The Tony Bennett Way

There is a street in San Francisco called Tony Bennett Way. Though I’ve never been on it, I imagine it runs smoothly, unmindful of its neighborhood’s ostentation and focused admirably on the task at hand.

That’s the Tony Bennett way.

I thought about that Monday night as I cheered Tony Bennett’s Virginia team to an NCAA Division I basketball title. Here in Wisconsin we know that particular Tony as a talented athlete, a devoted family man and a hard-working student of the game his father coached for 41 years.

But we also know two other Tony Bennetts and, thanks to a Green Bay Press-Gazette story I read at the time, I remember a day in 1991 when they all three converged.

In the area for a concert, Tony Bennett, the singer, landed at Austin Straubel Airport, where Tony Bennett, the Green Bay Packer, and Tony Bennett, the college basketball player, greeted him.

Their brief meeting struck me as especially cool because all three men handled it so well.

As I watched now-Coach Bennett make his spectacular way through the tournament this year, I wondered about those other two Tony Bennetts and I am happy, though not surprised, to report that they are both doing quite well.

At 92-years old, Tony Bennett, the singer, maintains an active concert schedule. In fact, on Saturday night he’ll be headlining at Carnegie Hall. According to his website, Mr. Bennett “has performed for eleven U.S. Presidents, is a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and participated in the liberation of a concentration camp, and marched side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma to support civil rights.” Even beyond his 19 Grammy Awards and the millions of records he has sold, Mr. Bennett has made a profound and lasting impact on the country he loves.

Meanwhile, down in Alligator, Mississippi, Tony Bennett, the football player, fished. An Ole Miss standout and first round draft pick in 1990, Bennett grew to love fishing as a child. According to a quote from then teammate Darrell Thompson in a 2015 New York Times article, Bennett even got up early to fish before practice when he played for the Packers from 1990-93. “He’d be up at 4 in the morning and then come to practice,” Thompson said. “I was just trying to get to practice.” In addition to the four years he played for the Packers, Bennett played for Indianapolis for four years until a knee injury ended his football career. Like his fellow Tony Bennetts, this one continues to navigate his life smoothly and intelligently. He invested his pro football earnings wisely and is living well. He still fishes every chance he gets, including professionally, and enjoys spending time with his two sons.

Reportedly, upon winning the NCAA championship Monday night, Tony Bennett the player-turned-coach, bowed his head and said, “Thank you. I’m humbled, Lord.”

All three Tony Bennetts bring honor to their name and, as you read this, each one is rising with unassuming grace and carrying on his impressive life.

That’s the Tony Bennett way.

Back when the three Tony Bennetts converged, the basketball player turned coach, who won an NCAA title this week, considered himself “the small fry”. They’re all doing quite well these days, an honor to their name.
Last summer, San Francisco named a street “Tony Bennett Way” and the singer, who left his heart in San Francisco, was on hand to celebrate. No word if the other two Tony Bennetts have strolled that street yet.
Tony Bennett the college basketball player gave us every indication of the kind of honorable, hard-working, talented, humble coach he would become.
Tony Bennett the linebacker played for the Packers for four season and in that short time recorded 36 sacks (13 in 1991 and 13.5 in 1992), which ranks him seventh on the Green Bay all-time sack list.
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