Like the man, his shoes are sturdy, humble and reliable. In their hey day, the NFL issue cleats left their mark on hallowed ground like Wrigley Field, Shea Stadium, the Miami Orange Bowl,and Lambeau Field. Despite this, they remain unadorned by anything except the tiny number 77 embossed on the heel and handwritten in black marker inside the tongue.
Only a handwritten “G” next to the “77” distinguishes the game cleat from the practice.
No endorsements. No padding. No arch support.
Dirt from a thousand drills, a hundred football games, three world championships and two Super Bowls remains embedded on the soles.
He told me once as we chugged down the street on a slow and rare father/daughter jog, that he could remember how sweet the practice field grass smelled during the endless up/down drills he and his teammates did: run in place, slam to the ground, jump back up and run in place again.
“You wanted to lay there and smell the grass for a minute or two, catch your breath and rest. But you had to jump back up and keep going and the only thing making you get back up again was that the guy next to you, your teammate, was jumping up and doing another one too,” he said.
Certainly it helped that the guys next to my father, his lifelong friends, had names like Jordan, Davis, and Aldridge and the guy hoarsely screaming “Up!” and “Down!” in front of them was Coach Lombardi.
That my father, a shy man from a tiny Eastern Pennsylvania coal town, earned the chance to wear these cleats speaks to his drive. That he kept the cleats until he died speaks to his heart.