With Gratitude … Memorial Day Cup O’Chiefs

Memorial Day is part of the American calendar thanks to a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, who in 1865 decided to honor Union soldiers who had died fighting in the Civil War by decorating their gravesites. Thus the last Monday in May each year became Decoration Day, changing to Memorial Day officially over 100 years later.

What started as a day to honor those who served and gave their lives for our country in military service is now a day when we honor all those who have passed.

There have been some giants involved with the NFL, pro football and the Chiefs that have left us since last Memorial Day. The two biggest never played a down, but are pictured above in “Mr. Music” Tony DiPardo and “Mr. Kansas City” Bill Grigsby.

DiPardo and Grigsby became part of the Chiefs in 1963, the franchise’s first season in Kansas City. In a different time and place where pro football, especially the so-called “other” league in the American Football League, was not the country’s most followed sport. The salesmanship and enthusiasm that Tony and Bill brought to the scene helped Lamar Hunt establish the Chiefs franchise. History showed us it was not an easy sell, but eventually pro football thrived on and off the field in Kansas City and environs.

Tony left us on January 27 at the age of 98. It was just a month later on February 26 that Bill died at the age of 89.

From the playing field, the Chiefs lost Mickey McCarty, a member of the Super Bowl IV team. He died on July 21, 2010 at his home in League City, Texas, just south of Houston, Texas.

McCarty played in only three games for the Chiefs in that Super Bowl season. The fact he was even on the team was an upset and testimony to his athletic skills because he did not play college football. The last time he’d worn the pads was as a senior in high school.

While largely unknown in the history of football, McCarty was a remarkable Texas athlete who would end up being drafted by four different professional leagues – the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association, all in 1968. Despite playing only basketball and baseball at Texas Christian, the Chiefs grabbed him in the fourth-round, No. 90 pick of that ’68 NFL Draft. That was the second year when the two leagues drafted as one. He was selected in the 25th-round of the major league baseball June Amateur Draft by the Cleveland Indians. The NBA Chicago Bulls grabbed him in Round No. 15 of the 1968 NBA Draft and in the ABA Draft he was selected by the Dallas Chaparrals.

McCarty signed with the Chiefs as a tight end, at 6-5, 240 pounds. He spent that ’68 season on the taxi squad and got those three games of play time in the ’69 season. He did not catch a pass. He was one of only four rookies that played in that season for Hank Stram, joining LB Bob Stein, CB Jim Marsalis and RB Ed Podolak.

Although he was a great athlete, those three games with the Chiefs were his only appearances in professional sports. His life afterwards was quite a story as well, as he became a second life. He spent 24 years of his life with two hearts in his chest, undergoing a then-experimental “piggyback” donor heart transplant in ’86 and again in ’97. In 1981 he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. The lifelong southpaw then taught himself how to live as a right hander. In October 2009, McCarty was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He battled it for 10 months before passing away on July 21, 2010 at the age of 63.

Also lost among former Chiefs players was a member of the original Dallas Texans 1960 team, defensive lineman Sid Fournet. He passed on April 23, 2011 at the age of 78 in his native Louisiana. Fournet played in 28 games for the Texans in 1960-61. He began his pro career in 1955 with the Los Angeles Rams, then the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1957.

Fournet was out of football for two years before he signed with the Texans in 1960. He finished his career playing two seasons with the New York Jets.

From the coaching staffs of Chiefs history, in the last 365 days they’ve lost Jim Erkenbeck, Homer Smith and Tom Pagna. We wrote about Smith back in April when he passed away at the age of 79. We also covered Erkenbeck’s passing on March 15 at the age of 81.

Pagna spent 11 seasons on the coaching staff at Notre Dame under head coach Ara Parseghian, handling the offensive backfield, including quarterbacks. In fact, it was Pagna who did most of the recruiting of a skinny quarterback out of southwestern Pennsylvania named Joe Montana.

He spent two only two seasons coaching in the NFL, those seasons were part of Levy’s staffs in 1978-79 as the offensive backfield coach. In fact, Pagna helped Levy install the wing-T offense in that ’78 season, and the Chiefs went on to a club record rushing season of 2,986 yards, or an average of 213.3 yards per game. The Levy-Pagna offense ran the ball 663 times and five different backs had more than 250 yards rushing – Tony Reed (1,053), Ted McKnight (627), Arnold Morgado (593), Mark Bailey (298) and MacArthur Lane (277).

Pagna went on to a long career in broadcasting, including 16 seasons as the color commentator on Notre Dame radio broadcasts for Mutual Radio with play-by-play man Tony Roberts.

He was 78 years old when he passed away on July 6, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana.

Others that the world of pro football lost since last Memorial Day include numerous members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Gone are RB Joe Perry, QB George Blanda, RB Ollie Matson and new Hall of Famer Les Richter.

Also we said good bye to “Dandy Don” Meredith, AFL RB great Cookie Gilchrist, former Chargers head coach Don Coryell, Raiders hard-hitting safety “The Assassin” Jack Tatum.

2 Responses to “With Gratitude … Memorial Day Cup O’Chiefs”

  • May 30, 2011  - RW says:

    Paraphrasing an old Righteous Brothers hit, “If there’s a NFL heaven, you know they have a helluva team”.

  • May 30, 2011  - Don in ICT says:

    Although not a Chief the passing of “Dandy Don” saddened me. I was named after him and somehow strangly that kinship held a bond…

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