By Dr. Ken


“Polish and proud” was a mandate in the home I grew up in. A lineage of blacksmiths and iron workers who claimed the Galicia province as home formed the backbone of the clan and a number of them had immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. The origin of my “mother’s people” was never made clear and the fierce rivalry and one-upmanship between both sides of the family often formed the basis of argument and discussion and created “my people versus your people” discourse. The one thing I did hear constantly was that my paternal grandfather first left Poland “to pound spikes on the Canadian railroad” when he was nine years of age and he had the forearms to prove it! He returned to Galicia at a later date and years after that became one of the millions that entered the United States at New York’s Ellis Island, with a family in tow. The other refrain from my mother and her relatives was the unequivocal statement that “they had to leave Galicia, those rock heads couldn’t make it there and it was the Harlem of Poland” referring to an era when Harlem was synonymous with the most run down and dangerous part of New York City. The illustrious British-Polish historian Ivor Davies, perhaps the foremost expert on the history of Central and Eastern Europe in citing the depth of abject poverty in Galicia referred to it as “the poorest province in Europe” so my mother’s criticism was actually on point.


Because of the ethnic indoctrination in both my house and that of my grandparents who lived with us on occasion, I learned to identify baseball and football players of Polish extraction. Some of the contractions or Americanization of names was obvious to my family members. Old habits die hard and because my friend Phil Giordano is both an ancestry expert and researcher and claims a slew of Polish relatives that he has traced back centuries, we have a good basis for noting that many athletes, although unrecognized by the media, are “our Polacks.” We also have a similar respect for the previous generations of “immigrant tough guys” who came up the hard way and played football the same way and of course, this often forms the sports discussion of any specific day. Recently, we heard mention of Penn State’s first two-time All American and the first player to earn All American honors under Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. We agreed that Thaddeus Kwalick was one of our “main men” as a football player and as a member of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, it’s obvious that others of our background heartily agree with the assessment. Interestingly, football wasn’t in his plans when he first attended Montour High School in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. He preferred basketball and track but was plucked off of the court by legendary high school coach Bob Phillips and placed on the football team as a two-way end. Quickly, everyone in the area knew about the abilities of “Ted” Kwalick and he knew that football was his first love. The work ethic required by Phillips who later became the first Penn State assistant hired by Paterno when he ascended to the Nittany Lions head coach position, fit in well with the blue collar mentality of Kwalick’s family, high school, and town.





As a junior, the recruiters came knocking and with athletics the only way to earn a college education, he became more serious about his studies with the understanding that he would need a scholarship in order to become the first member of his large and extended family to attend college. As the leader of the team that won two consecutive WPIAL High School championships and as Montour’s first High School All American, he completed his high school career with a record setting number of pass receptions in the Annual Big 33 All Star Game against Texas in 1965. With Coach Phillips as his inspiration to become a physical education teacher and coach, Kwalick chose Penn State over Notre Dame which did not offer a physical education major and of course, Phillips continued to serve as a mentor and a reminder of the hard work success would require. In every public interview or conversation Kwalick had during and after his career, he credited his participation in football with providing the work ethic and willingness to sacrifice that he learned so well. He always paid homage to his father who worked two jobs as a blue collar provider and Coach Phillips with being “consistent in their beliefs” and requiring the best from those around them which in turn allowed him to always give his all.  




His career at Penn State held predictions for success, especially after his terrific performance as a high school senior and in the Big 33 Game and he did not disappoint. A move to tight end allowed the 6’4”, 225 pound Kwalick to be physical yet become a trusted pass receiving target as the Penn State Rip Engle Era progressed to Paterno’s first teams. With former Montour High School teammate Chuck Burkhart as his quarterback and former high school coach Phillips as his receiving coach, practice became a daily “work as hard as possible to improve” festival.  As a three year letter winner, Kwalick was named All East and All American in both his junior and senior seasons, a unanimous All American selection as a senior and the fourth highest vote getter in the Heisman balloting. Penn State had a terrific defense and the Lions tied Florida State in the Gator Bowl after his junior year and maintained its perfect season when they overcame Kansas 15 – 14 in one of the most exciting Orange Bowl games of all time, following the ’68 season. Kwalick’s college awards stacked up as not only a two-time All American but as an inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame and numerous publications’ “Team Of The Century” honors. In today’s statistic-happy era, his career totals of eighty-six receptions for 1,343 yards and ten touchdowns may not impress, but he was a true weapon during his time period, feared for the physical nature of his blocking, love of contact, and ability to pluck passes out of the air. He helped to define the tight end position with his ability to catch as well as block, moving that specific position forward to a dual purpose function as opposed to a “blocking only” member of the offensive line. He also graduated with the BS degree in Physical Education he had maintained his focus on.  





Penn State’s perfect 11-0 season was saved not only in the Orange Bowl but also by the onside kick pile up against Army that resulted in Kwalick being Johnny-On-The-Spot and escaping for the game winning TD when the ball popped out of the scrum [see HELMET HUT http://www.helmethut.com/College/Penn%20State/Kwalick.html ]


As the first round draft choice of the San Francisco Forty Niners much was expected of Kwalick and much was delivered as he joined Bob Windsor at the tight end spot and established himself as a key piece of Head Coach Dick Nolan’s rebuilding effort. Although the 4 – 8 – 2 result was quite a step down from his final collegiate experience, enthusiasm for Nolan’s expertise was high as the team improved and Kwalick’s role expanded. In 1971 he made the Niners first touchdown pass reception in their new Candlestick Park home and led the team in receptions, repeating the feat in ’73. He was a First Team All Pro in ’72, averaging a hefty 18.8 yards per reception, while playing in the Pro Bowl in ’71, ’72, and 1973. After a number of near-misses for the NFL Championship title, with Kwalick recognized among the elite at his position, the Niners 1974 season collapsed under the weight of five starting quarterbacks to a 6 – 8 disappointment. Between what appeared to be a bit of offensive chaos, a change in offensive coordinators, and contract negotiations, Kwalick signed with The Hawaiians of the World Football League but subsequently played with the Philadelphia Bell in their ’75 season. Following the shuttering of the WFL, he was signed by the Oakland Raiders at the midpoint of the NFL season, the result of Al Davis outbidding other teams for his services.    





Calvin Hill, Gary Davidson, and Ted Kwalick appeared on the April 15, 1974 Sports Illustrated cover that was never published after Hank Aaron’ record breaking 715th home run ushered him onto the cover instead


Unfortunately Kwalick suffered a succession of hamstring and knee injuries in the early part of the ’76 season before going down with a mid-season emergency appendectomy. He was however rostered for the Super Bowl XI victory over the Vikings and returned for the ’77 season before retiring prior to 1978. His nine NFL seasons left him with 15.3 yards per reception and three Pro Bowl appearances, a career that 99 percent of NFL participants would sign up for with a moment’s notice yet he remains underrated despite being one of the best receiving and blocking tight ends during his years of play. Kwalick utilized effort borne of the work effort learned during his Western Pennslvania upbringing and time at Penn State to become successful in his own business ventures after his football career ended.  He has resided in Santa Clara, California and maintained cordial relations with the Niners, as was evident during the 2017 National Football League Draft when Ted and a chosen Niners fan announced the fifth round/177th pick of the draft that the Forty Niners made. Kwalick in every way possible made his home town and his Polish admirers proud!