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Dante “Gluefingers” Lavelli

Rep. Steven C. LaTourette

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Madam Speaker, when you were a Cleveland Browns fan, there is no halfway. To be a Browns fan requires a lifelong devotion, an unflinching loyalty, a reverence for all those who came before. As a Browns fan, you come to accept that your loyalty will be tested often, and in ways you cannot fathom--the Drive, the Fumble, the stealth, dark-of-night move to Baltimore. Yet, the loyalty never wavers--mostly because the rewards and the memories forged on Sunday afternoons between fathers, sons, friends and neighbors are so powerful--even when they are few and far between.

One of pillars of the Browns recently passed: Dante ``Glue Fingers'' Lavelli. He played with Otto Graham, Marion Motley and Lou ``The Toe'' Groza and was coached by the legendary Paul Brown. He led the team to seven championships in the 1940s and 1950s. He was a gridiron star in his hometown of Hudson, OH, which is part of my district. He led his high school team to three straight undefeated seasons.

Dante Lavelli was a World War II Army veteran who missed most of college to defend our Nation, trading the Horseshoe at Ohio State for the beaches of Normandy. The famed receiver--nicknamed ``Gluefingers'' because he never dropped the ball--was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton more than 30 years ago, where his 386 catches for 6,488 yards and 62 touchdowns are part of football lore. He loved one woman for more than 60 years, his beloved wife, Joy. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son, and four grandchildren, including Aaron Bill, who worked for me in Washington and now attends law school.

I want to submit into the Record a column written by renowned Cleveland Plain Dealer sportswriter Terry Pluto, who so eloquently captured the magic of a man who meant so much to his family, his community, the Browns and the NFL. The article was published on January 25, 2009, the day after Lavelli's funeral in Hudson, OH.

He was a man who put salt on almost everything, especially a salad. He drank a huge can of ice tea each night and would drive his grandchildren around, forcing them to listen to polka music in the car. Dante Lavelli was so much more than a Hall of Fame receiver for the Cleveland Browns, as family and friends made clear during his funeral at St. Mary's Church in Hudson on Saturday. Aaron Bill walked up to the pulpit with a comb as he prepared to talk about his grandfather, who died Tuesday at the age of 85. ``He was always trying to comb my hair,'' said Bill. ``He'd tell me that my sideburns were too long, that I needed a haircut. He wanted me to pull up my pants even when they were as high as they could go.'' Yes, he's Dante Lavelli, ``Gluefingers.'' He was Dante Lavelli, Mr. ``Clutch.'' He was Dante Lavelli, the receiver's receiver, a player whose football personality was opposite to so many of the self-absorbed types who play the position today. He's the man ``who never dropped a pass that he touched, not in practices or games.'' So said great Browns coach Paul Brown at Lavelli's Hall of Fame induction in 1975. He also never did a celebration dance in the end zone, because he had been there before--a total of 62 times in his 11-year Browns career. Lavelli caught all but 20 of his 386 receptions from Hall of Famer Otto Graham. He also played games in 1956, his final season, with a notebook and pencil tucked inside his pads so he could sign up opponents after the game to join the new Players Association that he helped assemble. ``When my father walked, the floor shook,'' said his son, Edward Lavelli. Or so it seemed. He led Hudson High to three undefeated seasons in the late 1930s. He played only three games at Ohio State before joining the Army, where he was in the 28th Infantry. The flag on his casket was a reminder that Lavelli was part of the group of men who landed at Omaha Beach. He was in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45, where the Allies lost an estimated 81,000 men. In an interview with Scout.com, Lavelli said at one point in the fighting, ``I spent three days in a foxhole.'' He also said he prayed the ``Our Father'' constantly for three days. After his football career, Lavelli had ownership interest in a furniture store, in two bowling alleys and other business ventures. He had been the oldest living member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He pushed for recognition of the 1948 Browns for their undefeated season, which had been dismissed by the NFL because it happened in the old All- American Football Conference. As Father John Betters said in his homily, ``Dante Lavelli truly was one of America's Greatest Generation.'' Lavelli was married for nearly 60 years to Joy, and spent much of his later life in Westlake. His family members mentioned how he loved to win at anything, from gin rummy to golf to negotiating to buy a car. Oldest daughter Lucinda said her father often offered this advice: ``Save your money and get some rest.'' Or as grandson Aaron Bill said, looking up and speaking to his deceased grandfather, ``I love you very much, and I'll miss talking to you every day. And don't worry, my shoes aren't untied. I wore loafers.''