Around late July of 1964, my older brother, Joe, drove me to Syracuse University some 300+ miles from my hometown of Stow, OH. Here I began my college football career. I did not know a single soul on the Varsity squad nor, for that matter, even one of my fellow “frosh footballers.”
All of the freshmen football squad were issued lockers and equipment. We were told to print our names on tape to be displayed on the front of our helmets so the coaches could learn our names. As we lined up for calisthenics, I noticed two names lined up beside me.
One guy I remember vividly from that day was a young, freshman halfback named, Tom Coughlin. Tom inspired me that first week at Syracuse with how diligently he took notes…keeping track of every detail on and off the field. This was a trademark I would later notice about a future coach I would meet in the NFL named, Shula!
The other guy was KISH – a name my Hungarian father was familiar with in his youth. I immediately lined up next to KISH figuring, at least, we had our Hungarian heritage in common. I introduced myself as CSONKA pronounced CHUNK-A in Hungary. I asked, “Isn’t KISH Hungarian as well?” He responded with a quick “yea,” and rolled his eyes…not wanting to be bothered by this Ohio farm boy. To some degree, this was an awkward start. But that encounter quickly developed in to a life-long friendship with Nick Kish.
We did a lot of hitchhiking together along the Thomas E Dewey throughway, in those days, in all kinds of miserable weather. Nick was from Buffalo, NY so the Kish family was nearby and took care of me on several occasions when en route between college and visits home. We’re two hardheaded Hungarians but have still managed to maintain a great friendship.
Nick and his wife, Lorraine, visited Audrey and I at our Alaska home last week. This was their first trip to Alaska. We traveled to Homer for a few days and visited the Independence Gold Mine near our home in Wasilla. We saw moose, bear and eagles. And we logged some backyard fire pit time. More importantly, we enjoyed some fishing – something we often did at Syracuse. Between classes we’d regularly head out to Smith Hollow Pond or Onondaga Lake for excellent bass fishing! Great memories.