The one and only Jimmy Conzelman


“[Light-heavyweight champ] Philadelphia Jack O’Brien thought I had a future as a fighter, but I’m glad I didn’t follow up on that. As for music, I had an expert opinion from the late Eddy Duchin. We were good friends, and I used to pretend to him that I seriously thought I was in his league as a piano player.

Eddy never caught on, he couldn’t see anything funny in the idea. So I began to get people to ask him just where he would rate me among the 10 best piano players of the country. Eddy used to blow his top. He’d yell, ‘Conzelman! He’s no piano player! Look at his left hand! As a piano player Conzelman is a bum!'”

— JImmy Conzelman


If you could invite any five people from pro football history to dinner, who would you choose? My first draft pick — playing the position of: Life of the Party — would be Hall of Famer Jimmy Conzelman. Conzelman was a man of many talents. A fine quarterback in the 1920s with the Rock Island Independents and other clubs, he also coached two teams to NFL titles (the single-wing Providence Steam Roller in 1928 and the T-formation Chicago Cardinals in ’47), was perhaps the most sought-after after-dinner speaker of his time and could even play the piano.

Sports Illustrated’s Gerald Holland wrote this piece about Conzelman in 1961, one that captures him in all his multifaceted glory. Hope you like it as much as I did. To me, Jimmy was a combination of John Madden and Art Donovan — with some Victor Borge, perhaps, mixed in. Of course, Jimmy always said his primary influence as a speaker was humorist Robert Benchley, who had a seat at the Algonquin Round Table.