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Ringo, James Stephen ("Jim")

RINGO, James Stephen ("Jim")

(b. 21 November 1931 in Orange, New Jersey), undersized overachiever who became a vital part of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers dynasty and an inductee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Ringo was one of three children of James S. Ringo, a professional dynamiter, and Vera Young Ringo, a homemaker. The family moved from Orange, New Jersey, when Ringo was a youngster, and he grew up in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, an industrial town in the Lehigh Valley across the Delaware River from Easton, Pennsylvania. His father left his job in an area quarry and became a power maintenance man at the crayon factory of Binney and Smith Company. Early on Ringo was schooled in the importance of football, a game for which his region of the Lehigh Valley is noted. "In the area where I grew up, you went out for football.… The other sports really hardly existed.… Football was a ticket for me to a college education, because our parents couldn't have afforded to send me to school." Ringo played for Phillipsburg High School as a fullback, but a suggestion from his line coach brought about a change in Ringo's plans and the direction of his career.

Coach Wiz Rinehart thought Ringo might have a better and longer career playing as a center. He was right. Ringo made the conversion to the line and later rewarded Rinehart for his advice and confidence by choosing him to be the presenter at his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981. When Ringo, an All-State selection, graduated from high school in 1949, Floyd ("Ben") Schwartzwalder recruited him to play for Syracuse University. Ringo was one of thirty-five freshmen recruited as Orangemen football players. When he matriculated, Syracuse was not considered a major college football university; the team played the likes of Lafayette College, Cornell University, and Holy Cross and closed each season with a game against nearby rival Colgate University. While he was attending Syracuse, Ringo met Elizabeth Martin. The couple married in July 1951; they had four children and later divorced.

Ringo had a solid, if not spectacular, career at Syracuse. He did not think much about a professional playing career, especially after his final college game—a lopsided 61–6 Orange Bowl loss to Alabama. However, he soon learned via a telegram that the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL) had taken him in the seventh round of the annual college player draft in December 1952. All Ringo had to do was find Green Bay, Wisconsin: "I had to look on a map to see exactly where it was." Ringo graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in sociology.

When he reported to the Packers' preseason training camp in the summer following graduation, Ringo stood six feet, one inch tall and weighed 211 pounds, a little light by pro standards for a center. His blocking assignment was to take the opposing middle guard. In the early 1950s that position usually was occupied by such men as the Detroit Lions' Les Bingaman, who tipped the scales at just over 349 pounds. Ringo was the smallest of the seven men vying for the center position. Discouraged, he left camp. When he arrived home, neither his wife nor his father was sympathetic. The elder Ringo could not comprehend where else a young man could earn $5,250 for four months' work. Sheepishly, Ringo called the assistant coach, Chuck Drulis, who asked him to return. He went and stayed for ten years. While the Packers were bad, Ringo was good. He played in the Pro Bowl All-Star game after the 1957 and 1958 seasons. In 1959 Vince Lombardi arrived as coach, and things changed drastically. Lombardi took a team that had been 1–10–1 a year earlier and converted them into 7–5 winners in his first season. The next year the Packers were in the NFL Championship game. Although they lost 17–13 to the Philadelphia Eagles, they began the Green Bay dynasty by winning in 1961 and 1962, defeating the New York Giants both times.

By that time Ringo was the leader of the Packers' offensive line. He made all the critical calls on blocking assignments once the team got to the line of scrimmage. Although he never weighed more than 232 pounds, he used his quickness and intelligence to become an All-Pro. Ringo credited his former teammate Dave ("Hawg") Hanner with teaching him to handle bigger players. The 260-pound Hanner told Ringo, "Anytime you get a chance, take a shot at me." Ringo did, saying, "I would fire off on him in practice. He taught me that I had to be quick and not block too high or too low. Dave Hanner helped me become an NFL player—I'll always be grateful."

Before the 1964 season Ringo wanted a substantial pay raise; otherwise, he wanted to be traded. A myth grew up around the situation. The story goes that Ringo hired an agent to negotiate his contract—an NFL first at the time. Supposedly, Lombardi, who valued loyalty above all else, met with the agent for a few minutes and then excused himself. When he went back into his office to continue the meeting with Ringo's agent, he reportedly said, "I'm afraid you're in the wrong place. Mr. Ringo is now the property of the Philadelphia Eagles." It simply did not happen that way. Ringo never had an agent, but neither man denied the story. The trade to the Eagles was made. Lombardi liked looking tough in facing up to a player's demands, and Ringo welcomed a chance to close out a great career closer to home.

While he was with the Eagles, Ringo continued his Pro Bowl caliber of play. In fact, the last game of football he played before he retired was the 1968 Pro Bowl. At the time Ringo was one of only a few players to make the Pro Bowl with two different teams—a total of ten times over fifteen years. After retiring as a player, he turned to coaching, working with the Chicago Bears, the Buffalo Bills, and the New England Patriots. Ringo married Judith Lischer on 4 June 1988 and lives in retirement in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Ringo was a tough and durable player. When he retired he held the record for the most consecutive games played—182 games over fifteen seasons. He habitually ignored injuries to continue in the starting lineup. Once, in 1955, Ringo played through a serious back injury that bothered him for the remainder of his career. He even got out of a hospital bed to play on several occasions, just to keep intact his consecutive games streak. Given his position as center—right in the thick of the violent collisions that take place in what the pros call "the pit"—Ringo was a true iron man and one of the most durable and best linemen ever to play the game.

There is no biography of Ringo. His career and life are discussed in Chuck Johnson, The Greatest Packers of Them All (1968); George Allen with Ben Olan, Pro Football's 100 Greatest Players: Rating the Stars of Past and Present (1982); Stuart Leuthner, Iron Men: Bucko, Crazylegs, and the Boys Recall the Golden Days of Professional Football (1988); and Don Smith, All-Time Greats: Pro Football Hall of Fame (1988).

Jim Campbell

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