Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!

TRIBUTE TO DON KLOSTERMAN

To be honest, I was just going to pay tribute to Don Klosterman's career a GM of the Los Angeles Rams. But, that would be an injustice, Because there is so much more to this man.

Two of the best

It would be simple to remember Don Klosterman for the numerous national collegiate passing records he set as a quarterback for Loyola University from 1949 to 1951.

It would be just as easy to remember Klosterman through all of the individuals he knew who also gave eulogies at his funeral this summer, such as Senator Ted Kennedy, Bill Walsh, Frank Gifford, Jack Kemp and Al Michaels.

But the best way to remember Klosterman might be for one incident back in 1957, when he was told by a doctor that he would never walk again. "The hell you say!" yelled Klosterman. "Get out of here; you're fired." Gifford explains in his book, Gifford on Courage, "Klosterman picked up a vase of flowers from his bedside and hurled them at the doctor, hitting him squarely in the back as he turned to leave."

Of course, Klosterman is probably best understood by his quote, "It was the first time I ever threw behind my receiver," he told Gifford and by the fact that he did walk once again.

Don Klosterman earned the nickname "The Duke of Del Rey" while playing quarterback for the Lions. Bud Furillo explains in his tribute to Klosterman, "In our first conversation, he [Klosterman] chose to talk with me about the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Thus he became 'The Duke of Del Rey.'"

Klosterman was the leader of the 1950 Loyola team that, using Head Coach Jordan Oliver's rare passing game, came within a 28-26 upset loss to Santa Clara of going to the Orange Bowl. With Oliver's system in place, Klosterman used his passing ability to set single-game and season records for passes attempted and completed. He set the mark for most passing yards over a three-year span with 4,481.

"A lot of people have a desire to win," Oliver was quoted in Gifford's book. "But they don't do anything about it except wish. Don will do whatever work is necessary to win."

Klosterman played in the East-West All-Star Game following the 1951 season, during which he led the nation in passing. He had what you might call the unfortunate luck of being drafted by one of the best teams of the era the Cleveland Browns only to sit on the bench behind star quarterback Ollie Matson. The Duke did have the privilege of learning from legendary Browns coach Paul Brown but was traded six weeks later to the Dallas Texans . . . and three weeks later, to the Los Angeles Rams.

With the Rams, Klosterman was back home, but he played behind quarterback greats Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield.

After serving time in the Air Force, Klosterman returned to football in the Canadian Football League. Klosterman lists his favorite career highlight as coming from this time period. "I played for the Calgary Stampeders for two seasons. Canadian football is played on a 110-yard field [unlike the 100-yard field on which American football is played], and I completed a 100 yard touchdown pass against Winnipeg." It was following Klosterman's second season in Calgary when his career and life took a drastic turn. Skiing on the slopes of Banff on St. Patrick's Day in 1957, Klosterman attempted to avoid a fallen skier and flew out of control, crashing into a group of trees.

The injuries that resulted were so serious that Klosterman received his last rites that night, and again at one point following surgeries. The worst of the injuries was the one which brutalized Klosterman's spinal cord.

Klosterman found himself in a terrible situation, especially for an individual who had always relied on athletic ability. He was permanently paralyzed in many areas below the waist. Considering how difficult it is for great athletes today to recover from spinal cord injuries in spite of all of the technological advancements of our time, it becomes all the more incredible to imagine what Klosterman went through in attempting to recover from the injuries.

Gifford recalled a comment Klosterman once made to him, "I began to live each day for that day alone. I stopped agonizing about yesterday or the future. 'Today, I will work,' I said; 'today, I will get a little better.'" Klosterman continued, "I couldn't accept a doctor's statement that I would not walk again. It was inconceivable to me that I would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life."

Over the next year, Klosterman embarked on his most challenging task ever learning how to walk again. Walking was no longer natural for Klosterman, so he had to invent a way of doing so. He thought out each step and "threw" each foot in front of the other. Anyone who knew Klosterman had no doubt that he was on the road to recovery.

"When he recovered, Don came back for an alumni barbeque, and a man on the PA system announced that the Duke was going to throw another pass," said Klosterman's favorite target while at Loyola, end Fred Snyder. "He said he'd throw it to me, so I asked, 'How far?' He said 30 to 45 yards, but I didn't think he could make it.

"I ended up really having to run, and finally I caught up to it about 60 yards downfield. He was able to throw like that basically off of one foot."

Many people thought that had it not been for the injury, Klosterman would have been on his way back to the NFL and a possible spot at the quarterback position. With his injuries, however, he was unable to do that, so he decided to take the long road back to the league by way of management.

Progress was slow for Klosterman despite his efforts. Nevertheless, he got married (for the first time), walking down the aisle at the wedding with no aid. Eventually, he hooked on with former Notre Dame Head Coach Frank Leahy, joining the Los Angeles Chargers of the renegade American Football League. He joined the management staff that included a pair of future legends: Al Davis, future coach and chief executive of the Raiders, and Chuck Noll, future coach of the Steelers. Klosterman was especially successful in this field because of the trust that players found in him, which was a great asset in signing players who otherwise would be destined for the NFL.

One of the more interesting aspects of working in the AFL first with the Chargers, then with the Dallas Texans and Houston Oilers was the process of playing undercover agent with talented hopeful signees. The Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs, and after the AFL's merger with the NFL, the team won Super Bowl IV with Klosterman as their general manager.

Klosterman left the Oilers and took the GM position with the Baltimore Rams, and almost immediately the team won a Super Bowl themselves. Two years later, Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom made a strange trade his franchise for the Los Angeles Rams. Klosterman came to the Rams as well, and was often referred to as the best GM in the league while with the organization.

Yet even in the precarious spot as the GM of a professional sports organization, Klosterman did not forget his roots. "I like to think of myself as a man who does his job without hurting anyone," he once said. "I hate to think of myself hurting somebody." It was during his time in these high-profile positions in the NFL when the Duke began to associate with everyone who was anyone. Klosterman met Robert Kennedy's widow, Ethel, through Gifford, and the two reportedly became a hot item for a time. They remained close friends until Klosterman's death.

"We were both from the city of Compton, from humble families," said former LMU athletic director Brian Quinn, who is now Executive Director of Athletic Development. "To rise to being with presidents, it's incredible. There's pretty much nowhere you can go in the world where somebody doesn't know him."

On the day of Klosterman's funeral, future Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young announced his retirement, but did not fail to remember the Duke of Del Rey. Klosterman was working with the L.A. Express of another renegade football league, the USFL, when he signed Young to a $40 million contract in 1983.

Klosterman said of Young, "Steve will be the best quarterback we've ever seen." Klosterman adopted two children in his lifetime, remarried and lived in Bel Air in his later years. Despite his debilitating injuries, he continued to play golf. It was just a few years ago when Klosterman notched a remarkable, career-best score of 76. "He never let it bother him that he was crippled," said Snyder. Al Michaels, the renowned ABC announcer who joined Klosterman on the links in Bel Air, said, "Don was dealt a bad hand early on, but it made him one of the toughest men on the planet. He had a heart of gold and a hall of fame sense of humor. God, I will miss laughing with him."

To this day, Klosterman may not simply be the greatest athlete ever to grace the campus of Loyola Marymount University, but possibly the most well-renowned of all alumni. "He is the most famous person who ever went to this university. I don't think it's even close," said Quinn. "Everybody associates him with Loyola." It could never be any other way for the Duke of Del Rey.

Dennis Harrah and Duke

The more I find out about Don Klosterman I ask myself "Is this guy made up by a screenwriter in Hollywood?"

Why I say that is just look at his life. One of the greatest college QB's of all-time. Has a skiing accident that was so bad the doctors are amazed how did he lived thru it (they gave him his last rites 3 TIMES) and are convinced he will never walk again.

You know, 99% of us when told by a specialist we will never walk again would accept it and say "thank you Doctor" (as he hands you his bill) what does the Duke do? He tells the Doc to go to hell and get the hell out of his room and as the Dr. is trying to leave his room quickly, Don picks up the nearest object he can find and hit the Doc between the numbers (right in the middle of his back) showing not only can Don handle the rush (being told he will never walk) and throw a perfect pass (hit the doc in the middle of the back).

Not only did he prove he was right when he said he will walk again. Being GM of the Dallas Texans of the AFL. Don was a key reason why the American Football League became the rival of the NFL in the 1960s and 70s; credited with outbidding the NFL for players like Lance Alworth, Jack Kemp (Chargers), Bobby Bell and Buck Buchanan (Chiefs) forced the NFL to merge with his AFL. Then he became GM of the Colts leading them to their only Super Bowl win in 1970.

But, Don would leave his mark as one of the greatest GM's of all-time when he became GM of the Los Angeles Rams in 1972. I know what your saying I am biased because I am a Ramfan.

But, the facts speak for themselves. The Rams were losers in 1972. Look what he did in his first four months as GM of the Rams. Traded Gabriel to Philly for Harold Jackson and Tony Baker.

Then he aquired Hadl to be QB. And made Chuck Knox Head Coach. What he just did was turn a 6-7-1 team in 72 into a 12-2 NFL monster in 73.

The two losses were by a total of 3 points. And that is just a start of this guy as GM. In 74, he trades Hadl to GB for first round draft picks. Most GM'S who get draft pics do average with them.

Not only did Don know talent by pro's he was the best at picking draft picks. What did he do with his picks?

If he was on a crap table, Don is throwing 11's.

His first three picks in the 75 draft were Dennis Harrah, Mike Fanning and Doug France (you can't do better). As GM of the Rams they won 7 straight divisions (nfl record). Drafted players like Haden,Slater,Kent Hill,Bill Simpson,Jim Youngblood,Rod Perry,Pat Thomas,Monte Jackson,Bob Bruzinski,Vince Ferragamo,Ron Jaworski and so many more all-pro's.

After leaving the Rams, he created NTN,which is QB-1.Then became Gen.Mgr. of the USFL LA Express. In 1995, Klosterman and Bill Walsh tried to bring pro football back to Los Angeles..........
View My Guestbook
Sign My Guestbook

DUKE