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Steckel's hero comes through

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


TAMPA -- On his way home from Vietnam -- a 19-day voyage aboard a ship that was tossed like a bathtub toy on the outskirts of two typhoons -- Les Steckel learned that Vince Lombardi had died.

"I remember because it really shook me up," Steckel said.

A few years earlier, Steckel was a sophomore football player at Kansas when Lombardi's Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I.

Steckel grew in Northampton, Pa., near Allentown, but he was a Packers fan and always admired Lombardi.

He also was in the minority at the Phi Kappa Psi house, where his fraternity brothers had gathered for the first Super Bowl Sunday.

"We had a ton of guys at the fraternity," Steckel said. "At Kansas, the Greek system was a big deal. Everybody was either in a fraternity or sorority. I was a Phi Kappa Psi.

"Harold Montgomery, our big left tackle from Wichita, Kan., and myself, we came walking downstairs after everybody had already been assembled because most of the guys were for Kansas City. But Harold and I were cheering for the Green Bay Packers. It was two against the rest of the fraternity house."

But Steckel didn't fear for his life. Montgomery was the biggest member of the Jayhawks football team, and Steckel was a Golden Gloves light-heavyweight boxing champion.

"I grew up in Pennsylvania. Boxing was kind of second nature, with or without gloves," Steckel said. "It was kind of a neighborhood deal. "It was truly a blue-collar area. Steel mills. They had these little fire houses, and these guys sit around, drink their shots and beer, eat their cheese steaks, and they'd pay the kids 50 cents to box. Whoever wins gets another 50 cents. You're fighting like crazy and trying to win money. I took the gloves to college."

Steckel and Montgomery were in the minority that day, but they were cheering for the winning team.

"It was a heck of a game," Steckel said.

Just down the hall, in the same fraternity house, Steckel would receive a call on a pay phone from a Marine recruiter. He enlisted, became a platoon leader, returned to play for the Quantico Marine Corps football team and then embarked on a coaching career.

* * *

Weren't you a little intimidated to be one of only two people rooting for the Packers in a frat house full of Chiefs fans?

A: I figured I was a Golden Gloves boxer and had won a championship. And Harold was about 6-5, about 265 pounds at the time. That was huge back then. And nobody was going to mess with Harold. And I'd hold my own, and I figured I could hold them off for a while. And we had fun! I can still picture us coming in late and everybody asking, "Where's Les? Where's Harold?'

SUPER BOWL I

Jan. 15, 1967

Los Angeles

Packers 35, Chiefs 10

MVP: Bart Starr, Packers quarterback (16-of-23 for 250 yards and two touchdowns).

IN THE NEWS: Jan. 27: Apollo astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee are killed in a spacecraft fire during a simulated launch. Oct. 2: Thurgood Marshall is sworn in as the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice. Dec. 3: Dr. Christiaan Barnard and a team of South African surgeons perform the world's first successful human heart transplant.

BEST PICTURE OSCAR: A Man for All Seasons

MUSIC OF THE MOMENT: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/the Beatles

EVERYBODY'S WATCHING: Hogan's Heroes

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