Profile of Sam DeLuca
By Scott Benjamin  

Sam DeLuca, the NY Jets Football Great on
Yes... because Sam appeared on WABC broadcasting Jets Football.

Scott Benjamin caught up with Sam for a profile:


Just as the established National Football League (NFL) and upstart American Football League (AFL) began taking steps to merge and his team, the New York Jets, was beginning its ascent to a Super Bowl title, Sam DeLucas playing career ended when he suffered a severe knee injury in the last pre-season game of 1967.

However, a strike by members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in the fall 1967 provided him with an opportunity for a second career.

Due to the strike, Merle Harmon, the highly-regarded play-by-play broadcaster, and his color commentator, New York Daily News sports columnist Dick Young, were off the air for two games on Musicradio77 WABC, which then carried the Jets.

Dick Hutchinson, the producer for the radio broadcasts, had worked with Sam on a pre-season promo spot and paired him with Wally Schwartz, WABCs general manager, for the two games.

Sam, 72, said that he had never considered a career in broadcasting while he was attending the University of South Carolina, which he graduated from in 1957 with a degree in Education.

You just didnt have classes in Communications in those days, he said.

Sam did so well during his stint that by the next spring he was hosting the pre- and post-game shows for the New York Mets baseball broadcasts on WABC-FM.

He would proceed to become the regular color commentator on the Jets games, working with Merle through 1972, spending those last two years on WOR, where he also began doing the afternoon sports reports.

Sam later worked as a color commentator for NBC Sports television games of the AFC and would continue doing sports-casting at least part-time through 1988.

He said in a June 10 phone interview with that although he was disappointed to have his career end and miss out on the Jets march to the Super Bowl during the 1968 season, he adapted very quickly to being a radio sportscaster.

Sam said that Merle was helpful in that regard.

Merle was patient, Sam said. Merle used to always tell me that I took too many notes and I wasnt going to be able to get all of that material into the game, he said.

I found that I liked it, because I could go out to dinner the night before a road game and not worry about having to play the next day, Sam said. There was less pressure.

I was 31 years old, and I figured that it was time I had to move to something else, he said regarding his injury, which occurred just months after the NFL and AFL met in the first Super Bowl.

I think perhaps today, a player could have come back from that injury, said Sam, who lives in Pelham, N.Y. Medicine has advanced and there is more weight-training today. I lifted weights then for my upper body but not for my legs.

Today, you do see players who are 35 and 36 years old come back from that kind of injury, he said.

 I cant stride to this day, Sam said regarding the limitations he has from his damaged knee.

I play tennis, but I have to take old mans steps, he said.

He works out daily, doing cardiovascular conditioning and weight-lifting on alternate days.

Sam didnt forecast the Jets as Super Bowl contenders during training camp in 1968. The team had placed second in its division with an overall record of 8-5-1 the season before.

I didnt see that they had the talent that we had had in 1963 at San Diego when we won the AFL championship, Sam said of the Chargers team that captured a title under the legendary Sid Gillman.

Namath made the difference, he said of celebrity quarterback Joe Namath, who had arrived in 1965 as a bonus baby from the University of Alabama. He had a good arm and a quick release. He also would throw the ball long. He wasnt concerned about his completion percentage.

Joe was a loyal guy, said Sam, who was a second-team Associated Press All-AFL selection in 1966, the year before his career ended. He had a lot of pressure on him and he handled it well.

After a road game, the team would walk out of the locker room to the bus and then the bus would have to circle to the back of the stadium to pick up Joe because he couldnt just walk out of the locker room with 200 or 300 fans wanting his autograph, he recalled.

The high school and college kids that Merle and I talked with that listened to WABC for the music also were interested in Joe Namath, Sam said. He was their idol. I think having the Jets on the radio on Sunday afternoons was a boost to WABC because of the high profile that Joe had.

Many years later, his son, Sam, now a baseball second baseman for an independent minor league team, attended the youth football camp that Joe operates with former Jets defensive back John Dockery.

Joe is great with teaching kids football, Sam said.

Sam was a starting offensive guard - listed at 6-feet, 2-inches, 245 pounds - for the Jets from 1964 through 1966 as the team began to assemble the components that would lead it to a Super Bowl title.

His 1965 and 1967 Topps football cards, for example, are available through eBay.

During the 1968 Super Bowl season Sam was a regular guest on Howard Cosells Jets pre-game shows on Musicradio77 WABC.

He was a great talent, Sam said of Howard who would go on to become a fixture on ABCs Monday Night Football telecasts. He had command of the language and was an innovator. He went after stories when before that, people would not be controversial. He probably contributed more to sports broadcasting than anybody else.

In the famed Heidi Game in November in which NBC started airing the movie Heidi with 65 seconds remaining, Sam had gone to the locker room at the Oakland Coliseum to prepare for his regular post-game show on the premise that the Jets, who were leading, 32-29, would win.

However, the arch rival Oakland Raiders scored two touchdowns after his arrival and won the game 43-32.

They didnt have a radio on in the locker room, and I when I saw [Jets offensive tackle] Dave Herman throw his helmet down in the locker room I couldnt figure out why immediately.

A little more than a month later, the Jets defeated the Raiders at Shea Stadium in the AFL Championship games.

Their victory in Super Bowl III, which Joe Namath guaranteed, put an exclamation point on a nearly decade-long effort by the AFL to reach parity with the NFL.

The AFL was always looked at as second rate, Sam said. I would go to a fund-raising dinner and arrive at 7:30 and sign autographs, and Dick Lynch, the Giants broadcaster who had played for them for many years, would come at 8:45, speak briefly and say he had to get off to another engagement.

Sam continued at WABC through the Jets 1970 season.

He did the Mets pre- and post-game shows for WABC-FM in 1968 and in 1969, when the team stunned the world by winning the title after seven years of futility.

The Mets World Series title in 1969 was as big a surprise as the Jets winning the Super Bowl, Sam said.
He said that he got to know many of the players, including Hall-of-Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, and even played a game of poker with some of them.

Sam said he faced an adjustment in covering baseball.

 I read The Sporting News, I went to Florida for spring training for more than a week, Sam recalled. I needed to learn more about baseball.

By 1971, the Jets had moved to 710 AM WOR and Sam began doing the afternoon sportscasts at the station.

He continued with the radio broadcasts through 1972 and was hired a year later as a color commentator to work with Charlie Jones on regional televised games for NBC Sports.

I asked Chet Simmons about getting someone to work with me as a teacher when I moved to television, Sam said of a conversation he had at that time with the executive producer of NBC Sports, who would later become president of ESPN when it began operations in 1979.

 There was no training course, he said.

In the early 1980s, when Michael Weisman became that executive producer of NBC Sports, he hired Marty Glickman as a coach for the play by play announcers and color commentators. That program received favorable reviews, including a Sports Illustrated column.

It would have been gold, Sam said regarding his regrets that such a program didnt exist when he arrived at NBC Sports.

Before working the NBC regional games, Sam did get some experience by working on the telecasts that year of the New York Jets pre-season games, an assignment that would continue for several years.

Sam also co-hosted a pre-game show for two years  on WNBC-TV channel 4 with New York Giants Hall of Famer Andy Robustelli, who at the end of the 1973 season would be hired as the Giants general manager, a post that he would hold through the 1978 season.

Altogether, Sam was making $45,000 a year in sports-casting, but he yearned to make some really bigger money and establish a base.

His met his wife, Diane, while they worked together at ABC. They have been married since 1976.

Dianes work included a stint as an assistant to Howard Cosell on his short-lived 1975 variety show that was televised from the Ed Sullivan Theater.

Howard told me that I didnt have Frank Giffords looks and I wasnt half the talker that Pat Summerall was, so I shouldnt pass up other opportunities, Sam said, making reference to the former New York Giant flanker who was a longtime announcer on ABCs Monday Night Football and the former NFL kicker who became John Maddens partner on CBS and Fox NFL telecasts.

One night at a dinner, he spoke with Buddy Young, the former Colts halfback who was doing job procurement for the NFL, about business opportunities.

Buddy recommended looking into McDonalds franchises.

In 1974 Sam established the first three franchises in the Bronx, and in 1985 he opened the first of what would become six self-storage facilities.

He still owns one of the McDonalds. He sold all of the self-storage centers in 1998.

McDonalds is great because they are the leader in the field and they have a good product, Sam said.

He graduated from Lafayette High School in Brooklyn in the same class as Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax.

He was a better basketball player than he was at baseball, Sam said.

He said Sandy, who is noted for maintaining a low profile, was even shy in high school.

I was the master of ceremonies at one of your reunions in the 1970s, and he asked that he not be introduced, Sam recalled.

After an All-America career with the South Carolina Gamecocks, he was the 23rd player selected in the 1957 draft, being taken late in the second round by the New York Giants, signing for $7,000 a year with a $500 bonus.

At the time, the NFL only had 12 teams.

Sam, who had played offensive tackle in college, was slated to succeed Bill Austin, who had just retired.

However, Bill came out of retirement. The Giants eventually asked Sam to play in the Canadian Football League to get some experience while Bill, who would later serve as the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins, played what would be his final season.

Sam ended up playing in the Canadian Football League until 1960, when the AFL was formed and he landed a position with the then Los Angeles Chargers, who would move to San Diego.

He said his highest AFL salary was $20,000 a year.

In the off season, Sam was a substitute teacher at John Adams High School in Queens, handling both day-to-day and long-term assignments.

 Jobs were hard to get, he recalled.

Today, with the NFL having become the most profitable sports enterprise in the world, the players union and the league office have taken care of the old-timers, according to Sam, who, for example, receives a $36,000 a year pension from the league.

His son, 22, started at second base for four years at St. Johns University in Queens and played in the Mets rookie system last year.

After repairing an injured rotator cuff in the off season, he is now playing for the Midwest Sliders in the Frontier League, an independent association in the Midwest.

Sam said his team, which is supposed to be based in Waterford, Mich. has no home stadium, so it travels three to six and a half hours by bus since all of its games are on the road.

In addition to running his McDonalds in the Bronx, Sam has worked from a computer at his home for five years trading stocks.

Im not someone to sit around, he said. I need something that is competitive.



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