Jack Kemp: New York icon started as an L.A. story
Jack Kemp, 73, passed away this weekend after a battle with cancer. He will best be remembered for a successful career in both football and politics in New York, but it all began on the sun-splashed fields of Southern California.
Born in Los Angeles, Kemp attended Fairfax High and became a standout in football (in several positions) and track and field (he set a school record in the javelin) at Occidental in the mid-1950s. He was close friends with future NFL coach Jim Mora, a teammate and fellow member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.
At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Kemp thought he was too small to play for either USC or UCLA but still aspired to make it in the NFL. His pro career got off to a rocky start until he found success with the AFL's Los Angeles Chargers in 1960 and moved with the team to San Diego the following year.
Kemp'slocal sports career continued down a bizarre path. He was enlisted in the Army Reserve, but a football injury caused military doctors to declare him unfit for duty in 1961. A few months later, Kemp led the Chargers to a division title, throwing for 2,686 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. Injured again in 1962, the Chargers botched a waiver move and lost him to the Buffalo Bills for a mere $100.
At Buffalo, Kemp secured his place as one of the top quarterbacks to play in AFL history, winning an MVP award and setting career records in passing attempts, completions and yards.
His political career included 18 years in Congress, four years working for the White House and an unsuccessful bid for the vice presidency. Kemp once quipped, "Pro football gave me a good perspective. When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy."
-- Adam Rose
Photo: Jack Kemp from his playing days at Occidental College. Credit: Occidental College.