Two “Buckos,” unrelated.

Same last name.

And photographs of each man in their later years, suggest more than a casual resemblance.

But apart from their Irish heritage and Pennsylvania roots, no intersecting bloodlines.

One ensconced in the football world, the other an erudite player, “the facilitator,” and a trusted confidante of the greatest boxer of all time.

Francis Joseph “Bucko” Kilroy was an accomplished, hard-boiled American football player and longtime professional football executive of more than modest repute.

Born in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, he attended Northeast Catholic High School and then Temple University, despite being originally recruited by Notre Dame.

Kilroy became one of the finest linemen in Temple football history, starring for the Owls in the 1940 and ’41 campaigns, helping Temple defeat rivals Penn State, Bucknell and Villanova in the same season, for the first and only time ever (1941).

In 1941 he started every game and played both ways, en route to becoming the first Temple football player to receive recognition as an Honorable Mention All-American.

After serving in the Merchant Marines in 1942 and part of ’43 during WWII, Kilroy played the 1943 season for the Phil-Pitt Steagles, a team created by the temporary merger of Pennsylvania’s two NFL entries, necessitated by the loss of so many players to military service.

From there, it was on to the Philadelphia Eagles where he played offensive and defensive line for his entire 13-year NFL career, all in the City of Brotherly Love.

Kilroy was widely known as one of the toughest — and dirtiest — players of that era.

He was a member of two NFL championship teams with the Eagles (1948; 1949) — they were runners-up in ’47 — and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, missing only one of the 203 games he played, due to injury.

Also highlighted on his resume was a stretch of 143 consecutive games played, a league record at the time.

A two-way starter on the line, Bucko Kilroy was instrumental in helping Steve Van Buren win 4 NFL rushing titles and 3 in a row (1945; 1947-’49) and was athletic enough to record 5 career interceptions on defense.

He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1940s.

An assistant coach with the Eagles upon retirement — from 1955-’59 — segued into scouting with the Redskins and Dallas, and then front office work, and Kilroy distinguished himself nicely.

He was instrumental in drafting Roger Staubach, navigating the intricate labyrinth of his military service commitments, and also was credited as a founder of the modern-day NFL Draft.

As an NFL Executive, Kilroy helped fashion the Super Bowl as we know it today.

He was the GM of the Patriots in the ’80s when they went to the franchise’s first Super Bowl (XX), played in January of 1986 — a 46–10 waxing at the hands of the Bears — and was New England’s Director of Scouting in the early 2000s, drafting many of the players who won three Super Bowls during that time.

Not too shabby.

Francis J. “Bucko” Kilroy died at 86 on July 10, 2007.

As sparkling and stellar a career as he enjoyed, his unrelated Kilroy namesake, Gene, may have had an even greater one.

Gene Kilroy was Muhammad Ali’s business manager.

Ali of course is gone, but Gene’s still around.

Gene Kilroy was Ali’s closest friend, adviser and quintessential right-hand man.

The last surviving member of “The Greatest’s” inner circle, he was there for it all.

In 1970, three years after Ali’s ban from boxing was lifted, Kilroy helped him regain his license and introduced him to Bernie Pollack, a Pottsville, PA furrier, who owned undeveloped land, just outside of Deer Lake.

Kilroy told Ali that he was going to make a businessman out of him.

Introducing him to a top-flight accounting firm was step one, as Kilroy knew all along that Ali could use the Deer Lake site as a tax write off.

The firm acknowledged his savviness and the land was purchased in 1971.

Construction commenced immediately with the gym being the first building erected.

A total of eight log cabins were built, and served as quarters for Ali’s support personnel.

A Mosque, a state-of-the-art kitchen, an expansive dining hall, two bunkhouses for his sparring partners and a house for Ali, where he stayed by himself shielded from distraction, were all part of the blueprint.

So was a Chalet for Ali’s wife to stay, with the couple’s four children.

As was a five-stall barn for his horses and a donkey.

The compound included boulders placed around the property, featuring the names of boxing legends and friends such as Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, Joe Frazier and trainer Angelo Dundee.

Kilroy felt that this training site was perfect for a man of Ali’s intergalactic fame, stature and popularity — no big city lights and intrusive media, as found in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C. or Miami.

It was unquestionably the best move for Ali, who loved the place until the day he died (June 3, 2016).

It was called, “Fighter’s Heaven.”

Vintage Gene Kilroy.

“There was no man on planet Earth as close to Muhammad as I was,” Kilroy has said.

He’s not wrong.

If you look at photos of Ali training at Deer Lake, of course, there’s Kilroy in the background.

If you watch the video footage from the “Rumble in the Jungle’ in what was then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Kilroy is the first man in the ring hugging Ali after his defeat of George Foreman.

Kilroy had a front row seat to history in the making, and he himself had a hand in making it.

He recalls that they both shared Irish ancestry — that’s right — and it brought them even closer.

“I did everything for Ali. My title was his business manager, I did all his tax shelters, I did all his investments, I did all the arrangements for Ali’s shows.

People said ‘Gene Kilroy did everything for Ali but get in the ring for him!’

I was blessed to be around a great man like that.

I liked him not [just] because of his Irish heritage, but because of my Irish heritage!”

Kilroy explained the link.

“His great-grandfather [Abe Grady] came from Ireland, his mother’s grandfather. He always said ‘We’re related!’ and I would laugh and make a joke about it.”

And then he detailed his own ancestry.

“My great-grandparents emigrated from Inchicore and came to the coal-mines of Pennsylvania. My family were [sic] active with the Molly Maguires [a secret labour movement in Pennsylvania in the 1800s].

My grandfather on my Dad’s side was killed in the coal mines, he was 42. And my grandfather on my Mom’s side was killed in the mines when he was 39.

The family survived because they had religion, they believed in never taking advantage of anybody.”

And Gene Kilroy didn’t become Gene Kilroy by being a wallflower, by havin’ his back “up on the wall.”

Kilroy and Ali first met at the Rome Olympics more than 60 years ago, when Ali — then Cassius Clay — won gold and began his rapid ascent to international prominence.

“I was playing sports in Munich, Germany. I played three sports and was the only officer on an athletic scholarship — football, baseball, basketball. And they needed someone to sign the pay vouchers for the 1960 Olympics.

They asked me so of course I appointed myself.

I remember walking down the street with Cassius Clay, and I had money.

I was getting my government money, those guys had nothing.

Some guy came up begging and he said ‘I need some money.’

At that time Cassius had eight dollars in his pocket, so he gave the guy three.

I said to him ‘Why’d you give the guy three that’s [nearly] all you have there?’

He said ‘If he’s lying to me he’s going to have to answer to god, but god may be testing me.’

So I realised [sic] this young guy, Cassius Clay, had a lot of depth to him.

And then after he won the gold medal he walked all over the [Olympic] village, he had his gold medal on.

If they would have picked a mayor of Olympic village, it would have been him.

I remember people from Russia telling him ‘You’ll go back to Louisville now and you can’t even eat in the restaurant,’ and he said ‘Yeah, but we’re going to change things.’

His mother always instilled in him, ‘Make the world a better place than you found it,’ which he did.

He’s from a great home, a loving home, a caring home.

He always had time for the poor, the powerless, the depressed, the deprived.”

Known for the gift of gab, Kilroy was just getting loose.

He was just warming up.

“We will never, on our time on planet Earth, see a man who was as courageous…I used to tell him if he weighed 220 pounds today, his heart would weigh 218.

He had such a good heart, he had forgiveness, he saw no wrong in anybody.

I remember telling Elijah Muhammad, his religious leader, he would walk in the bathroom and come out with two new friends, and I would have to run them away!”

This, from the man who knew that losing to Frazier in the March ’71 “Fight of the Century” boosted and enhanced the Ali legacy, from the same mouth which uttered these words to Floyd “Money” Mayweather not long ago, describing that those were the days, never to be forgotten or shunted aside:

“If Ali and I had breakfast today, and we had the cameras there, we would outdraw your fights.”

The Bucko Kilroys — both adept at spinning a yarn, or throwing a ham-hock, willing and able to back it all up.

No excuses.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in March 2021.]


Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store