The SFM/KORL Interview: Jack “Congressman Concussion” Kemp

Jacksonville—Throughout the Super Bowl, SportsFan Magazine has teamed up with KORL Radio in Hawaii for a coverage package so comprehensive in its breadth and depth, it’s a wonder no one is talking about it.

Friday morning, the team of KORL DJs Wayne LaVelle and John Miro went for the triple play, bringing SportsFan Magazine’s Owen Perkins into the conversation for an interview with Buffalo Bills great Jack Kemp.

Kemp was a the only quarterback to start throughout the entire 10-year run of the American Football League, leading his teams to five AFL Championships and winning an AFL MVP award in 1965.

In the political arena, he served eighteen years as a Congressman before accepting a post in George H.W. Bush’s cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and running as the vice-presidential candidate on Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign for the White House.

For the benefit of the Hawaiian DJs, Kemp began the morning with a joke in which a man on a plane to the islands asks another passenger, “Is it pronounced Ha-wa-ee or Ha-va-ee?” “Ha-va-ee,” she tells him, and when he thanks her, she says, “You’re velcome.”

He took a quick minute before the interview to pose for a picture with Jaguars alum and local sports radio host Jim McMannus, who Kemp called “a really great football player, not a has-been.”

When “Super Bowl Wayne” Lavelle assured him that everyone who comes to Hawaii gets a lei, Kemp pointed out that he was preparing for a trip to Hawaii, “laying the predicate for it here.”

“Do you know what the word predicate even means, Wayne?” a sports talk colleague asked.

“I don’t know what predicate means,” Lavelle confessed, “but I think it means foreplay.”

SFM/KORL: Are you having a good time here?

Jack Kent: This is my 38th Super Bowl.

SFM/KORL: Which one did you miss?

JK: I missed the Colts and the Jets.

SFM/KORL: Oh, no! Do you have a rooting interest here? Are you an Eagles fan?

JK: I’m a Pats fan. I’m a Tom Brady guy. I love the Eagles—my son played for the Eagles—but I think Tom Brady is about as close to Joe Montana as you will see.

SFM/KORL: You were primary, in my estimation, in helping negotiate the AFL joining the NFL.

JK: I was president of the Player’s Union in the American League, and John Mackie was president of the National League Player’s Union, and we helped create the merger. It was done by the owners, but we had to get together as well.

SFM/KORL: Did the players have to agree on the details of the deal?

JK: Yeah, we negotiated the first pension for pro football players, the first opportunity to actually merge two rival leagues into one. I give all the credit to the owners, they’re the ones that pulled it off. But the players had something to do with it, you’re right.

SFM/KORL: Talking about players, you were one of the last guys to win an AFL Championship.

JK: Well, I also lost the game to the Chiefs when they went to play the Packers, circa 1967. But we won the championship of the American League in ’64 and ’65 against the Chargers who I also played for. And now I’m just an old has-been. Never-was.

SFM/KORL: Don’t give me that. You went from being a negotiator, being a player, to 18 years in Congress, and everybody thinks when you need a football player in the White House, give me a break, you’re the one.

JK: After eleven concussions in pro football, there was nothing left to do but run for Congress.

SFM/KORL: Right now you’re the Chairman of USA Football. What is USA Football all about? Promoting the game of football and its core values and how it turns people around?

JK: Yeah. I played for 13 years, and I have two sons that played pro football, and I have 15 grandchildren, seven of whom play football, not all pro football, obviously. It’s an advocacy organization, set up originally, or funded originally, independent as we are, by the NFLPA, the player’s union, and the owners, to advocate and be a clearinghouse for football and the 12 million kids playing football today in America, either touch, flag, or tackle. I’m on a mission, along with our executive director Dave Okren, to expand the universe of kids playing football, because we think it’s an important place to learn the values that we need here in the 21st century.

SFM/KORL: USA Football’s literature talks about how football can galvanize a city. Do you believe that? Is that just a quick fix– say Philadelphia at a down time, supposedly, with their sports teams, maybe morale is a little down as a loser city–can a victory in the Super Bowl galvanize a city for a long term, or is it just a quick fix?

JK: That’s a good question. I would be careful if I overemphasized the galvanization of a city around a Super Bowl or around a championship. Buffalo lost four times in the Super Bowl, but they got there four times. So imagine winning the AFC Championship four times. Buffalo loves its Bills. Jacksonville loves the Jaguars. I would say it is a galvanizing event, albeit, there can be some problems if teams move. Baltimore lost the Colts to Indianapolis. Now they’ve got the Ravens. L.A. is without a team. With all due respect to Jacksonville, LA, with the second largest TV market in the United States doesn’t have a team. I imagine they’ll have one soon.

SFM/KORL: You’ve remained actively involved in communities long after retiring from politics. Tell us what you’ve been up to here in Jacksonville this week.

JK: I have a lot of friends in Jacksonville, been here many times. Wednesday we dedicated 39 Habitat for Humanity homes for low income people over in the Brentwood district of Jacksonville. We’d love to do it in Hawaii sometime.

SFM/KORL: We’ve got a Habitat for Humanity chapter too. We’d love to see you over there with a hammer instead of a ball.

JK: I’m coming this summer. I’m bringing my wife, my four children, their four spouses, and my fifteen grandchildren over to Hawaii for my 70th birthday in July.

SFM/KORL: Did you ever get to play against Bobby Lane?

JK: I played with Bobby Lane. I was the quarterback on the bench when Bobby beat the old Cleveland Browns. Bobby Lane, Otto Graham—can you imagine? I was a twenty-one-year-old graduate of Occidental College, a little Presbyterian school in Los Angeles, playing on the Lions against the Browns. I got in at the end of the game. The coach was Buddy Parker. He put me in the game, and he said, ‘Okay, Kemp, go in and do a quarterback sneak, because I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I don’t care if you get hurt, but I don’t want anybody else to get hurt.’

Bobby was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and a good friend of mine. I played in the ‘50s when there was Bobby, Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, Sonny Jurgensen, so I’ve got some great memories from the ‘50s.

SFM/KORL: Did you played with the bullet helmets?

JK: I played without a face mask.

SFM/KORL: You are my football hero. I don’t get to meet many guys that played with those leather helmets with no face guards.

JK: No, I wasn’t that old. Aloha.

Owen Perkins will be in Jacksonville during Super Bowl week, filing daily reports and photos for SportsFan Magazine. Check back often for feature stories on the teams, both fan bases, and on-the-scene coverage of the biggest buildup in sports.