Hometown Legacy

14 04 2019

In early June of 1973 I had just graduated high school by the skin of my teeth and I was Rock _nmore than ready to move on. I now concentrated on the future which included getting married that November and possibly continuing my education at some college. I was back at my high school picking up material I would need when applying to colleges. Sitting in the lobby I noticed someone else there; a person I knew better from his reputation than I did during our school days.

Rob was a complete opposite of myself, he was popular, well known, involved in many activities, one tremendous athlete, especially in football. Me, I kept a low profile and seldom even went to any school functions. In my senior year I only had to go half days, then it would be off to work, seeing my girlfriend or hanging with a group of guys in the music field that were older. So, I didn’t feel a connection to my school peers. And truthfully, I felt a bit intimidated around ones such as Rob. Even though I didn’t really know him, he and the clique, as we called them back then, seemed to have an air that put them a little higher than ones like me, so I just avoided he and this group as much as I could. Now we found ourselves sitting together, alone. I probably jumped a little when he spoke to me. “Hey Miller, what are you going to be doing now?” Now how on earth did he know my name? I fumbled words around a bit then gave him a brief rundown of my plans. I then asked him a question that brought a look that made me wonder, am I in trouble here? “So, what are you going to be doing?” Rob’s eyes got wide and his stare seem to say, “Are you being serious?” I knew Rob was a great football running back, but really didn’t have any idea how good he was. His senior year on the gridiron was a tremendous one earning him many accolades including making the Ohio All-State Team. He was highly recruited by several major colleges offering scholarships and opting for Michigan University. Every news source in the region carried the story of Rob’s selection and signing. TV, radio, newspaper and probably the majority of the folks in our community were talking about him. Now he was face to face with maybe the only person who didn’t know, and I think he wondered if I was pulling is leg. But it was no joke, I didn’t have the slightest idea. That year a friend and I shared a small house where we didn’t have a television or radio; only an old stereo to turn records. As mentioned, I stayed away from most at the school and only attended classes enough to graduate. The few friends I did hang with weren’t sports enthusiasts, so I was totally oblivious to what was going on with Rob. When he realized I wasn’t kidding with him, Rob’s demeanor relaxed and he told me his plans, to which I told him that was awesome and wished him well. That would be the last time I would see or even think of him until four years later.

Moving to Indiana the next year, I found myself living among many Hoosier fans. In the Fall of ‘76 I was invited to join some of my new friends to watch I.U. play Michigan on TV. I told them how I went to high school with Rob and one spoke up. “Yeah, we know all about him, but he’s the only weapon they have in their offense. My little brother plays on defense and he and the rest are going to key on Rob every play. He won’t run loose today.” “Okay well good luck,” I answered. It wasn’t long before Rob scored his first touchdown.  Later he did it again. And then again. And then, again. That day Rob did something few had ever done in college football; scored four times in a game. The room was rather quiet by the end, and I just sat there, with a small grin. For some reason I was never invited back. Go figure! After that day I followed Rob’s career as he set a rushing record at Michigan, made the College Football All-America Team and finished 3rd for the coveted Heisman Trophy. I remember telling someone, “I should have paid more attention to this guy in school; didn’t realize what incredible talents he possessed.”

When injuries cut his pro-football career short, he returned to Ohio with his family and he naturally became somewhat of a hometown hero. During visits back to Fremont, I would see where Rob was involved with some organization for the betterment of the community and its people. Speaking to ones who knew him well, I realized there was something more to him than his abilities with a football. I heard stories of how he was a leader, motivator and exceptionally compassionate to folks and animals alike. And the stories I enjoyed hearing the most were the love he held tightly to for his Lady and children. Later, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow I should have paid more attention to this guy; didn’t realize what an incredible heart he possessed.”

“You may gaze upon a building from the outside and not be impressed. But if you do not look on the inside you just may miss the true beauty of the structure.” J. David Mill.

In my shallowness of youth, I saw Rob as someone different, with different priorities than mine; and I kept my distance. Had I allowed myself to know the man, I would have discovered someone not only with a passion for football but a heart for people and life. Over the years I’ve learned we all can be guilty of bias toward an individual or group. But for the ones who call themselves Christians that should be the farthest characteristic in your life. One of the most convicting messages on this subject was spoken by Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5. Since this is running long tonight, I’m going to leave it to you to look up. But if the God of the universe can look upon each of us with love and He knows our shortcomings, shouldn’t we try to emulate the same attitude toward everyone we meet. Hey, judging others kept this man from getting to really know some pretty awesome people! As one writer put it, “Jesus doesn’t care how many Bible verses you know, He cares how you treat people.” Amen?

Sadly, Rob passed away from a heart attack some years back. But this “Traveler of the Rock Road” left an indelible mark on many. A building back home dedicated to helping ones with disabilities is named in his honor. He was inducted posthumously into the College Football Hall of Fame. I’m sure there are other accolades to honor the life of Rob Lytle, but I believe his greatest dedication is the gift he gave to others; himself. Many are the ones who can testify to the loving and caring way he touched their lives. Especially his beloved Lady and family.

“It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you. It’s what you leave behind when you go.” Randy Travis.

A quick side note, Rob’s son wrote a book, “To Dad from Kelly.” I highly recommend you purchase and read.

See ya next time.


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