By Mike Houlihan
What was the name of the Green Bay Packer running back that Chicago Bear George Connor creamed in Wrigley Field on a cold and grey Sunday in November of 1955? Connor broke up the Packers flying wedge on a kickoff return and knocked that Packer into next week. They called it the “hit heard round the world”. Who was that guy that George Connor knocked out?
That’s the kind of question that only Tony Golden could answer. He had an encyclopedic memory for sports trivia and other arcane Chicago folklore. As the Irish say, “He’s the kind of man you don’t meet every day.”
Tony and I and Charlie Carey and a rotating group of characters regularly hung out after lunch at Gene & Georgetti’s. Tony would regale us with long ago exploits of gridiron greatness, debauchery, and bravery in battle. He could make you laugh and make you cry.
Anthony, “Tony” Golden died last week at the age of 90 surrounded by his wife Kay, and sons Kevin, Terry, and Tim. He’d received the last rites from Father Tom Hurley and was ready to pack it in. He lived every minute of those ninety years to the hilt, defiantly and with gusto.
He was born a policeman’s son on the south side of Chicago in 1929. His parents had both emigrated from Swinford, County Mayo Ireland and young Tony attended St. Justin grammar school and Harper HS, graduating in 1947, before playing football at Butler University. He got into the construction business, building homes and remodeling for about thirty years before setting up his own specialty promotional business, Golden Incentives.
He met his wife Kay at “The Store” down on Rush Street. Her father, an Irish patriot also from Mayo, had opened a tavern on Diversey just off Halsted. She was every Irishman’s dream, a pretty gal whose dad owned a saloon.
Kay and Tony got married in 1965, 54 years ago.
A legendary sportsman, Tony was the first race director of the Chicago Marathon, founded by his good friend Lee Flaherty. Tony ran over 42 marathons, including Chicago, Boston, and New York on several occasions. He told me he and Notre Dame great Buddy Ruel had hopped in a taxi after the Boston race and Buddy got into it with a huge Italian cab driver after making a crack about his ancestry. Tony held the door while Buddy cleaned the cabbie’s clock.
In 1969 Tony and Mike Lind commandeered a horse named “Lady” and her carriage, from in front of a Rush Street tavern around 4AM and trotted over to Buckingham Fountain for a nightcap with “Lady”, while cops issued an all-points bulletin for the horse thieves. It was in all the papers the next day, but the lads were never caught.
Tony and his pal, Bogie the cop, had been entertaining Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle one night and the Mick wanted to drive Bogie’s squad car, which he did while speeding down a Chicago expressway with sirens blaring.
Tony finally quit the booze and hadn’t had a drop for over 40 years when he died. But he still loved to tell his stories and we relished listening, with names and dates he never forgot.
He took me under his wing over twenty years ago and introduced me to many Chicago legends, guys like Committeeman Ed Kelly of the Fighting 47th Ward and Superintendent of The Chicago Park District. Ed ran his annual “Giant Awards” dinner at the White Eagle on Milwaukee Avenue and Tony always held a seat for freeloaders like me at his table. He helped found the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame with his childhood pal George Connor.
When I was shooting my film “Tapioca” in 2006, I played a sleazy used car salesman and we needed a little old lady to play the foil in the opening scene. Tony recruited his 100-year-old mother in law. I don’t think he told Mrs. Kelly what she was in for, because the look on her face when my character went off on her was priceless. I told Tony later that I might have shocked her, and he told me, “Are you kiddin’? She owned a tavern for fifty years, she’s been around the block, twice!”
Tony Golden circled that block dozens of times himself, peeling back the history of Chicago with each story. He knew all the big shoulders of this toddling town. He had an institutional memory cuz he was there.
Sure gonna miss those lunches with Tony. We’re hoping you can all make it to his final send off at Old St. Pat’s, 700 West Adams in Chicago, on Friday May 3rd, starting at 9AM, with funeral mass at 10.
And oh yeah, who was the Green Bay Packer laid out by George Connor that November day at Wrigley Field?
Charlie Carey and I were on the phone last week when we heard the news of Tony’s passing and Charlie said to me, “Man I was gonna call him this weekend, we were trying to figure out who was the guy who took “the hit heard round the world” and I couldn’t remember…. oh wait a minute, it just came to me, Veryl Switzer! Thank you Tony!”
I looked it up. Veryl Switzer admitted that when he was hit by George Connor on a kickoff return, it almost took his head off. Connor's resounding tackle of Green Bay's Veryl Switzer on a kick return in Wrigley Field will live forever in Bears lore. Switzer's helmet flew one way, the ball another, and Bears linebacker Bill George recovered the fumble for a touchdown.
Thanks Tony, for the memories. Say hello to Veryl Switzer if he’s up there.
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By Mike Houlihan