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The Legend of Dan Kendra

  • Thread starter Lanky Livingston
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Lanky Livingston

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I thought Elephant would enjoy this article. Good read.

Twenty years ago, every wise man in college football cast his regal gaze upon a star rising over in the little town of Bethlehem (Pa.).
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For it had come to pass that, nestled in this holy land of quarterbacks—Unitas and Namath, Montana and Marino—there was a humble, free-spirited, golden-haired boy, born in the year of his country’s bicentennial, whose daring feats of wonder seemed like nothing of this cold and wretched earth.

The boy’s name was Dan Kendra. And he was the stuff of legend.

He could run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds. He could bench press almost 400 pounds. He could leap so high he’d been penalized for stepping on the helmet of an upright defender. His right arm was so mighty that all who beheld it sought comparisons to implements of war (gun; pistol; rifle; rocket; Howitzer) and so accurate that he’d begun to erase the schoolboy records of the Pennsylvania legends who had come before. He once scored eight touchdowns in a game, four running and four passing. He wasn’t perfect; like any QB, he threw the occasional interception. But the first one he ever threw in a high school game (Kendra was actually an eighth-grader, playing up a level) was swiftly followed by him making a clean tackle so hard it broke the other kid’s arm in three places.

He read muscle magazines and fitness magazines and taught himself the most challenging exercises and the best stretching routines and became fascinated with nutrition and refused to eat fast food. He’d come to team pizza parties carrying fresh fruit and a turkey sandwich. Nobody made him do any of this.

As a little kid, inspired by Bruce Lee and ninja movies, the boy had donned a ghee and, under the sage guidance of Master Kim of Allentown, spent six years studying what, in the East, was once called “the ways of flowering manhood” but which we, in our modern world, know as taekwondo—a discipline in which young Dan Kendra had received a red belt with four stripes: barely shy of the feared and coveted black. The rigor of this training served him well in his later pursuits. Although his feet were longer than the width of a snowboard, his balance was so honed that after a lesson or two, he could ably ride fresh powder down forbidding mountainsides. He learned to rappel off cliffs. He became a certified open-water scuba diver and dreamed, one day, of becoming not a football star but a Navy SEAL. In fact, the steps to becoming a SEAL were listed in a letter he’d gotten from a Naval officer, which Kendra kept neatly folded in the glovebox of his car.

And that ain’t all. For verily I say unto you, this remarkable boy had even achieved dominion over lowly, savage beasts. It began with a part-time job at the Blue Lagoon pet store. In no time, he had a tank in his bedroom full of red-bellied piranhas. Not long after that, he used his employee discount to bring home an alligator named Floyd. The creature was nasty and snappish, yet when the boy lifted it from its 100-gallon fish tank, Floyd submitted to the role of being the personal pet dinosaur who frolics in the daydreams of every happy child.

Day after day, from Kendra’s sophomore year onward, letters from football programs from sea to shining sea filled his mailbox. Every day at Bethlehem Catholic High School, his coach delivered even more letters—often a packet thicker than any of the boy’s textbooks. Every evening, the Kendra family’s phone rang and rang with calls from coach after coach after coach. Dan didn’t think of himself as a legend or anyone important and was too overwhelmed by all the attention to ask, Well, Coach So-and-So, what’s your training table like? What kind of weight room do you have? What’s your offensive scheme? Do you offer a major in nutrition? What about sports physiology? Instead, he listened and nodded and said little more than “that’s cool,” “thank you,” and “yeah.”

One day, the caller was Florida’s Steve Spurrier. “Well, Dan, you have an alligator,” said the Old Ball Coach. “And we are the Gators. It was just meant to be!”

Dan Kendra chuckled and was, as ever, surpassingly polite, if also noncommittal. It felt nice to be wanted, to know that he could go to college anywhere he chose, and he chose to take official campus visits to what felt like his four dream schools, any one of which might have been an ideal fit:

West Virginia, where his father (Dan Jr.) had started at quarterback for three years and was the MVP of the 1975 Peach Bowl. Morgantown was actually where Dan (Dan III) was born.
Notre Dame, which exerts a strong pull on almost every Catholic kid who has a chance to be a star there.
Florida State, now the home of Dan Jr.’s old coach, Bobby Bowden—a man well on his way to becoming the winningest coach in major college football history. After Dan III was born, Bowden had visited him in the hospital. Tucked under the coach’s arm was not gold, frankincense, or myrrh but rather a teddy bear wearing a football helmet. Pinned to it was a note that read, “To my future quarterback.” Also, Florida State had won the national championship the year before—led by a mobile quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward.
Penn State, just three hours away and the favorite team of most of the kids Dan grew up with: the perfect place for a certified eastern-PA local hero. Though that wasn’t the main reason he was leaning toward going there. Neither was the presence of Joe Paterno, another coaching legend, who was chasing the all-time wins record in tandem with Bowden and who, it seemed, was every bit as classy, genuine, and unpretentious. Penn State’s nickname was “Linebacker U,” and most scouting reports on Kendra described him as having “a linebacker’s mentality”; some even thought he could be an even bigger star at that position or at fullback. But Kendra wanted to stay at QB, and all four of the finalists wooing him—including Penn State—promised to keep him there. True, Penn State ran (by far) the most conservative offense of the other teams. Paterno made it clear that Kendra would be a pocket passer, period. None of that exciting running stuff. That’s taking away my legs, Kendra thought. That’s the best part of me. But this negative was counterbalanced by a far bigger positive.

  • West Virginia, where his father (Dan Jr.) had started at quarterback for three years and was the MVP of the 1975 Peach Bowl. Morgantown was actually where Dan (Dan III) was born.
  • Notre Dame, which exerts a strong pull on almost every Catholic kid who has a chance to be a star there.
  • Florida State, now the home of Dan Jr.’s old coach, Bobby Bowden—a man well on his way to becoming the winningest coach in major college football history. After Dan III was born, Bowden had visited him in the hospital. Tucked under the coach’s arm was not gold, frankincense, or myrrh but rather a teddy bear wearing a football helmet. Pinned to it was a note that read, “To my future quarterback.” Also, Florida State had won the national championship the year before—led by a mobile quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward.
  • Penn State, just three hours away and the favorite team of most of the kids Dan grew up with: the perfect place for a certified eastern-PA local hero. Though that wasn’t the main reason he was leaning toward going there. Neither was the presence of Joe Paterno, another coaching legend, who was chasing the all-time wins record in tandem with Bowden and who, it seemed, was every bit as classy, genuine, and unpretentious. Penn State’s nickname was “Linebacker U,” and most scouting reports on Kendra described him as having “a linebacker’s mentality”; some even thought he could be an even bigger star at that position or at fullback. But Kendra wanted to stay at QB, and all four of the finalists wooing him—including Penn State—promised to keep him there. True, Penn State ran (by far) the most conservative offense of the other teams. Paterno made it clear that Kendra would be a pocket passer, period. None of that exciting running stuff. That’s taking away my legs, Kendra thought. That’s the best part of me. But this negative was counterbalanced by a far bigger positive.

I’ll bet you, Dear Reader, that you can get it on the first guess.

You are correct!

Behold: our golden boy did indeed have a serious girlfriend: a 5’10 blonde named Christy Cochran—the captain of the Bethlehem Catholic volleyball team, an All-American outside hitter who could jump higher and bench press more than most boys at school, a beautiful girl who loved bodybuilding magazines and told people she’d rather be Ms. Olympia than Miss America. Christy Cochran had already accepted a full-ride volleyball scholarship to Penn State University.

* * *​

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