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Ewbank, Weeb

Weeb Ewbank

1907-1998

American football coach

Weeb Ewbank was small in stature, and could often get lost on the sideline among the players he coached. But he had a large heart and was well liked by most everyone he encountered. As head coach with the Baltimore Colts (1954-1962) and then with the New

York Jets (1963-1973), he would mentor some of the great names in professional football. He also coached the winning team in two of most famous games in NFL history, the 1958 NFL Championships and Super Bowl III. Ewbank spent forty-six years in football and coached at every level. He was the only coach to win championships in both NFL (2 with the Colts) and AFL (with Jets). He died at the age of ninety-one in 1998.

Growing Up

Charles "Weeb" Ewbank was born on May 6, 1907, in Richmond, Indiana, to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ewbank, and would grow up in the Fairview area of Richmond, the son of a grocery store owner. At nine, Weeb was delivering orders for his father in a horse-drawn wagon. As a teenager, he would find his way to Dayton, Ohio, to watch Jim Thorpe play for the Canton Bulldogs.

At Oliver P. Morton High School, Ewbank was a three-sport star. He married his wife Lucywhom he would remain married to for sixty-nine yearswhile still attending high school. In order to earn extra money, he played semi-pro ball. He went on to play football and baseball in college.

The Early Years

After Ewbank graduated from college, he taught and coached at Van Wert High School in Ohio. He made only $2000 a year for his position, since he took the job as the Depression hit, and he learned lessons about frugality that would stick with him the rest of his life. When he made it into professional football and earned a pretty good living, he was never flashy, and he often told his players with bigger contracts to keep quiet about them. He was embarrassed by all the money in the game, and didn't want the lower-paid players to find out (salaries weren't as public then as they are now).

Later he would coach at Oxford-McGuffey High School and lead his team to seventy-one wins and only twenty-one losses in thirteen years. This included a twenty-one game winning streak, where his team outscored their opponents 270 to 0.

Football is like a family in Ohio, and Ewbank was a member of a pretty important family. During the war he had served as an assistant coach for Paul Brown during his time in the armed forces at the Great Lakes Naval Training Base outside of Chicago. In 1949, Paul Brown hired Ewbank to serve as his assistant in charge of tacklers and kickers for the Cleveland Browns. Weeb was uneasy about such specialization, but Brown convinced him, and he excelled at line coach. Ewbank, like Brown, had played quarterback in high school and college, stressed pass protection. He revolutionized pass blocking.

The Baltimore Colts were founded in 1953, and Ewbank would soon take over, leaving the Browns to become the Colts head coach in 1954. He had quite a task in front of him. Art Donovan would say that most of the team was "awful," and claim there were guys on that club who "couldn't make a good high school team." Ewbank's first task was to find a quarterback, and he signed Johnny Unitas in 1955.

Coached in Memorable Games

Ewbank had the distinction of coaching in history-making games. He coached the first sudden death overtime victory title game, in 1958, as coach of the Colts. When the game ended in a 17-17 tie at the end of regulation, no one knew what to do, but they eventually figured it out, setting a precedent for the league.

He also coached in the "Heidi Bowl." On an NBC televised game, with sixty-five seconds remaining, Ewbank's Jets kicked a field goal to take a 32-29 lead over the Raiders in Oakland. At that point, it was 7 p.m. EST, and NBC cut off its coverage of the game with fifty seconds remaining (except on the West Coast) to begin the two-hour children's movie "Heidi." Jets fans were livid, especially when they learned that the Raiders came back to score two touchdowns in nine seconds to win 43-32.

Ewbank was with the Cleveland Browns in their 1950 NFL debut against the Philadelphia Eagles. And then, in what was probably his sweetest victory, coached the Jets, with Joe Namath at the helm, to an upset in Super Bowl III over his former team, the Baltimore Colts. Ewbank was also on the sidelines in the 1970 debut of Monday Night Football, picking up a win against Cleveland.

Though he won a championship with Unitas, Ewbank was fired after the 1962 season, to be replaced by thirty-three-year-old coach Don Shula . When he went to the New York Jets as head coach and general manager in 1963, he needed just five seasons to take Jets to the Super Bowl. Jets owner Sonny Werblin had signed Joe Namath to a $400,000 contract-the richest in team sports at the time. Namath proved to be the catalyst the team needed.

Chronology

1907 Born May 6 to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ewbank in Fairview area of Richmond, Indiana
1916 Delivered orders for his father in a horse-drawn wagon
1924 Graduated from Morton High School, Richmond
1928 Graduated from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he was quarterback
1929-30 Coached football at Van Wert, Ohio
1930 Named head football coach at McGuffey High School, Oxford
1930 Assists with coaching at Miami University (Ohio)
1942-45 Joins Navy and is assistant coach for Paul Brown at Great Lakes Naval Training Center
1946 Becomes backfield coach at Brown University, where quarterback was Joe Paterno
1949 Joins Paul Brown as assistant coach of the Cleveland Browns
1954 Takes head coaching position with Baltimore Colts
1958 Coaches Baltimore in the first sudden-death overtime game in NFL history
1959 "Weeb Ewbank Day" declared in Richmond, Indiana
1962 Fired by Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom
1963 Named head coach of New York Jets
1973 Retires from coaching
1974 Inducted into Indiana Football Hall of Fame
1977 Co-authors book Football Greats
1978 Inducted into Professional Football hall of Fame
1998 Dies at age 91 at his Oxford, Ohio home on November 17

Awards and Accomplishments

1958 Coached against New York Giants, winning in overtime in what has been called "the greatest game in history"
1959 Won NFL Championship with Baltimore Colts
1963 Won Super Bowl III with Joe Namath as his quarterback
1969 Inducted as charter member in Miami University (Ohio) Hall of Fame
1974 Inducted into Indiana Football Hall of Fame
1978 Inducted into National Professional Football Hall of Fame

The Later Years

Ewbank retired in 1974. A quiet man, he seldom got angry with his players, and he didn't do much boat-rocking, so the media rarely paid him much attention. Ewbank just happened to be in the right place when major events took place. He helped shape the game of football, helping make it what it is today. The "no-huddle" offense can be attributed to Ewbank. He was known for working with a simple offense, making it only as complicated as need be to cover all necessary tasks.

Weeb Ewbank had a big heart. He remained married to Lucy for sixty-nine years, had three daughters, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Over half a century later, Weeb could still remember the names and positions of the players he coached back in Ohio. When he passed away on November 17, 1998, at his home in Oxford, Ohio, Ewbank left behind quite a legacy. At his funeral, many of his former players were thereincluding Namathbut were too choked up to make any comments.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY EWBANK:

Football Greats, Chalice Press, 1977.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Ewbank, Weeb. Football Greats. Chalice Press, 1977.

Hickok, Ralph. A Who's Who of Sports Champions. New York: Houghton Mifflin, Co., 1995.

Mendell, Ronald L., and Timothy Phares. Who's Who in Football. New Rochester, New York, 1974.

Zimmerman, Paul. Last Season of Weeb Ewbank. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1974.

Periodicals

Clark, Jan. "Wilbur 'Weeb' Ewbank." (obituary) Palladium-Item (Ohio) (November 18, 1998): 34.

Mravic, Mark and Kostya Kennedy. "A Coach with Nothing To Hide."Sports Illustrated (November 30, 1998): 34.

Time (November 30, 1998): 35.

Other

Didinger, Ray. "Weeb Ewbank." http://www.superbowl.com/xxxvi/insider/weeb_xxx.html/ (October 25, 2002).

Wallace, Bill. "Remembering Weeb: Slightly unconventional, Ewbank was loved by his players." http://archive.profootballweekly.com/content/archives/features_1998/wallace_112398.asp (October 25, 2002).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren

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