Luke Graham: Blast from the past


Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or

Find more columns by Luke here.

Believe it or not, there's a connection between me and Pro Football Hall of Famers Bobby Layne and Y.A. Tittle.

It even goes beyond my trip to Canton, Ohio four years ago.

I certainly never saw them play, but while both were being taken in the first round of the 1948 NFL Draft, my grandfather Roy Lilja was taken out of Colorado College 27 rounds later with the 256th pick by the New York Football Giants.

I always knew my grandfather played in the NFL, but I didn't know much about it until last weekend.

When my grandmother decided to move out of her house in Littleton to a smaller place down the road, the old olive green chest in the basement - fit with leather straps - became a bridge to the sports world of the past.

Scouring through it was like going through an encyclopedia of family and sports history. It also showed how much the sports world has evolved (or devolved).

My grandfather, best described as stubborn, never liked talking about himself, unless, of course, he was with his friends drinking coffee on Saturday mornings, which to a 7-year-old seemed like days.

While I learned my grandfather had a penchant for telling stories and giving waitresses hell, I didn't pay much attention to his "old time" stories.

I wish I would have.

In the day where sports coverage goes over the top - the NFL draft is televised now and only includes seven rounds but takes twice as long - the olive green chest told of a sports world in a simpler time.

In the chest were recruiting letters from Minnesota for my grandfather, a native Minnesotan. Among them were playbooks. There weren't any West Coast offenses, spread option sets or run and shoot formations.

Just good old fashion winged-T and wishbone offenses.

Then, there was a ring from the 1941 national champion Minnesota Golden Gophers. While it looks more like a high school class ring from today than a 300-plus diamond New England Patriots Super Bowl ring, its subtleness gives it a unique feel.

After attending Minnesota and winning a national championship, my grandfather took some time off before attending Colorado College.

When he was drafted by the New York Football Giants (the football part was added to differentiate from the baseball team), there are letters informing my grandfather about when camps begin and what the Giants were willing to offer for a contract.

The signatures at the bottom of the letters - dated 1948 - were from Giants owners Jack and Wellington Mara.

For those who don't know, the Maras were pioneers in the NFL. It could be argued the Maras made the NFL what it is today by agreeing to share TV revenue on a league-wide basis.

There's a letter stating my grandfather would earn a signing bonus of $5,000. A note accompanies it from commissioner Bert Bell with 14 rules all NFL players must follow.

Most of the rules are the same as today. Rule six especially applies to today, essentially saying carry yourself in a manner that doesn't embarrass yourself or the team.

I guess some things are timeless.

Once I hit the bottom of the dusty chest, it was like a walk through my own personal Hall of Fame.

My grandfather played only two seasons with the Giants after suffering an arm injury. Still, it didn't matter to him. There were more important things than playing sports.

In the "all sports, all the time" era I've grown up in, it's nice to be able to look back to the past to appreciate the now.

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229

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