The legend of former University of Georgia tight end Joe Tereshinski will linger for those with affection for the grant-in-aid system, which made college football what it is today.
Tereshinski’s story was one of old-world adventurism coupled with opportunity, but it was like others. Between two world wars and beyond, generation after generation in America realized the son could make for a better life than the father had and then perpetuate the tradition through his own children.
Immigration wasn’t controversial four generations ago. Families left the mother country for opportunity in America. Sometimes it was not the best of times, but perseverance prevailed and fulfillment was realized. Those immigrants assimilated, made do and became Americans — loyal and patriotic, proud and overachieving.
Tereshinski died earlier this month. But his death — even with its sobering finality and the attendant pains it brought — reminded us of the America we often believe we have lost.
Tereshinski’s father found his way over from Juzefu, a Polish town near Lublin. He arrived in Charleston, S.C., but followed a wayward route to Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans before heading north to settle in Glen Lyon, Pa. Interestingly, that town is a little more than half a dozen miles from Pittston, the hometown of Charley Trippi.
Tereshinski and Trippi had the same benefactor — Harold Ketron, the Coca-Cola bottler who eagerly touted them to Bulldogs coach Wallace Butts. Trippi was an easy sell, but Georgia coaches were leery of Tereshinski’s size, which was less than imposing. Bill Hartman recalled that he and line coach J.B. Whitworth accompanied Ketron to the Tereshinski home. Hartman also recalled that Tereshinski came out to greet his visitors wearing “a vest, a sweater and a big coat” in an attempt to camouflage his lightweight status of 165 pounds.
But Ketron kept repeating that while Joe was not very big, he was “a fighter.”
Because of Ketron’s due diligence and passion, it was difficult not to take his recommendation. Tereshinski, who worked at the Coca-Cola plant with Trippi (and would become his roommate in Athens), was given a scholarship. Tereshinski would not disappoint anybody when he showed up in the fall of 1941.
The singular objective on his mind was a college degree. To play football for a degree! That was a tradition for which Tereshinski extended the highest regard.
Years ago, I remember Butts telling a story that warrants retelling as long as football is played at the nation’s oldest state-chartered university. Tereshinski’s name — which Joe said originally was spelled Taraczinski — was difficult to pronounce. One day, in a fit of frustration on the practice field, Butts told Joe that his name warranted a pronunciation challenge.
“We are going to change your name,” he told the skinny end. “We are going to name you Terry. Joe Terry.”
Tereshinski’s pride was stung. He was taken aback and deeply hurt. With the greatest of humility, he said to Butts, “If you let me keep my name, I will make you proud of it.”
He did. Tereshinski lettered during the 1942 season, after which Georgia beat UCLA 9-0 in the Rose Bowl. Then, like many others of his generation, he went off to war. He returned to Georgia in time to letter in the Oil Bowl season of 1945. He was a starter on the 1946 team, which went undefeated and won a national championship, beating North Carolina 20-10 in the Sugar Bowl.
Tereshinski then signed a pro contract with the Washington Redskins after earning his degree and played seven years in the NFL. Later, he spent nine seasons as an assistant coach for the franchise.
Tereshinski’s love of Georgia and coach Butts was transparent, abiding and long lasting. He sent his sons Joe Jr. and Wally, whom he named for his coach, to Georgia.
“I wanted my boys to have a Georgia education and experience life in Athens,” he once said.
Joe Jr. became so enamored with the school he never left. He works in strength and conditioning for the Bulldogs with the same fervor that his dad displayed as a player.
The elder Tereshinski epitomized loyalty and love of alma mater. He always expressed unending gratefulness for the concept of playing football for a free education. If only today’s young players could appreciate Tereshinski’s refrain.
Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at email@example.com.