Some 'Super Bowl' Doctoring

Football can be a great escape for physicians. In this week's column, Greg Kelly recounts how his father loved the game, and witnessed some of the NFL's most historic moments.

“Football is controlled violence.”

—Vince Lombardi

Thankfully, the pro football season is underway. I love the game. For this, I again credit my physician-dad—who was such a dedicated NFL fan (one more “ready escape” for doctors).

This season the 50th Super Bowl will be played (on Feb. 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, CA). My father was a fan of the game before it became the astounding national spectacle it is today. In fact, based on what he told me, I figure dad may have attended the first 10 Super Bowl games—played mostly in Miami, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

Looking at it now, he was a travel trend-setter. In addition to getting perhaps sports’ most-sought ticket today, dad would use it to set up a pleasant, short pre-game vacation in Las Vegas or the Bahamas. He knew how to have fun.

The championship game of the NFL also brings into focus the other fine father-figure I’m lucky enough to have had in my life. My father-in-law, James F. Norton, Jr. Possessed of a great mind and an even greater heart, Jim was on quite a few of those Super Bowl trips with my dad. They both loved the game—it’s history and traditions. (Jim died in October 2012; my father in March 2007.)

Dad also learned the ins and outs of the game though a patient—NFL Hall-of-Famer Alex Wojciechowicz. A real and rugged star during the NFL’s Golden Years, Wojciechowicz had played college football at Fordham (dad’s school) and was a member of the famed Seven Blocks of Granite (which included Vince Lombardi).

In some family-football serendipity, I learned late that my father and future father-in-law were both in attendance at the so-called, “Greatest Game Ever Played.” This game, the 1958 NFL title game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, is considered the one that made pro football what it is today. The Colts won an exciting 23-17 contest in overtime at Yankee Stadium in New York City.

My father was a physician and my father-in-law was an attorney, and interestingly enough, they were good friends too. Indeed, Jim was one of the few lawyers my father truly liked.

Jim was the son of a highly-respected physician, James F. Norton, MD. Dr. Norton had quite the medical resume. A nationally known OB/GYN doctor from Jersey City, NJ, Dr. Norton was the originator of some groundbreaking obstetrical procedures and the president-elect of the American Medical Association at the time of his death in September 1950.

My father-in-law Jim had thought about becoming a physician like his father. An outstanding student in his own right, Jim was accepted to both Harvard Medical School and Fordham Law School. But when his father died, Jim, who was finishing up his degree at Notre Dame, decided to stay closer to home and go to law school.

One of Monmouth County’s top trial lawyers for many years, Jim was a guy with a brilliant legal mind and a very generous spirit. “One week he’d mop the floor with me in municipal court, the next week he’d offer me great free legal advice on a big case of mine,” one of his attorney colleagues once told me.

Of all the Super Bowls, the most memorable one is the one my father had not planned on attending. It’s minor family lore. I’m not certain of which game, but it happened in the mid-1970s. Jim, who was going, had come down with an illness a few days before he was to leave for the game. In great pain from an intestinal stone, he was admitted to the hospital by his sage physician, my father.

Dad took the Super Bowl ticket (along with Jim’s plane ticket, hotel room and spending money) and went to the game. Jim safely passed the stone and was discharged shortly before the game’s kick-off. Now that’s doctoring!