ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Harry Jacobs can still hear the crowd booing loudly at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium as Jack Kemp took the field in place of benched quarterback – and fan favorite – Daryle Lamonica.
What made the moment memorable some 45 years later was how Kemp immediately made the booing stop and the cheers start by connecting with Charley Ferguson for a touchdown.
For Jacobs, the former Bills linebacker, that was the first of many examples of the persevering quality that made Kemp an unquestioned leader – and winner – on the football field long before he ever became a political player. And it’s a memory Jacobs cherished Sunday, a day after Kemp died of cancer at his home in Bethesda, Md., at the age of 73.
“He had the ability to come back at times of adversity and make things happen,” Jacobs said Sunday. “He didn’t shrink away from anything. Every challenge he ever saw, he faced up to it. He just kept going.”
Kemp lived on the national stage for most of his adult life, transforming what he learned in sports into a successful political career. That part of his life culminated in 1996, when he was the Republican nominee for vice president in Bob Dole’s losing bid to unseat President Bill Clinton.
In between football and a spot on the Republican presidential ticket, Kemp represented western New York for nine terms in Congress and served a term as President George H.W. Bush’s housing secretary.
Through it all, Kemp exemplified the leadership skills first noticed by his former Bills teammates.
“You never saw fear in his eyes. You always saw confidence. And I saw that in his political career, too,” Hall of Fame guard Billy Shaw said. “That’s what made Jack the man he was. His ability to rise to the occasion – whether it was on the football field or the political field – and always come up with a solution.”
Kemp was undeterred during an 11-year career in football, which began with him failing to make the rosters of four teams – even one in the Canadian Football League – before he landed in Buffalo. By the time he retired in 1969, Kemp led the Bills to consecutive American Football League championships in 1964 and ’65. He continues to hold a special place for a franchise entering its 50th year.
What was impressive was Kemp’s ability to deliver at the most important moments.
“When Jack was in the huddle, they knew that some way he was going to get it done,” said Paul Maguire, the Bills’ former linebacker and punter, and current football broadcaster.