Buffalo and the United States lost a significant figure on Saturday. Jack Kemp, politician and former professional athlete passed away due to complications from cancer. He was 73.
Born in Los Angeles in 1935, Kemp was the third of four sons. His father Paul owned a trucking company and Kemp worked there during high school. Kemp attended Occidental College after graduating from high school in 1953, where he became an impressive javelin thrower and an even more impressive football player. He played several positions for the team, most notably, quarterback.
After college, Kemp was drafted by the NFL’s Detroit Lions but was cut from the team before the 1957 season began and ended up playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After bouncing around and being cut by five NFL teams, Kemp signed with the AFL’s Los Angeles Chargers in 1960. He had a strong 1960 season, and an even better 1961. It would be a finger injury that would bring Kemp to the Buffalo Bills. The Chargers were forced to put him on waivers, a move noticed by Bills coach Lou Saban. For $100, Jack Kemp became a Buffalo Bill.
1962 saw a quarterback controversy for the Bills, as Kemp and Daryle Lamonica vied for the starting QB position. The controversy continued for 4 years, with Kemp leading the Bills to the Eastern Division title game in 1963. A game they lost to the Boston Patriots.
Fortunes changed in 1964, however. Kemp led the Bills to the AFL championship game after beating the Patriots in the Eastern Division game. The championship was played on December 26th, 1964, against the San Diego Chargers. Kemp scored the final touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run. Here are some clips narrated by the nostalgia-inducing Van Miller (it’s an amateur recording, so you can hear children playing in the background sometimes, making the clips even more original):
After football, Kemp represented the normally Democratic voting Western New York in the United States Congress, his constituency admired him for his charisma and belief in ideals, instead of simply falling in line with Republican party ideals. He was a proponent of both the flat tax and civil rights, and wished to encourage entrepreneurial enterprises, as well as affirmative action and rights for illegal immigrants. It was difficult to put a finger on Kemp’s political ideology, as he often championed Conservative and Liberal causes.
He made a run for President in 1988, but lost to then Vice President George H.W. Bush. He was a Vice Presidential nominee with Bob Dole in 1996, a campaign they lost to incumbent President Bill Clinton.
After the loss, Kemp continued to champion civil rights and free market economics. He was thought to be a candidate in the 2000 Presidential election, a move that never materialized. Instead, he supported Bush, and began supporting education and Social Security reform.
In January 2009, Kemp’s office issued a statement regarding his health that claimed he had cancer. What type of cancer, treatment, or a prognosis were not revealed. True to his character, Kemp remained dedicated to his political and charitable endeavors until his death on Saturday.
Folks in Buffalo will remember Jack Kemp for his passionate attitude both in football and the political arenas.