Son Wears His Father’s Championship Ring with Pride
For about a decade, Paddy Rymkus has been a familiar sight around Randolph. Standing tall, fond of wearing distinctive Stetsons and a duster, he cast a long distinctive shadow as he walked the Village streets.
In church on Super Bowl Sunday Paddy wore something else that turned a few heads. On his big hand he sported a gold and diamond ring as big as an egg. It was, he explained, his father’s NFL Championship ring, won when the Cleveland Browns took the title in 1950. Sixteen years before the Super Bowl, this is as good as it gets in football.
Paddy’s friends gathered around him, marveling at the incredible piece of history, pleased to be able to share in a son’s pride for his dad.
It is too late to meet Lou Rymkus. He died in 1998. No youngster himself, Paddy is now rapidly losing his memory to Alzheimer’s disease. On Sunday, we were grateful to celebrate the story behind the ring before it was forgotten.
First thing Monday I traveled to Chelsea’s Riverbend Residential Care where Paddy now lives, so that I could share with Herald readers the rest of the story—which is dramatic.
Lou Rymkus, born in 1919, was the son of a coal miner and grocery store owner in Royalton, Ill. His father was murdered, shot in front of the family store, when Lou was a young boy. The family then moved to Chicago where Rymkus’s talents for wrestling, boxing and football were record setting.
A football scholarship to Notre Dame brought him All-America honors in his junior year and team Most Valuable Player accolades a year later. He was drafted by the NFL Washington Redskins in the 1943 seventh round. One year of football was followed by two years with the Marines in WWII.
Back to Football
After the war, the Redskins offered Rymkus the same $2K he made in ’43. Instead, offered twice the pay, he opted to play for the Cleveland Browns of the then almost unknown All-America Football Conference. Under the legendary Paul Brown, the Browns won the AAFC championship the next four years running. Lou Rymkus was making a name for himself in the position of right tackle, playing the full 60 minutes of each game.
Sixty years ago, in 1950, the Browns stepped up to play in the NFL. In that inaugural year, playing alongside future Hall of Famers Dante Lavelli, Otto Graham, and Marion Motley, Rymkus and his teammates won the NFL championship. Since the NFL does not recognize the AAFC's records, this technically makes the Browns the most successful expansion team in league history.
Lou Rymkus hung up his cleats one year later when the Browns lost the ‘51 NFL championship game to the Los Angeles Rams. Incredibly, in six seasons, Rymkus never missed a single Browns game or practice due to injury or illness. Nonetheless, he wanted to go out “on top,” and retired having played only two NFL seasons. None of Rymkus’s AFFC records are recognized by the NFL, so this retirement undoubtedly cost the All Pro player any chance for Hall of Fame honors heaped upon his teammates, who played for several more seasons.
Rymkus, however, wasn’t done with football. It was what he knew best and he had seven-year-old twin sons Pat and Mike and his wife, Betty, to support. Assistant coaching with Indiana University was followed by a year with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. In 1954 he returned to the NFL as offensive line coach with the Green Bay Packers and four years later he went to the LA Rams.
With impressive line coaching experience and having played for two of the best coaches in the game, Frank Leahy of Notre Dame and Paul Brown in Cleveland, Rymkus was, by this time, considered a potential head coach.
In 1960, the first year of the new American Football League, he was hired to coach an expansion team, the Houston Oilers. At the end of their first season, he led them to win the AFL Championship and was named AFL coach of the year. One of Paddy Rymkus’s Stetsons still bears a card inside which reads, “Like Hell It’s Yours This hat belongs to Coach Lou Rymkus Houston Oilers A.F.L. Champions 1960-61.”
Despite Houston’s success, Rymkus had a falling out with team owner Bud Adams and found himself out of a job just four games into the following season.
It was about this time that twin sons, Pat and Mike, playing Texas high school ball, developed a real interest in the game. Paddy remembers that once his father knew his sons were ready to learn, he was ready with tackling dummies and generous amounts of time in the back yard. “He never missed one of our games if he was in state,” Paddy remembers.
“After the games we’d always go out with our dates for pizza,” Paddy relates, adding, “Dad would stay up no matter how late we were out. We would talk about the game, all our plays, before heading off to bed.
“He was a great coach, but he was an even better dad.”
In their senior year Pat and Mike were tri-captains with Jerry Burke. They were favored to win the state championship, but lost the big game. The Rymkus boys went on to distinguished college play for Texas A&M.
After five years away from the professional game, Rymkus came back to serve as a line coach with the Detroit Lions, the Super Bowl V Champion Baltimore Colts, and the 1965 Oilers, but he would never again hold a head coaching job in the NFL.
In his biographical essay “Lou Rymkus—‘The Battler,” Kevin Carroll quotes ex-Oilers linebacker Al Witcher who declared, “No one ever understood or coached the game of football any better than Lou Rymkus.”
His November 4, 1998 New York Times obituary reported of Rymkus’ Houston Oilers legacy, that he “still holds the best career record in the franchise’s 39 seasons.”
I like to think of the two Rymkus boys, now living two time zones apart in Texas and Vermont, proudly wearing their father’s Championship rings on Super Bowl Sunday, Paddy the 1950 NFL Championship ring and Mike the ring from the 1971 Super Bowl V.