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Guest Post: The King of Halloween and Miss Firecracker Queen

2018 August 21

The following is a summary of Lori Leachman’s new book, The King of Halloween and Miss Firecracker Queen.

The King of Halloween and Miss Firecracker Queen is a memoir about growing up in the South, football, and the death of the patriarch from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It tells the story of a life in football from a daughter’s perspective. It provides an intimate look at one family’s rise through the ranks of competitive football—from player to high school, then college coaching; followed by coaching in the WFL, CFL, and NFL, and ultimately to Super Bowl champions. It also chronicles the family’s struggle to deal with and understand the decline of the father who was at the center of this lifestyle from CTE.

The first 2/3rds of the book present the Leachman family’s rise through the ranks of football coaching: starting as a high school football coach in Savannah, Georgia, progressing to college coaching at a variety of schools in the South, and then heading north to coach for the defunct World Football League, the Canadian Football League, and ultimately the National Football League.

The last 1/3rd of the book chronicles the Leachman family’s struggle to deal with the growing incapacity of the patriarch, and to understand the causes of that decline. Lamar Leachman was ahead of the curve with respect to the onset of his disease. He began showing signs of degeneration in the early 1990s, long before the presence of any medical evidence, and a decade before the NFL would acknowledge the existence of CTE, and its link to football.

Told in a rich Southern voice, this is a story of one family’s love of a game and each other. It is a story of one man’s strength of character and the woman’s love that sustained him. It is a coming of age story of a strong-willed, independent young woman. It is a story that will make you laugh and make you cry.

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Foreword

By Harry Carson, inside linebacker New York Giants 1976−1987; member Pro Football Hall of Fame since 2006; author of Point of Attack and Captain for Life.

As a player in the National Football League with the New York Football Giants ‘back in the day’ (the 1980s), I had the great opportunity to interact and play for and with many outstanding coaches and players; coaches like Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Bill Belichick who is now the head coach of the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. Players like Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, and Super Bowl XXI’s Most Valuable Player Phil Simms, are the names that standout when faithful Giants fans reminisce about winning Super Bowl XXI and becoming World Champions for the 1986 football season.

Often lost in the discussion of any team’s success are the foot soldiers who do the “grunt” or dirty work that most people don’t see on the surface, but without which the team cannot succeed. My tenure with the Giants started in 1976, so I, for one, consider myself one of the ones that was there playing through those years when the Giants were mediocre at best.

That experience has given me a unique sense of history and perspective. Our team’s success was based not solely on one or two ‘stars;’ instead it was based on those players and coaches who in their own way made a difference by playing the role they were assigned, to the best of their ability. Such is the case of Lamar Leachman, our defensive line coach. He helped make our New York Giants defense one of the very best in the National Football League. He was a huge reason for the success of our team.

The defensive line is always the first line of defense for every team. Without defensive tackles, nose tackles and defensive ends motivated and coached with the techniques and skills to supply an effective pass rush, and without the toughness to hit and shed blockers to help shut down the opposing team’s running game, pressure at the linebacker and secondary levels can often be intense and exploited.

Lamar was not my position coach, but we had to work together in meetings and on the field as we implemented defensive strategies. In my role as the captain and leader of the New York Giants Defense, I could clearly see on and off the practice and playing fields the respect his players had for him. He worked his players hard. He was brutally honest if he needed to chastise his guys because he felt they could play better and harder. As hard as he could sometimes be on his players, he loved and respected them. They loved and respected him back. No one ever took his words or actions as a coach personally. As a team, we all appreciated his ability to get the maximum effort from his players.

One of the keys to being a ‘good’ to ‘great player’ in any sport is the ability to be ‘coachable;’ to take direction and be willing to change some type of flaw to improve one’s production or effectiveness. This is important for not only the player, but for the team. We all knew Lamar was a ‘taskmaster’ who loved to coach young players and make them better on the football field. If you attended the Giants practice during training camp, it would not take you long to spot Lamar. He was the one flexing his muscles, wearing the sleeveless tee shirt, barking his approval or disapproval with his heavy southern drawl. He was hard on his players, but they loved it. They loved it because they knew he made them better players on the field. More importantly, he earned their respect for being a straight shooter and treating his players as if they were his own sons. His contributions might never be known by the average football fan, but all who played for him, and were a member of our team, know the essence of the man, and what he meant to us as a team.

Several years ago, I began the process of reuniting the 1986 Super Bowl Championship Team for our 25th Anniversary. Of the 53 men on the team roster, 51 of the players came back. Of the Giants coaches, eight of the eleven coaches from the staff of Bill Parcells were also present. The one coach who was sorely missed by everyone was Lamar. It was our understanding that Lamar sustained a traumatic brain injury because of a freak accident that took place at his home in South Carolina.

Brain trauma is a subject that I think I understand, and have spoken out about. I played thirteen seasons in the National Football League. With my collegiate and high school years included, I’ve played 21 years of football. Those 21 years of hard hitting physical contact have provided me with insight regarding what many former football players and athletes experience. Participants in contact sports like football, rugby, lacrosse, wrestling, boxing, and even NASCAR racing, all worry about cognitive and neurological issues years down the road.

Unfortunately, the neurological issues Lamar Leachman experienced are what many of my former coaches from high school, college, and professional football have also dealt with as they aged. The story told here could just as easily have been their story, behind the scene and after the cheering stops.

To read more or for links to purchasing go to www.lorileachman.net.

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