Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bob & John Richards (AKA Ricciotti), Football & Nile Kinnick

If you are receiving this as an automatic email, it will probably be rather disjointed. You may want to try coming to the blog for better viewing. Formatting was giving me fits today and I finally threw in the towel.

I hope my Idaho friends will forgive me if I venture off in another direction. There is certainly a never ending amount of Steunenberg, Idaho, labor, mining, Haywood trial and other Western related history, much of it with threads that can be traced in some way to our family. However, on the Richards' side the pickings are more limited. I have thought about starting another blog but I am going to stay put for now. After all, Richards and Steunenberg are forever linked no matter where we have lived in this world.

Here's a story that is purely from the Richards' (Ricciotti if you want to go with our original and legal Italian name at the time) side. No Steunenberg connection yet but it would be coming just a few years later. I don't have nearly the volume of information on my dad's side as we do with the Steunenberg's. No governors, no murders (not that I have found yet anyway), and in fact much remains shrouded in mystery, but this is an interesting football related story nonetheless.
Mary Richards

It was the late 1930's-40's, the Richards' family, consisting of grandma Mary Costello Richards, an immigrant from County Mayo Ireland, and grandpa Robert
Joseph Richards (AKA Gabriel Ricciotti), a first generation Italian American, and their two boys, the oldest Robert 'Bob'  and the youngest John Thomas Richards (my father), were living in Philadelphia, PA. Sometimes referred to as North Philly, the area had a booming industrial base, warehouse and manufacturing buildings were prevalent along with tightly packet row houses with the many Irish and Italian immigrants of the day. They lived at 3108 N. Marston St.  It's still there but not looking very good after a fire and all these years later. I have photo's of Bob and my dad playing around and on those steps. Grandpa Richards worked for the Railway Express Agency, driving a delivery truck in Philly for some 30+ years before the family uprooted in the early 1950's and headed for California. The photo to the left comes from an article in Southwestern Trucker & Shipper, 1/1950, regarding safety awards for Railway Express drivers.
Robert Richards 1939 (©JTR)
Courtesy of RCHS Library.

My Uncle Bob attended Roman Catholic High School (RCHS). From what I can tell, he was a pretty good student but an even better football player. He graduated from RCHS in 1939.
Bob 3rd from right or left. ©JTR

After high school, Bob went on to play sandlot/semi-pro football. The small, tattered, heavily taped article to the right says the following (as best I can read it):  
"Bob Richards Zephyr A.C. ace center and former Roman Catholic High School star received the greatest award that any High School, Collegiate and Sandlot star could ever receive.  On Monday November 24th (maybe & guessing 1941 as no year date on the article), Bob Richards and (could be several or four, five, etc) other High School and College stars at a banquet held in their honor received the Maxwell Trophy for being the outstanding stars of the season. Bob has also received the honor of being the only sandlot star to ever win such an award. To him all take off their hats and wish him and his team the best of luck in the future."

I have not been able to locate much information on a Zephyr A.C. sandlot football team from that time period.If you are aware of information in that regards please let me know.

From: The History of Maxwell Football Club:
"In 1935 when the Club was founded, weekly meetings consisted of informal sessions with football officials, coaches and the public to talk about the previous weekend’s games. At these meetings local high school and college players were honored. The end of the 1937 football season was highlighted by the presentation of the First Maxwell Award for the Outstanding College Player of the Year to Clint Frank of Yale." "Throughout the ensuing years, weekly awards to local high school and college players became an integral part of the Club’s activities." 

With the Pearl Harbor attack and start of WWII on 12/7/1941, sandlot football, quite popular at the time, was suspended until after the war. Pretty obvious why, as young men like Bob were heading off to war and postponing football or other careers. Hence, Bob got in a year or two of sandlot before enlisting in the U.S.Marine's July 1942, his dream of perhaps professional football probably over.

John T. Richards Sr. (age 12?)

John T. Richards Sr Age 16.

My dad attended only one year of high school and, probably in an attempt to keep up with his brother, would falsify his birth record and join the Marines soon thereafter (Nov. 1942). Unfortunately, doing so was a mistake, as he was a troubled 16 year old kid and emotionally unprepared for military life. Bob went on to serve in the war and to have an honorable military career. His little brother did not and the Marine Corp. gave John T. the boot. I guess I should give him some credit for trying.

So where does Nile Kinnick come in on this? I am not really sure except for an autographed photo postcard of Kinnick sent to Bob's younger brother, my dad John T. Richards, from Iowa City, IA in 1940. Now I have to admit I knew very little about Kinnick and had not given him much thought when my dad gave me some photos of Bob along with with the signed postcard below. My dad didn't know much about it either and Nile was tossed into a box where he stayed for a few years without any particular archival protection.

Nile Kinnick, University of Iowa. ©JTR Collection
You can look up and study Kinnick online as quite a lot of information is available. I will list a few resources at the end of this post. To summarize briefly, in 1939 he had led the University of Iowa football team back to prominence and was a consensus All-American, Walter Camp, Heisman, Maxwell, etc., award winner. Kinnick enlisted in the U.S. Naval Air Corps in September 1941. In Hawkeye territory you had better know who he is! He too postponed a professional football and/or political career but died on 6/2/1943 in the service of his country—a promising lifetime ahead cut terribly and tragically short.
Reverse side of the autographed photo of Nile Kinnick to John T. Richards. ©JTR Collection.

 I had to add a Kinnick TOPPS card. ©JTR Collection.
So why the postcard to my dad? I'm pretty sure dad didn't send for it and he wasn't ever much of a football fan. I think more plausible, but up to now difficult to prove, is the common link of football and military service between Bob and Nile. However, their military careers did not start until long after this postcard was sent. Kinnick, having excelled at Iowa, was certainly a more big time player than Bob but I can't help but think in the short window of time between 1938 -1941, the two met up at a football function and Bob maybe said, "can you send one of those photos to my kid brother"?  We know too they both won Maxwell Awards, Kinnick in 1939 and Bob probably in 1940. However, Kinnick's was the national Maxwell Trophy that had been initiated a couple years earlier in 1937. Interestingly, Kinnick accepted his Maxwell on 1/10/1940 from the Maxwell Club in Philadelphia, PA. Less than a month later he signed and sent that photo postcard to my dad.

©JTR Collection
Bob's award was not the national Maxwell, but most likely a local award from the Maxwell Club to PA area players, much like today's Mini-Max. Unfortunately, when I contacted them, the Maxwell Club could not shed any information on the local awards from that time period. Maybe those local award winners, including Bob, attended the presentation to Nile and/or met him in Philadelphia at the time.   

Regardless how it might have happened, Nile Kinnick, in the form of an originally autographed photo postcard, addressed to John T. Richards and postmarked 1940 from Iowa City, found his way to the Richards' household in Philadelphia. I have received a few offers for the card (feel free to make more!) but with the sports connection, especially what I have learned about Nile, and my dad's name right there too, parting with it remains difficult but I'll keep thinking about it. I guess everything has its price. Feel free to take a run at it Hawkeye fans!

Other items related to Bob Richards, military, football and the Kinnick name pops up again too:
©JTR Collection. Bob right square in the middle, 4th from right or left middle row. A.R.M, R-8, SEC-D, NATTC, Memphis, 48
 On the back it looks like Bob got all his unit members to sign.
©JTR Collection
©JTR Collection
During the occupation of Japan there was still time for some football. I have this program from the New Years Day game, 1/1/1950. Air Force versus Army All Stars.
Bob is front row second from the left. Anyone else you know? Why Air Force? As far as I know Bob was still a Marine but can't say for sure. Perhaps some mixing and matching went on among the branches to come up with teams. I would love to hear from any service men, women, family's that were in occupied Japan during that period. BTW, Air Force won, 18 to 14. Beat Army!

Bob (left) with fellow startiing tackle Cecil Evans (written on back and also front row in the team picture and listed and pictured in the program). Looks like they are just getting ready to load the buses to the game.

We know Bob remained stationed in occupied Japan until at least 1950 as evidenced by this program confirming he played on New Year's Day that year in Tokyo. Interestingly, he found himself playing in what the allies had renamed—Nile Kinnick stadium.
©JTR Collection. Game Day, 1/1/1950 Nile Kinnick Stadium, Tokyo

If you have information, corrections, something to add to any of the above, please click below on "Post a Comment" or email me directly at:

A few other Kinnick related websites below. There are many more if you do a search.

Nile C; Kinnick Jr.

Nile Kinnick (Wikipedia)

A Hero Perished (A decent read for information on Kinnick).

Papers of Nile C. Kinnick, University of Iowa

Nile Kinnick Digital Collection

Iowa Gridiron Collectables (Mark has helped me out with info on Kinnick and of course remains hot on the trail of anything Hawkeye football related).

And oh yes, there was another football player in the family.
John circa 1969

Old #74 and he was also a tackle. Maybe not as long ago as Bob or Nile but long enough!

Thousand Oaks High School class of 1969.

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