The 26th pick and he didn’t even know he was drafted

In what turned out to be one of the NFL’s strongest classes ever, my dad, Ron Kostelnik, was chosen 26th overall and, at the time, he didn’t even know he’d been drafted.

In December of 1960, my dad’s mind was on other things. A defensive tackle for the University of Cincinnati, he had just played in the the North-South Shrine game, after which he boarded a train and took his girlfriend, Peggy Fey, home to meet his parents for the first time.

His uncle Jimmy Melnyk met them at the train station in Johnstown to drive them the 28 miles home to Colver, but he wasn’t alone.

Phil Bengston was there too and, fresh from the NFL draft in Philadelphia, the then-defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers had some news for my dad, and a contract that needed to be signed.

Vince Lombardi had selected my dad in the second round of a draft that eventually included an astounding seven Hall of Fame members. Coach Lombardi had selected one of those members, Herb Adderley, in the first round. Other Canton residents from that draft included Mike Ditka, James Earl “Jimmy” Johnson, Bob Lilly, Fran Tarkenton, Billy Shaw and Deacon Jones.

The draft took place over two days, December 27-28 and, the very next day, on Dec. 29, Coach Bengston found himself on 20 Row in Colver negotiating intensely with one of his most formidable adversaries — my grandma.

As I’ve written about before, the Packers needed my grandma to sign the contract because my dad was only 20-years old. She steadfastly refused because she was worried he’d get hurt. Eventually, she agreed and she and my Pap, a coal miner who famously said to the group of reporters crowding his living room, “Hey! Why don’t you interview a man who works for a living,” co-signed the contract.

“We listened from the top of the stairs,” Aunt Martha, my dad’s sister, who was 16-years old at the time. “They didn’t really negotiate because none of them knew enough to negotiate.”

The standard contract gave him an annual salary of $8,750, and a signing bonus of $750, which he used to purchase an engagement ring for Peggy Fey.

Just after Coach Bengston left with the signed contract, the party-line phone in Grandma’s living room rang. UC head football coach George Blackburn, who heard his player had been drafted, was calling to say, “Don’t sign anything until I’ve seen it!”

But, it was too late. In a matter of hours, the day after the draft, the contract was signed.

Dad went on to play for the Packers for eight seasons, during which they won two Super Bowls and three world championships.

On June 10, 1961 he also married my mom, Peggy Fey, and that contract proved fruitful as well. The two raised four children and enjoyed a happy relationship until his death in 1993.

As I’ve written about before, my dad caught the eye of UC football coach George Blackburn thanks to game film sent in for an opposing high school player, Ed Denk (who remained a lifelong friend). The twists of fate regarding my dad’s NFL career still astound me.
Grandma's couch in Colver
This photo of my dad, taken on the couch in my Grandma’s living room in Colver, came straight from the Johnstown Tribune Democrat. I like that the crop marks are still on it.
Dad and Aunt Martha
This is my dad and his sister Martha in the backyard of my great-grandma’s house. Both of their grandmas, Baba Kostelnik and Baba Melnyk, lived just down the street.
Dad and Mom fishing 1967
An early and unlikely picture of my mom and dad, apparently fishing. I’m not sure she ever did that again.
Mom and Ruth Pitts
I took this picture of my mom and the delightful Ruth Pitts at the 2015 Packer Alumni Reunion. Elijah Pitts was also a member of the 1961 draft class, and he and my dad remained close friends, as did Ruth and my mom.


15 thoughts on “The 26th pick and he didn’t even know he was drafted

    1. It’s so dramatic — more teams, bigger coaching staffs, free agency, better equipment, busier schedule, better pay…

    1. June 10 was apparently a great day all around. Can’t wait to read your piece on your NFL draft experience!

  1. Great to see some of the old pictures and the great stories. It brings back great memories of your dad.I still remember my dad would ask your pap why he didn’t toot his horn about UNKUS playing for the PACKERS ? He would always say if your good at some thing people will let you know .Enough said. NICK//////////////////////////////

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