On Life and Love After 60
Love - The Rob Lytle Story
On Life and Love After 60 is the title of this newsletter. Most of the time, we focus on finding love after 50. But today's column focuses on a different kind of love--not the romantic kind--but the love of family and friends that is especially important during the December holidays.
To set the stage, I need to go back to December, 1976. I was the Director of Marketing for Victoria Station, a prime rib and boxcar restaurant chain based in San Francisco, with restaurants located across the USA and Canada.
One of my marketing responsibilities was to co-ordinate a football award that Victoria Station presented to the most outstanding college football player each year. Admittedly, the award started in 1971 as sort of a spoof on the prestigious Heisman Trophy. The company had its reasons for doing so, but that is for another day.
Four years earlier, in 1972, a young man from Fremont, Ohio, Rob Lytle, was one of the most highly sought after high school football players in the country. My alma mater, the University of Michigan, was fortunate to have him choose to attend Michigan.
In 1976, when Rob Lytle was a senior at Michigan, he was the all-time leading rusher in Michigan football history. He was a consensus All American. And I, being a loyal Wolverine fan, insisted we give the award to Rob. On a snowy day in December, 1976, in Southfield, Michigan, at our Victoria Station there, one of our three company founders, Bob Freeman, and I presented the award to Rob with Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler and other dignitaries present.
Rob was drafted by the Denver Broncos and played for them for six years.
Rob and I became friends. When the Broncos played the Oakland Raiders at Oakland, I would often take him to dinner the night before the game at one of our two Oakland restaurants. Usually, he would bring 3-4 teammates along with him. Rob was one of the nicest, most thoughtful, funny young men I had ever met in my life. And yet, he was a bulldog on the playing field. Billy Dufek, a college teammate of Rob's, said he was the toughest football player he ever knew.
As a NFL running back, Rob had several concussions and multiple injuries and surgeries.
After Rob's retirement from football, I would speak to him on the phone on occasion at his home in Fremont, Ohio, where he grew up. He was always humble, although I could tell he missed playing football.
I was shocked and saddened when Rob had a heart attack at age 56 on November 20, 2010, and passed away. I found out about his passing in an article in Sports Illustrated.
This summer, I received an email from Rob's son Kelly. He was writing a book about his relationship with his dad and wanted permission to use a photo of his dad and mom that I had used in "Prime Rib and Boxcars. Whatever Happened to Victoria Station," a memoir I wrote about Victoria Station. Kelly and I started to correspond.
Kelly sent me an advance copy of the book. I was very moved that a son who was very busy with raising a family, and working, would set aside the time to accomplish such a feat. Kelly hints quite strongly that the concussions that Rob got from playing football, and the surgeries resulting from the injuries, and the pain killers,had much to do with Rob's early passing.
He writes, "I have no medical degrees, but I have to imagine that a reliance on Vicodin, Lorcet, and Oxycodone contributed to Dad's premature death."
The book is personal and heart wrenching. I could hardly finish it the first time because I saw a different side of a man I knew who had a coy smile and subtle sense of humor and a love for people. I had no idea of the agony that Rob Lytle suffered playing football on the national stage.
In the book, there is a chapter titled "Love," where Kelly describes the different kinds of love he experienced with his family. His personal descriptions of "Love is" could apply to any of us who have suffered the loss of a loved parent, child, sibling, dear friend--anybody really. This sentence touched me, "Love is a husband and wife washing dishes, their hands reaching for dirty plates together in the same bubbly sink, after another family party on Christmas Eve."
My message this Christmas: Love those who are special to you; we never know what or when something will happen to them, or to us for that matter. I love you all. Thanks for being in my life.
Rob's book, "To Dad From Kelly," is available on Amazon.com, at Barnes and Noble, in paperback or electronic book form, or contact Kelly directly at Kelly.email@example.com for a personal, autographed copy. He resides in Cleveland, Ohio.
Book by Kelly Lytle
Be safe. Have a nice holiday. See you next week.