We’re turning the Editor’s Blog over to Sam Denny, a Louisville resident and card collector who has a great story to tell about one of his former teachers.
During my years at Seneca High School in Louisville, KY, the football coach was Ron Cain, who led Seneca to the state football championship in 1965 and a runner-up finish in 1968. During the championship season Coach Cain was my teacher for ninth-grade health class.
One day during class (which that day consisted of polishing our skills on the basketball court) Coach Cain told me that prior to going into teaching he had been drafted by the Denver Broncos during the initial season of the old American Football League. He also told me that while he had made the team, he had never actually played due to injury sustained prior to the start of the season. Though I always remembered him sharing that part of his life with me, I did not give it a great deal of thought until years later.
Around 1989 I was shopping at a sports card shop as I did on a periodic basis. While there I noticed four 1960 Fleer football cards of a player named Ronnie Cain. Curious, I read the back of the cards and concluded that it was indeed Coach Cain from Seneca. I purchased all four of the cards at 50 cents apiece and over time bought additional cards of the coach as I was ableto locate them.
Shortly afterward my wife Linda (class of 1970) had her 20-year reunion. I took one of the cards to the reunion and showed it to a number of people there. Virtually everyone (including those who had played for him) was unaware of his being on a professional football roster. I took the card to my 30-year reunion in 1999 and again people were surprised to learn of his time in professional football. Regardless, it intrigued me as to why he had thought to tell me what he apparently had told very few people.
While he never played in a regular season game, that wasn’t unusual for some of the players in that first Fleer set. It was produced before the season began and some of the players Fleer predicted would be on the roster during the season simply weren’t. My former teacher was one of them. I’m sure he signed some of them through the mail for collectors over the years but few people back in Kentucky seemed to know he was in the set.
In 2000 Linda and I attended her 30-year high school reunion. Again I took the card of Coach Cain with me. As before, I began showing the card to a number of people there. Then about halfway through the function Linda flagged me down and told me someone wanted to see me about my football card. I was taken to meet a woman standing outside the auditorium. The woman then introduced herself to me. “I’m Phyllis Cain. I would love to see your card. Our family used to have one, but one of our grandchildren lost it a few years ago,” she told me.
Phyllis was Ron’s widow. He had passed away in 1999 following heart bypass surgery. The card had been a family treasure, having become even more important after Coach Cain had passed away. I handed her the card and told her she could keep it if she wanted. Initially she declined, but then upon my insistence, accepted it. Three weeks later I received the following letter from Phyllis:
Words cannot express how much recovering Ron’s football card meant to me and our children/grandchildren. The four-year-old clasped the card to his chest and said “I’m keeping this, it’s my Big Daddy.” I had to wait until he was distracted to retrieve the card. We don’t want to lose this one.
Ron and I had wonderful memories of our years at Seneca High—it was the best of times. We still cry at times over losing Big Ron. Phil Thompson said it best, “Ron was hard to love but we loved him dearly.”
Thank you so very much, we are forever grateful for your kindness.
Since that time, as I have been able to locate additional cards of Coach Cain. Fortunately, the 1960 Fleer AFL set isn’t rare, although you might not find them readily available at your local card shop. I was able to get cards for all three of Phyllis and Ron’s children, all four of their grandchildren, their nephew who played in the NFL and a number of former players (several of whom played on the state champion team).
A signature moment for Phyllis came when in the fall of 2010 Seneca invited the members of the 1965 state champion football team back to Louisville for a reunion. And in 2013 Phyllis and her family were present when the football stadium was named in honor of Coach Cain. During both events she was able to reconnect with a number of people from that time in her life. Though I never played a down of football while at Seneca, I find it interesting that a brief conversation with one of my teachers years ago could have taken me down such an interesting and fulfilling journey.
Sam Denny (Class of 1969)