Kemp, wearing number 49, with teammate Jim Mora JACK KEMP … 1996 REPUBLICAN VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE … SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, 1989 93 … UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN, BUFFALO, NEW YORK, 1971 89 … AFL-NFL QUARTERBACKPITTSBURGH STEELERS, NEW YORK GIANTS, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS, BUFFALO BILLS, 1957 1969 Pro football gave me a good sense of perspective to enter poli – tics. I’d already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy. JA CK KEMP JACK KEMP 149 Ever since I was a kid, I thought about playing quarterback in the NFL, but I didn’t tell anyone, because I was afraid they would laugh. One day, my freshman football coach, Payton Jordan, who was a local legend in Southern California, called me into his office, which was aweinspiring because it was a little like walking into a Knute Rockne shrine. He sat me down and said, Look, out of all the players on my team, you’re the one who I think can make it in the NFL. But you’re not training enough, studying enough, lifting enough. You’re just not putting in the work. Suddenly I had someone besides me who believed I could be NFL material. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.
It got me through the tough times and helped chase away any self-doubt. In retrospect, I am not sure how many people he told that to, but at the time I thought I was the only one, and it meant the world to me. In reality, he was not worried about us going pro, he just wanted to make us better men. In order to do that, he knew he had to help shape a top-notch work ethic. HOW IT HELPED I was a physical education major in college and I was only concerned with football, doing just enough to get by to stay eligible to play. By the time my football career was over, I had grown to understand how important education was and what a passion I had for politics. After a while, I started to think of myself as a politician. I ran for Congress and won. Being a quarterback was the perfect training for any political leader because I knew how to work hard, how to inspire others, and was an optimist. Talk to any quarterback and they’ll tell you they don’t hope a play works, they know it will. They have to sell that play to their teammates, and I knew how to sell myself in politics the same way I sold myself on the field.
My greatest political achievement might have been helping to push President Reagan and President Bush, both forty-one and forty-three, 150 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME into agreeing with my belief that lower tax rates would strengthen the economy and make it grow. I think my passion and research on the issue won them over, and a large part of that came from my years as a professional football player. FAMILY I took great pride in helping to raise two football-playing sons who went pro. My son Jeff played for eleven years in the NFL, and Jimmy played for eight years in the Canadian Football League. With sixteen grandchildren, nine of whom are boys who all love sports, who knows, I might be back on the NFL sidelines again before too long. MY WRAP Jack Kemp always practiced full-contact politics, and it’s hard to see him today and not think football player. We keep coming back to the same theme: one person, in this case Payton Jordan, taking an interest in a kid who needs a push to reach his full potential. JACK KEMP
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