Super Bowl titles.
The irony of that success is that no one saw it coming. My dad didn’t play football at all until high school and his college career developed only by chance. The UC coaching staff spotted him in game film they were reviewing of Ed Denk, an offensive lineman from a neighboring high school. The Bearcats ended up signing both Ed and my dad, once they’d tracked him down.
Ed actually had to convince my dad to accept the scholarship and the two prep opponents became carpool buddies and, eventually, lifelong friends.
And, as thrilled as she was when my dad graduated from college thanks to the scholarship he earned on the football field, mr grandma never did warm to the game.
|Back then everyone received essentially the same
one-page, two-sided contract with hand written amounts.
The only addendum on my dad’s contract was this paragraph
regarding his bonus.
|Baba and Pap, shown here in their living room in 1989, were not
very impressed by their NFL visitors back in 1960.
|He had to convince his mom to let him play.|