John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: April, 2015

The Brothers Modzelewski

(Special Tuesday edition sent onboard the AMERICAN QUEEN north of Natchez, MS)


Picture, if you will, four ethnically Polish brothers, growing up, in middle America, mid-Twentieth Century; three of the four played football. One brother, Dick, was a mainstay tackle for my team, the New York Giants.


In 1957, Jim Brown, Cleveland’s sensational rookie fullback led the team in rushing with 942 yards. Lost in Jim Brown’s wake and all but forgotten that season was former starter, Ed Modzelewski (pronounced moe-juh-LESS-kee). Modzelewski, known as “Big Mo” had rushed for 619 yards just two years earlier but after being relegated to the role of substitute Big Mo’s playing time was reduced to just 21 yards in ten carries. Big Mo played little the next two seasons and retired following the 1959 season rather than play for a new expansion team, the Dallas Cowboys.


Big Mo was the sixth player picked in the 1952 NFL draft after finishing his college career at the University of Maryland where he played from 1949 to 1951. The Terrapins were anointed National Champions in 1951 after an undefeated season that included upsetting the previously unbeaten Tennessee Volunteers, 28-13 in the Sugar Bowl. Big Mo was named the outstanding player of that game after running for 153 yards. His coach, Jim Tatum, proclaimed after the game, “He’s the best fullback in the country.”


Years later, a reporter caught up with Big Mo at his home in West Sedona, Arizona. “Relics of those glory years are tucked away out of sight.” Ed noted, “Most of (my stuff) is in the garage. My Sugar Bowl trophy got broken years ago by our four kids. All I have is the bottom part.”


Ed ran a successful food franchise business after he retired. He died on February 28, 2015 at 86.


Brother Dick, two years younger was deemed “Little Mo”. Ed and Dick played together for two seasons at Maryland including the 1951 championship. In his senior year, Little Mo received the Outland Trophy as the best lineman in the country. Drafted by the Redskins, he also played for the Steelers before being traded to the New York Giants in 1956 where he became part of the greatest defensive team of that era. Playing tackle, Little Mo joined Andy Robustelli, Roosevelt Grier and Jim Kacavage. This group of men together with their middle linebacker, Sam Huff, stole the publicity spotlight becoming the first defensive football stars in the NFL. It didn’t hurt that television enhanced their exposure, or that they played in the media capital of the country or that the Giants won the NFL Championship Game in 1956 demolishing the Chicago Bears, 47 to 7.


Although this was their only championship victory, as a unit they played in four more title games. Little Mo was the least flamboyant of the group which suited his team ethic. He was the sheriff of the line of scrimmage, the lineman who rarely chased after the ball carrier or who rushed the passer. Instead he patrolled the line of scrimmage and eliminated the opponent’s blockers so his mates could make the big play.


Baby brother, Eugene played at New Mexico State from 1961 to 1965 with the nickname, “No Mo.” Drafted in 1966 by both the Browns and the army, Gene served in Viet Nam and never returned to the game. He was 60 when he died in 2004.


Football didn’t call oldest brother Joe who was the chef at the family restaurant in Cleveland.


After a successful 1963 season, the Giants owner, Wellington Mara and head coach, Allie Sherman grew concerned that too many stars were aging. They instituted a disastrous youth movement that promptly caused the team to collapse. The Giants wouldn’t return to the playoffs until 1981.


First to go; Little Mo traded to the Browns in 1964 for Bobby Crespino, a tight end. The Browns considered Crespino to be a bust. Their No.1 draft choice in 1961, he only caught a total of six passes in three seasons.


The Giants lied to their fans and proclaimed that Little Mo wanted to finish his career in his home town. Dick saw it for what it was; a “dump job.”


In his words: “A few weeks after the trade, I went to see (Cleveland owner, Art) Modell about my contract. I was so mad about the trade, I could hardly talk. I told him, ‘Give me a blank contract.’ I signed it and shoved it back at him. ‘Write in whatever amount you want.’ Then I steamed out the door. Modell always said he paid me more than he intended because I did that. But frankly, I was so mad, I didn’t care. I think he gave me $17,500 which was more than I made in New York.”


Little Mo went on to be a starter in 1964 when teammate, Jim Parker fell to injuries. The Browns won the NFL Title Game that year and Dick picked up his second championship ring. The Giants finished last in their division with a 2-10-2 record.


Little Mo remained in pro football as a player and a coach until 1990. Dick is 84.


As Modzelewski grew older, his anger grew less defined; Little Mo forgave the Giants and made them his chosen team of record. He signed a one-day contract and officially retired from the NFL as Number 77, defensive tackle, New York Football Giants.



Jim Crow Railroads

I only traveled south of the Mason-Dixon Line during the Jim Crow era three times, all of them to Florida by airplane in 1957, 1959 and 1960. None of those trips counted toward experiencing what life was like in the segregated South even though Florida was then as separate and unequal as any other southern state. Why? Each time, I flew non-stop between New York and Miami, twice on Eastern and once on National Airlines. Passing over the invisible Mason-Dixon Line at 20,000 feet or higher, Jim Crow was impossible to see, feel or experience.


I took these flights to visit my father then stationed at Homestead AFB. John Sr. was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force, a navigator / weapons officer by trade flying B-47 bombers as part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). I have no recollection of any form of segregation or discrimination whatsoever on the base. I remained isolated from the Jim Crow South on every level during my travels and stays in Florida. The FAA controlled air travel, the services were fully integrated, my father and his family lived in base housing and most of their friends were other USAF officers and their families.


The South began to explode in a great Civil Rights campaign just after my December 1960 visit. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led the battle in spirit and in action. Lyndon B. Johnson aided these efforts when he became President of the United States. MLK Jr. fought with undaunted courage and LBJ did what no other President could do, he engineered passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. These two men, each in their own way were at the right place and time to force open the gates so that many other brave men and women could turn the course of race relations in the USA on its head and make us a better, though still incomplete, nation.


Had my father insisted that I travel by train on any one of these visits, my experience may have been very different. Back then, passenger trains still carried as many travelers as the airlines. Seaboard and Atlantic Coast Lines dominated the coastal route from New York’s Pennsylvania Station to Jacksonville, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami while the Illinois Central owned the traffic out of Chicago reaching south to cities on the Gulf Coast from Gainesville, Tampa and Sarasota to Fort Myers.


Their trains had magical names; Illinois Central had the Panama Limited and the City of Miami, ACL operated the Silver Meteor, Silver Comet and Silver Star. Seaboard offered the Champion and the Palmetto. But nowhere in the glossy brochures or advertisements for these luxury trains did any of these railroads or travel agents explain or even mention that service was subject to Jim Crow once passengers crossed that invisible line, the “Cotton Curtain.”



Had I set out from Penn Station to visit the “old man” on one of those trips, I would have traveled south in a reserved seat on the Pennsylvania Railroad with a through coach ticket south of Union Station. On the ride from New York through Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore to Washington DC, black and white passengers would cohabitate the coaches but white conductors and black porters would advise black customers continuing south of DC to move into the Jim Crow coaches in the front of the train before it departed Union Station. (If these passengers were riding Illinois Central trains from Chicago, they would receive the same admonition once they reached the Ohio River where the train would cross from Illinois into Kentucky.)


The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 changed all that but not over night. Jim Crow had been in existence since the end of Reconstruction in 1876 and old habits died hard both for Southern whites and blacks. Conductors who worked the trains south of DC continued to enforce the-now illegal Jim Crow laws by ordering the porters to herd black travelers into Jim Crow coaches. Some of these same travelers voluntarily moved to avoid confrontations.


Some porters didn’t follow orders and counseled their charges that they were entitled to the same reserved seat through to their destination. One such porter was George Swanson Starling.* Mr. Starling had fled Florida at the end of World War II after unsuccessfully trying to organize orange grove pickers. He escaped to New York City one step ahead of the sheriff.


By the mid-1960s Mr. Swanson was one of Seaboard’s veteran porters who would take aside passengers on the run from Baltimore to DC to explain their rights. “Going below Washington, they want us to move y’all up front in the Jim Crow car. But if you paid an extra fee to reserve this seat, you are entitled to keep this seat to your point of destination. But they not gonna tell you that. They gonna tell you, you got to move up front.”


“Just tell ‘em, ‘Look, I have a reserved seat from New York to Jacksonville and I’m not moving anywhere. Now if you want me to move, you get the cops and come and move me. I’m not voluntarily moving anywhere.”


That was the kind of courage it took to implement the Civil Rights Act and change the landscape. They defied illegal orders at the risk of employment retribution to carry the day. George Swanson Starling did what he had to do. He wouldn’t think so but he was a hero.


* Mr. Starling is featured in: The Warmth of Other Suns, The epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.



Baseball Caps

Thursday, April 9, 2015 was one of those cold, damp days in New York that just gets you down. I hope it was the final curtain call of what was a truly rotten winter season.


The day found me mumbling over the need to don too much clothing for my trip into Manhattan. Bored by my dull, drab well-worn winter raincoat, I selected a bright blue baseball cap to protect me from the rain. The cap carried the Durham Bull’s logo; a big “D” in bright orange with a bull charging through the D.


I bought this hat last year on a baseball trip that included a Durham Bulls home game. It’s a good fit and it can bring interesting comments. Most people confuse it with the Denver Broncos hat because of the D and as that football team has similar colors.


But today my hat would be upstaged. After arriving in Penn Station, I made my way to the Eighth Avenue subway to catch an uptown local to the 50th Street station. Boarding an E Train, I found an unoccupied space to stand, grabbed an overhead bar for support and braced myself for the inevitable lurch as the motorman resumed his northbound journey.


It was only after I adjusted myself to the rhythm of the moving train that I noticed a chap wearing a dirty white baseball cap standing near to me. The writing on the side facing me read in navy blue, “2010 St. Andrews.”  That grabbed my attention compelling me to give him a second look. He was about my age, could have been a tourist and I guessed he might have been traveling with the woman sitting in front of him. Once the train came to a stop at 42nd Street, the seat next to her opened up permitting him to join her. They began to chat confirming my assumption and I continued my examination of his hat. Instead of a logo of some sort the peak bore the Claret Jug, the trophy awarded to the winner of the British Open Golf Tournament or, as our British cousins egotistically refer to it, “The Open.”


For the record, The 2010 Open was played at the Old Course at St. Andrews from the 15 to 18 of July 2010. It was the 28th time The Open was played at this golf club and the 150th anniversary of The Open’s founding in 1860. The champion was Louis Oostuizen who won the tournament with a 16-under-par total of 272 beating Lee Westwood by seven strokes.


Bravely, I decided to break the subway’s unwritten code and spoke to this stranger, “Excuse me, that’s quite a unique baseball cap.” When he didn’t respond, I explained, “Your hat is a souvenir from the British Open, the most prestigious golf tournament in the world from a year when it was played at St. Andrews, the most prestigious golf club on earth.”


The woman responded, “He doesn’t know anything about golf.”


“I see. Well, trust me you own a rare cap. Where did you get it?”


“At a tag sale in The Bronx.”


By this time, the train began to brake as it entered my station. “Believe me, that’s a great hat.”  was all I could say before I had to leave the train.


I stepped out onto the platform. The doors closed behind me and the train accelerated away leaving me to contemplate the circumstances that brought his hat from Scotland to a tag sale in The Bronx. I shrugged in wonder as I made my way to the cold, wet street.




Treason is Serious

During the course of a pleasant lunch with my good friend, Mike, at Foley’s NY Saloon, a fine Manhattan sports pub, Mike remarked while enjoying his Guinness, “What those forty-something senators did by writing that letter to Iran was treason, pure and simple.”


Oops, I held my tongue as I didn’t exactly agree with Mike. True, I can’t deny those senators were both rash and inappropriate in usurping the province of the Executive Branch of our government. Furthermore, I believe that they did not act in the best interest of National unity and their actions were completely outside the terms of their franchise.


But, did they commit an act of treason? Well now, I think not.


Immediately, my mind raced back 50 years to St. Francis College and Professor James Flynn. (This is not uncommon for me in like situations that involve politics, government and law. Everything I know about these subjects is based on the teachings of Doc Flynn.)


What I recalled was his definition of treason: Treason is an overt act against the United States Government in time of war that is witnessed by at least two people. I remained silent and didn’t challenge Mike because I couldn’t be sure that the passage of time may have dimmed my memory or distorted the facts as to what constitutes treason. Subsequent investigation reveals the following:


Treason is defined as: The betrayal of one’s own country by waging war against or by consciously or purposely acting to aid its enemies.


Further U.S. Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 115 defines treason as: Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States and elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.


To prove treason: “As in any other criminal trial in the United States, a defendant charged with treason is presumed innocent until proved guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Treason may be proved by a voluntary confession in open court or by evidence that the defendant committed an overt act of treason. Each overt act must be witnessed by at least two people, or a conviction of treason will not stand. By requiring this type of direct evidence, the Constitution minimizes the danger of convicting an innocent person and forestalls the possibility of partisan witch-hunts waged by a single adversary.


“Unexpressed seditious thoughts do not constitute treason, even if those thoughts contemplate a bloody revolution or coup. Nor does public expression of subversive opinions, including vehement criticism of the government and its policies constitute treason.


Fifty years later, I can proclaim, my brain is not too shabby. Once again, the teachings of Doc Flynn have weathered the test of time and weathered it well.


Treason is one of those words people like to throw around to express their displeasure with others. I suspect we‘ve all been guilty of branding those with whom we fervently disagree of engaging in treasonous acts when they say or do something truly offensive.


Just how narrow the intent of the Founding Fathers in defining what is treason can best be demonstrated by the conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for handing over secrets to the atomic bomb to the USSR during World War II.  The Rosenbergs were convicted of espionage but were not tried for treason because the Soviet Union was an ally during the war. By definition, they were not traitors.


For the record, may I suggest, we should be really, really careful who we declare as committing treason or brand as traitors less we too shall so be branded by those who differ with us.


As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, We are what we pretend to be. That is why we should be careful as to what we pretend to be.



Once Upon a Time in Bethlehem, PA

Concrete Charlie Bednarik passed away in March at 89. The son of Slovenian immigrants and a native of Bethlehem, PA, he was as hard-nosed, rugged and durable as any football player who has played in the NFL. For most of his 14 – year career season that began in 1949, he played both ways: center on offense and middle guard / linebacker on defense until the end of the 1960 season. He was the last “sixty-minute man” in the league and the essence of Philadelphia Eagles football.


Bednarik is remembered most for the blind-side hit he delivered to an unsuspecting Frank Gifford that knocked the New York Giants premier running back into the middle of the following week and out of football for the 1961 season. Bethlehem, PA was Concrete Charlie and Charlie was Mister Bethlehem.


The city also had a steel mill owned and operated by the company bearing its name. Now gone, the firm was once enormous, America’s second largest steel producer with national operations that included shipyards in Quincy, Mass, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. These yards had their own fleets of workboats enough to warrant decent size insurance policies. For years, Bethlehem’s insurance manager, a chap named Geoffrey Jones, remained loyal to a Manhattan-based competitor of mine, Johnson & Higgins. But in reality, Geoffrey was a star struck Anglophile who loved his twice-yearly visits to London where he met with J&H’s English partner firm, Willis Faber. The object of his admiration was his Lloyds’ broker, Neil Gaines.


All went well until insurance broking mergers upset Mr. Jones’ world. When Willis merged with a New York firm, Caroon & Black, J&H cut ties with them and established their own London office. Geoffrey was livid and, in his fury, put his program out to bid. Requests for proposals were sent to major brokers including my firm’s Philadelphia office. Realizing their lack of marine expertise, I was asked to participate in drafting our bid and making the oral presentation.


When the dates were being set for the presentations in Bethlehem, I asked my counterpart in Philadelphia, Tom Chasser, “Who are we taking to the presentation and who will our competitors be?”


Tom replied, “Just you and me. Willis is sending Neil Gaines and some woman from their New York office; I think she goes by Ms. M.G. Wilson. J&H is sending two Brits from London, Roger Tyndall and Nigel Rahn.”


“You gotta be kidding me, Tom, I asked incredulously?”


“Why, what’s wrong John?”


“Tom,” I replied, “Here’s what’s going to happen when we go out to Bethlehem. Jones is going to look us over and this is what he’s going to say to you, ‘Mr. Chasser, what I can’t understand is that J&H has brought me two chaps from London, Mr. Tyndall and Mr. Rahn and Willis brought over Mr. Gaines. But all you bring to me is this fellow, Delach from New York. Am I missing something?’


“And Tom, I plan to answer this question and do you know what I am going to say to him?”


Tom shook his head, no.


“I am going to look Jones right in the eye and say to him loud and clear, “How about them Eagles!”


It so happened, our own Brit, William Hayes was visiting our office. Hayes was a liability insurance man who knew nothing about marine; I drafted him to be our spokesman. Driving out on I-78 across New Jersey in my GMC truck, I briefed Hayes, “William, you will front the presentation and Tom and I will handle the details.


Geoffrey fell in love with William so much so that when we had a post-presentation lunch in an old inn, I thought I’d have to arrange a hotel room for the two of them.


We won the bid, got the business and through the absurdity of it all, I have had a fondness for Bethlehem, PA and Concrete Charlie.


RIP Mr. Bednarik, RIP Bethlehem Steel.