Oct. 14, 2005
By Ken Kleppel
“Notre Dame’s “Iron Man” center has saved the Irish from utter rout. Averaged 55 minutes per game. Plays best under pressure and is uncanny pass snatcher. Captain of the team and inspiration to mates. A senior, he’s majoring in business and plans to work for his father after a year or two in pro football.” -The News 1950 All-America Release
In describing its selection of Jerry Groom to the 1950 News All-American team, only the most clairvoyant sportswriter could have used proper diction to encapsulate Groom’s impact on the gridiron in the decade following the second world war–or begin to predict Groom’s influence away from the field fifty years later.
The year or two in professional football became six with the Chicago Cardinals, including a Pro Bowl season in 1954. Plans to work for his father never fully materialized, but Groom did broadcast for the Denver Broncos before serving as a vice president with Levi Strauss & Co, and retiring with his wife Kathy in Sarasota, Fla. And in these retirement years he would continue to feel the aches and pains of his playing days. Groom has endured fourteen football-related operations, and boasts a pair of artificial hips and surgically repaired knees as proof.
But the most glaring omission from the passage is not those four decades after print that his efforts at Notre Dame were recognized with induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Rather, the oversight is obvious to those who know Groom best–he was and is one of Leahy’s Lads.
“Playing and graduating from Notre Dame always will be a tremendous part of my life,” says Groom. “But no one has had a bigger impact than Coach Leahy.”
The group of Leahy’s former players has returned to campus at least once per season since its first reunion in the 1950s. But through his efforts, Groom ensures that Leahy’s influence is experienced by Notre Dame students each day of the year.
In 1996, Groom helped launch the scholarship fund that bears Leahy’s namesake with Jack Connor, John Lattner, Jack Leahy and Bud Romano. Today, the Frank Leahy Memorial Fund has raised more than two million dollars in academic scholarships to students in need of financial assistance. Groom works tirelessly to raise donations and organize the group’s annual dinner and gala.
“Ironic,” says Groom. “The year I was captain was the worst record Coach ever had, at Boston College or Notre Dame.”
But Leahy’s relationship with Groom extended well beyond wins and losses. Just ask Groom, ever the conversationalist, and he will be glad to narrate an anecdote about his coach.
For at least one day, though, the story is about the player. As Leahy’s Lads convened for another reunion, two generations of Leahy’s–son Jack and grandson Ryan–awaited Groom’s arrival moments before the 2005 home opener against Michigan State.
“Jerry is a phenomenal man,” said Jack Leahy, sporting a twinkle in his eye eerily similar to his father’s. “He keeps this thing going.”
In fifty-five words or less, a sportswriter can only communicate so much. It sometimes takes fifty years more to tell the rest of the story.