Run to Daylight

Some stories are more layered than the number of pages that contain them.

Such is the case with this one, in which a 57-year old library book from an obsolete grade school makes its way into my hands in the middle of an Appleton Police Department retirement party.

“I’ve been saving this for you,” said Mary Keller, wife of retired APD Sergeant Mark Keller and daughter of my former St. Therese grade school second grade teacher and later principal, Mrs. Rossmeissl. “Your dad is in it.”

She handed me a worn book, still wrapped in groovy ‘60s cellophane, and I immediately paged through Run to Daylight, an autobiography/coaching manual written by Vince Lombardi.

The book traces a week in the coach’s life as he prepares his 1962 team for a big game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau; how he dropped his daughter Susan off for school each morning on his way to 8 a.m. mass at St. Boniface; read the daily papers while he ate breakfast every morning at the Sneezer’s lunch counter; ordered a hamburger every day for lunch; worried about his wife, Marie, who that week was developing a nasty cold.

I read the book Sunday in front of a fire in a cabin my dad built back in 1981. It provided the perfect game-day distraction and was, in the end, far more entertaining than the NFC Championship I saw later that night.

With its play diagrams and right-from-the-coach’s mouth explanations, the book offers excellent insight into both the mind of a legendary coach and the league itself as it began to enter the age of national scrutiny. 

Teams had to wait for Monday night commercial flights to deliver them game film for the opponents they would face. In the week Coach Lombardi documents, the films did not make it on to the Monday night flight and weren’t delivered until the following day. Nobody seemed to panic, though, which surprised me.

With only 37 players per team, athletes often doubled up on special teams. I did not realize until I read this book that NFL Hall of Fame safety Willie Wood (who was not drafted by anyone so he wrote a letter to Coach Lombardi asking for a tryout) also returned punts; that receiver Boyd Dowler also punted for the 1961 and 62 teams; guard Jerry Kramer was also the place kicker (with QB Bart Starr holding) and starting cornerback Herb Adderley also returned kicks.

Then, there is the book itself, which still contained its original check-out card. 

I scanned it to see if I recognized any of the names, but then I realized that the book was donated in 1963 and I had not even been born yet.

I do, however, have very fond memories of that library and the woman whose office eventually ended up right down the hall from it. We moved from Green Bay to Appleton in 1971, just after my dad announced his retirement from the NFL. So, I spent the first few months of the school year at St. Agnes in Green Bay, and from Thanksgiving on at St. Therese in Appleton.

Back then, Mrs. Rossmeissl was my very kind and efficient second grade teacher and she helped ease the transition of a shy kid with freckles and a developing overbite to a new city. 

Mrs. Rossmeisl passed away on Jan. 24, 2015 at the age of 88. Coach Lombardi died of cancer on Sept. 3, 1970 and my dad, Ron Kostelnik died on Jan. 29, 1993.

I thank Mary Keller sincerely for saving that book for me and allowing me to spend an afternoon remembering them all.

I met Mary Keller last Friday night when she gave me a cool old library book.
But I met her mother, Mrs Rossmeissl, back in 1972 when I was eight-years old and she assigned Jeannie Navickas to be my friend.
We’ve stayed friends ever since, too. And it was fun to keep in touch with Mrs. Rossmeissl through the years.
It was also fun to think about her, the library that once housed this book, and the team it highlights Sunday afternoon while I waited for the big NFC Championship game to begin. Herb Adderley told me that the guys on that 1962 team knew they were a special group. “Most of the guys who were members of all five title teams feel that the 1962 team was special and the best of them all,” he said. Mr. Adderley also mentioned the specific game featured in Run to Daylight, during which the Packers beat the Lions 9-7. “Coach Lombardi said it was the best game he was involved in during his great years coaching the Packers,” he said.