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Concord’s Dick Kazmaier: A football hero remembered

Dick Kazmaier of Princeton University, poses with the Heisman Trophy in 1951.

John Rooney/Associated Press

Dick Kazmaier of Princeton University, poses with the Heisman Trophy in 1951.

CONCORD — As a senior tailback at Princeton University, Dick Kazmaier was the most famous athlete in the country.

The two-time All-American had led the Tigers to a second consecutive undefeated season in 1951, and captured the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football (the last Ivy Leaguer to receive the honor). He was on the cover of Time magazine. The Associated Press named the native of Maumee, Ohio, as its Male Athlete of the Year, beating out golfing legend Ben Hogan and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Stan Musial, a future Hall of Famer, for top billing.

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He turned down an offer from the Chicago Bears to play in the National Football League, served in the Navy, and earned a degree from Harvard Business School. Twenty years after graduating from Princeton, he moved to Concord with his wife, Patricia, and raised six daughters — three of whom attended Princeton — in a home in a quiet spot bordered by the Assabet River.

The founder of Kazmaier Associates, an international giant in the sporting goods and sports equipment distribution field, died at age 82 of natural causes in a Boston hospital on Aug. 1.

That is the short version of his life.

Those who loved and admired Kazmaier talked about how he had enriched theirs.

“Concord was the hub of our lives, the safe haven provided by my mom and dad,” said one of their daughters, Kristen Kazmaier Fisher, who breeds horses and has a stable at the home in which she grew up and now owns. “The last words my dad spoke to me before he faded away were about what ‘love ya’ means, that you are faithful to somebody you love, and that was what he always practiced.’’

Dick Kazmaier along with his grandson, Cole Fisher, pictured in front of the Kazmaier statue at Princeton.

Dick Kazmaier along with his grandson, Cole Fisher, pictured in front of the Kazmaier statue at Princeton.

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When her parents started wintering in Florida, Fisher and her husband built an apartment for their spring and summer months in Concord.

Her horse, a LusitanoHanoverian cross named Baby Mimi, was often the recipient of sugar cubes from Kazmaier.

Fisher’s children, Cole and Sophie, are honoring their grandfather in their own way.

Cole, taught by Kazmaier to throw a football through a tire hung from a tree, wears 42 — his grandfather’s number at Princeton — for the men’s lacrosse team at Trinity College.

Sophie, a student at Middlesex Community College, is categorizing Kazmaier’s memorabilia for a documentary film of his life.

Cole attended Heisman ceremonies in New York City with his grandfather, and on one occasion they had dinner with Tim Tebow, who won the award as a University of Florida sophomore in 2007.

“I always looked for him on the sideline,’’ Fisher, who also played football at the Fenn School and at Concord-Carlisle Regional High, said of his grandfather. “I will miss the ease of his voice and, simply put, I will miss being his grandson.’’

Sophie said Kazmaier’s smile could “light up the room immediately. No matter what happened in my life, or how down and out I was feeling, going over to spend time with [him] always made my day better.’’

Kazmaier was a major influence, behind the scenes, in the passage of Title IX legislation in 1972 that opened the door for women’s participation in athletics. And he established the Patty Kazmaier Award, presented to the most outstanding player in Division 1 women’s college hockey. The award is named after his daughter, a star at Princeton, who died in 1990 from a rare blood disease.

He served on Princeton’s board of trustees, was president of the National Football Foundation, director of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, and chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

His number 21 has been retired at Maumee High, along with his lucky 42 at Princeton. The Heisman Trophy is displayed at both schools, another is kept by his family.

Another daughter, Susan, said her father was always humble about his accomplishments and awards.

“About the only time I saw him get flustered was when my sisters, Patty and Kathy, played hockey against one another,’’ she recalled. “It was hard for him to sit still.’’

Trish Irons, longtime owner of the Country Kitchen restaurant on Sudbury Road, remembers Kazmaier as a faithful customer on Wednesdays, when the house specialty is always ham salad.

“We knew he was a famous athlete,’’ she said, “but he never talked about that, just about his children and grandchildren. He was one of those genuine, kind people you don’t forget.’’

Kazmaier donated a large portion of his property — now a cornfield — to the Concord Land Conservation Trust.

“I had great respect for Dick because he did it willingly and never looked over our shoulders afterward,’’ said trustee Gordon Shaw.

Chuck Huggins, the chief financial officer at Kazmaier Associates, said the company’s founder usually came up with his best ideas and solutions to problems while swimming or working out.

“He was an organizer and a motivator, a fantastic executive who drew on his football experience,’’ said Huggins, a golfing buddy at Concord Country Club and a fellow Princeton graduate, “and I admired his leadership, drive, and creativity.’’

When Bob Surace was hired as head football coach at Princeton in December 2009, he immediately received an e-mail from Kazmaier that read, in part, “You can realize meaningful achievements for yourself, all of your players of the future, and the many who — like you — have been part of Tiger football in the past.’’

Surace, who invited Kazmaier to speak to his team, said: “When I read it, I had chills going down my spine.’’

Ever since he became president of the Red Sox, Larry Lucchino — Princeton class of 1967 — invited college baseball teammate — and current Princeton athletic director —Gary Walters to Fenway Park for an annual reunion. Kazmaier was always an honored guest, and once threw out the game's first ball.

“Dick added a lot of fun, charm, and class to our group, and before this year’s gathering he reminded me the Red Sox were 9-1 when we got together,’’ said Lucchino.

This year’s reunion was Aug. 1, the day of Kazmaier’s passing.

“When we heard the sad news,’’ said Lucchino, “we held a moment of silence, and then we raised our glasses and toasted him.’’

The Red Sox rallied to beat Seattle that evening: another win for Kazmaier, who Lucchino and the family said was definitely there in spirit.

A memorial service will be held Aug. 23 at 11 a.m. at St. Anne’s in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Lincoln.

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.

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