Editorial: Garo Yepremian: the four quarters of an American hero
● By Richard Gaw
On the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 14, 1973 in the City of Los
Angeles, the late afternoon sun poured down into the giant bowl of the Memorial
Coliseum, where Super Bowl VII was being played between the Washington Redskins
and the Miami Dolphins. With a little more than two minutes left in the game,
the Dolphins, enjoying a 14-0 lead, were on the verge of completing what would
be a perfect, undefeated season, the only one in the history of the National
Football League. Coach Don Shula sent in his reliable All-Pro kicker Garo
Yepremian to put the game out of reach, but something horrible happened. The
snap was bad; Yepremian attempted to swat the ball away from defenders. He
gathered up the ball once again and attempted to toss it down field, but it
slipped from his hands into those of Mike Bass, a Redskins safety, who ran it
back for a touchdown. A television audience of more than 53 million saw the
play unfold on television.
Yepremian ran back to the sidelines and attempted to disappear into the forest of his teammates. It was said to be the
quietest two minutes of Garo Yepremian's life; a peculiar if momentary lapse,
given the fact that for nearly the entirety of his life, he never stopped
talking. No, the intention of his conversations were rarely spoken in the same
blathering breath of old athletes who seek to cling onto the nostalgia train of
former glories. Rather, Garo Yepremian never stopped talking because he wanted
to tell as many people as he could that a beautiful young woman from Unionville
died way too young and that things like this – tragedies that can take away the
life of the most shining of lights – should never happen.
Yepremian lived comfortably for many years with his wife Maritza in Avondale. After he left the N.F.L., he embraced everything about life in southern Chester County – operating businesses, developing a second career as an artist, and being a father to his two boys, Garo, Jr. and Azad. In 1998, his daughter-in-law Debby-Lu – a graduate of Unionville High School -- was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor called Intrinsic Brainstem Glioma. As Garo and Maritza stood by Debby and Azad, the helplessness they felt was palpable, and there were long stretches of time when the only sign of hope was seen in the courage of Debby’s eyes. The Garo Yepremian Foundation was founded in 2001 to fight brain diseases. Ironically, sadly and most cruelly, the very disease that Garo Yepremian devoted his energies to defeating for nearly two decades ultimately defeated him. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May 2014 that stemmed from neuroendocrine cancer, and died on May 15 at a hospital in Media.
We are born within all of us the polarized residue of tragedy – the willingness to surrender to it, and the courage – some would say anger – to never let ourselves be overcome by it. Garo Yepremian chose courage; he chose not to stand idle and watch his daughter-in-law suffer, so he used his name and the sport that made him famous as a conduit – a connection to hope, and although Debby-Lu lost her fight in 2004, the foundation has continued to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars that have gone directly to brain tumor research.
If football served as the first quarter of his life, and his family the second, it will be the third and fourth quarters of Garo Yepremian’s life where the truest measure of his life will be remembered. In the wake of his passing, we pause to see the course of his life soar like a kicked ball spiral perfectly through the uprights. In the wake of his passing, we pause just long enough to see the scoreboard. We add up all the numbers. He has won.
To learn more about The Garo Yepremian Foundation, and to make a contribution, visit www.yepremian.org.