Feb. 2, 2008
Recently Vicki Lundy Wilbon was at home having a conversation with her two daughters about their grandfather, Lamar Lundy. A former two-sport athlete at Purdue and member of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome", Lundy passed away less than one year ago on Feb. 24 from a number of different illnesses. In a span of five minutes, Wilbon's youngest daughter went from crying to laughing about her grandfather, a mix of emotions that has become common amongst his family, friends and former teammates over the past year.
Lundy might have been a little amazed it took that long for his granddaughter to turn to laughter as her mom says he lived his life loving children and all the passion, purity and possibilities that come with him.
"He was a gentle giant in so many ways, especially when it came to his family," Wilbon said. "He was so in love with his family and children really had a special place in his heart. He had a way of making everyone feel like they were the special one."
Lundy was born April 17, 1935, in Richmond, Ind., a small town on the Indiana/Ohio border. He grew up in the low-income district of town and often frequented the Townsend Community Center, which helped keep him on the straight and narrow, according to longtime friend Tom Holthouse. He and Lundy met when they were freshmen in high school and played basketball, football and track together.
As a Richmond Red Devil, Lundy also became close friends with Tom Milligan, who was a sophomore manager on the basketball team when Lundy was playing as a junior. The two would later reunite at Purdue, where Lundy, an Indiana All-Star basketball and football, was the first African-American to receive a football scholarship from the school.
Lundy also had demands from the Boilermaker basketball team, which left little time for academics and a social life. Milligan would often tutor Lundy throughout the year and arrange rides home from him back to Richmond.
The two-sport athlete was a dominant presence in both basketball and football, standing 6-7 and weighing 250 pounds. He lettered three seasons in each sport and was named the Most Valuable Player in basketball and football as a senior - the only Boilermaker in school history to own that distinction. He mastered the defensive line position from 1955-57 and finished his final two seasons on the basketball court, averaging nearly 14 points and 10 rebounds per game.
According to Lundy's son, Lamar III, basketball was probably his father's first love.
"It was a less grueling sport," he said. "My father used sports in general as a release for him. Basketball and football was his refuge."
Following his career at Purdue, Lundy was drafted by both the NFL and the NBA. He opted to pursue a professional football career in Los Angeles, rather than stay in the Midwest and play basketball.
"I think for him it was about getting to a different social setting and Los Angeles intrigued him," Lamar III said. "He wanted to get away from some of the social prejudices that were in the Midwest at that time."
Lundy found those new beginnings in Los Angeles, after being selected in the fourth round as the 47th overall pick by the Rams. He played his entire 13-year career in Los Angeles from 1957-69 and was the anchor of what was arguably the most dominant defensive line in NFL history. Lundy paired with Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Rosey Grier to establish the Fearsome Foursome.
Ironically, Lundy began his football career on the offensive side of the ball, catching 35 passes for 584 yards and six touchdowns as a tight end. On defense, he swarmed to the pocket and led the Rams in sacks when it was still an unofficial stat. His also showed off his good hands from his basketball days, as he recorded three interceptions in his NFL career, all of which he returned for touchdowns.
In just his third season in the league, Lundy was selected to the 1959 Pro Bowl and was honored to the NFL All-Pro team in 1967.
During his time in Los Angeles, Lundy was seen as the face of the Rams and often he would help rookies get settled, such as his "Foursome" teammate Jones.
"I met Lamar in 1961 when I joined the Rams as a player and he had already been there a few years," Jones said. "When I got there, things were completely different than they are now. We were all coming out of a segregated world and we needed leadership among ourselves. I needed a mentor and Lamar was just a solid player and solid gentleman. We met during the course of training camp and became tight friends. He really helped me out during my rookie year and I don't know if I would have made it through my first season without him."
Jones went on to say that back in the day of "black and white," Lundy reminded everyone of the importance between football and life.
"He reminded everyone what it took to play this game," Jones said. "He would go to the wall for any of his teammates or friends."
Little did Lundy know that later on in his life those same teammates and friends would do the same for him.
Following his playing career, Lundy became an assistant coach for the San Diego Chargers until his health forced him off the sidelines. While he would still participate in numerous NFL promotional events with the Foursome, Lundy began to focus on the latter stages of his life.
When he was back in Richmond for his daughter Vicki's wedding in 1987, Lundy sat down and had lunch with his old friend Milligan and the two began talking about him moving back. At that time, Lundy had been receiving treatments at the UCLA Medical Center for a number of illnesses that plagued him later on in life, including diabetes, Graves disease, myasthenia gravis, cancer, and heart disease. Milligan arranged for Lundy to continue treatments at the Indiana University Medical Center and even set him up with a job as a color commentator for a local radio station that covered the high school football team.
At one point Lundy's medical expenses had reached more than $30,000, but the rest of the "Foursome" put together a benefit golf tournament for Lundy in Los Angeles, which paid his bills with an extra $10,000 to spare. The Rams also began contributing to Lundy's cause, sending him $300 a month for 20 years.
What perhaps is one of the most poignant displays of camaraderie is the fact that never did the Foursome do a promotional event or appear together with less than four guys. It was all or none with that group and if one was ever in need of help, the other three were there.
"During the course of our existence, we spent time in Richmond with Lamar," Jones said. "We knew of his leadership because we had been back there for various causes. He was involved in various projects and youth events. As sick as he was, he had every right to put his thought process on trying to stay alive, but he wouldn't do it. He was there for his kids and his kids in the community."
Life had indeed come full circle for Lundy upon his return to Richmond. He often frequented the Townsend Community Center and helped area kids with their homework or introduced them to basketball, while on most occasions their lone parent was still at work.
He also became president of the Indiana Football Hall of Fame, in which he was inducted in 1975. Lundy was named to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990.
Holthouse is still amazed by how Lundy did not let his illnesses affect him.
"Lamar never let you know about his illnesses," he said. "When he was president of the Indiana Football Hall of Fame, he walked eight blocks from home each day even though he had lost some of his toes to diabetes. He knew he had problems, but he fought them so quietly. A guy like that you can't help but admire."
Lundy's passing in February 2007 at the age of 71 was felt not only in Richmond, West Lafayette, Los Angeles and St. Louis, where the Rams are now located, but in towns across the country where he had touched so many with his charismatic demeanor and memorable sense of humor.
At his funeral, Holthouse, Milligan, and Avis Stewart got together and talked about doing something to ensure Lundy's legacy would live on forever in Richmond. The three helped establish the Lamar Lundy Foundation, which benefits the Townsend Community Center that meant so much to Lundy throughout his adolescent and adult life.
The initial goal was to raise $500,000 for the foundation, a mark that was recently eclipsed a month ago. Both the Rams and the Foursome have donated to the foundation, but Holthouse is left humbled by the support of the community of Richmond and the surrounding Wayne County.
"I spend a lot of time on the telephone and driving around talking to people about Lamar and the foundation and it's a simple task for me since he was such a lovable guy," he said.
Several of Lundy's friends and children, including his other children Ronald and daughters Tara and Annie Carter, feel that he didn't earn as much recognition as perhaps he deserved, but they understand that times were different back then. Which is why Lundy's latest distinction as Purdue's representative for the Big Ten's Black History Month leaves both friends and family appreciative that he is still remembered and honored for his life and achievements.
"Purdue has always treated my family with the utmost respect," Lamar III said. "Anything Purdue does or asks of the Lundy family, we will do for them, because they were always there for him. They are once again showing again their respect for him."
Wilbon, who is also a Purdue grad, talked about roaming the halls one day and seeing her father's picture on the wall as a member of the Purdue Hall of Fame, which he was inducted into in 1995.
"Purdue was a very important chapter in his life," she said. "He went to Purdue to see a game not many months before he passed because he wanted to be there."
It is clear that Lamar Lundy touched many people throughout his life and was a believer in paying it forward. Whether it was the doctors and nurses that left his hospital bed after a check-up, the kids after school at the community center, or the teammates he came across in his athletic career, all laughed and smiled just a little more after being around him.
And they still do. Even if some tears come first.