Wilmette, Community

In Tribute: A Super Bowl champ, Tim Foley built a success story from Wilmette roots

A moment of silence will be held prior to Loyola Academy’s football game against Benet Academy on Hoerster Field on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 14, to honor the memory of Tim Foley, a 1966 graduate who has the distinction of being the only player in Ramblers history to play in the Super Bowl.

Following a long illness complicated by a broken femur, Foley died at age 75 on Sept. 23 at his home in St. Augustine, Florida.

Foley played in not one but two Super Bowls (1972-73) during his 11-year NFL career with the Miami Dolphins that began in 1970. The Dolphins were victorious both years and in 1972 they became the only team to finish undefeated (17-0) in regular season and postseason play since the Super Bowl was inaugurated in 1967.

Foley played an important role as a defensive back for legendary coach Don Shula’s “No Name Defense.”

He started 110 of the 134 games in which he played after being chosen in the third round of the 1970 draft following his collegiate career at Purdue. While a Boilermaker, Foley was a three-year starter and earned Academic All-American honors in 1968 and 1969. In 1970, the year of his graduation, he was honored as Purdue’s most outstanding male athlete.

Foley was inducted into the Loyola Academy Hall of Fame in 1985, the Purdue Hall of Fame in 1988, and the College Sports Information Directors Hall of Fame in 1995 in recognition of his achievements as a student and athlete.

Tim Foley died on Sept. 23 at the age of 75.

Born on Jan. 22, 1948, in Evanston, Foley attended grammar school at Wilmette’s St. Francis Xavier parish before coming to Loyola Academy for high school.

In his sophomore year, he was joined by his grammar school classmate, friend and neighbor Bill O’Donnell, who was a member of the freshman class.

They were teammates on coach Bob Naughton’s 1965 team that defeated Chicago Vocational to win their first Prep Bowl championship. At the time, Catholic schools didn’t compete in IHSA state tournaments, and the Prep Bowl — which was played in Soldier Field and pitted the Catholic League champion against its Chicago Public League counterpart — was considered the biggest event in Illinois high school sports.

According to O’Donnell, who still lives in Wilmette and is an investment company owner, Foley sustained a separated shoulder late in the regular season and was unable to play in the Prep Bowl. O’Donnell replaced him at quarterback and the Ramblers kept winning but then he suffered a broken collarbone and also was unable to play in the Prep Bowl game.

When the lifelong friends went on to college — Foley to Purdue and O’Donnell to Brown the following year — Foley was moved to the secondary and became one of the Big Ten’s best defensive backs for coach Jack Mollenkopf’s teams that compiled a 24-6 record during Foley’s three-year career. (At the time freshmen were ineligible to play varsity football.)

After going on to the NFL, Foley continued to make an impact for coach Shula’s mighty Dolphins. During his 11-year career he was credited with 610 tackles, 22 interceptions, 7 fumble recoveries and a team record 3 blocked punts. In 1979 he was selected to play in the postseason Pro Bowl showcasing the league’s finest players.

Foley remained involved in football following his retirement, spending 15 years with TBS as an analyst. He also pursued a career in sales with Amway and was the recipient of a coveted award from the company for being instrumental in the building of 54 homes for families in Guatemala.

But Foley never forgot Loyola Academy. He was a generous donor and staunch supporter.

“When I began doing fundraising about 15 years ago, Tim was one of the first donors I had the pleasure of meeting,” remembered Les Seitzinger, the school’s director of development/major gifts and volunteer offensive line coach for the Ramblers sophomore football team.

“Shortly before that time Tim and Bill O’Donnell (another member of the Loyola Academy Hall of Fame) had come together and decided to support Loyola Academy athletics by helping pay for a new running track as well as our first synthetic surface playing field.”

After retiring from football, Foley spent years as a football analyst on television.

The late Frank Amato, who died last year, was the Ramblers track coach and director of alumni relations at the time after earlier also having served as an assistant football coach.

“Frank had gotten to know Tim very well and arranged a meeting with him,” Seitzinger continued. “We sat down and I was across the table from Tim.

“Being a football coach and also a Purdue alum I thought it would be a thrill to talk college and pro football with him. I said: ‘Tell me some of your favorite stories about Purdue and the NFL. He stopped me and said: ‘I want you to know right away my favorite memories of playing football were at the corner of Lake and Laramie.’ Then, he went on to tell me about some of the great teams he played on here at Loyola and about Bill O’Donnell and his other teammates.”

Seitzinger said, “You could clearly see Loyola meant so much to him — the lessons he learned in the classroom and on the football field and basketball court. From that point forward I built a relationship with him where we would keep in touch.”

During winter vacations Seitzinger sometimes would visit Foley in Florida where the former NFL star lived north of Orlando.

Seitzinger recalled: “I got to know him so well that one time when I went down with my wife, Linda, and our four kids during Christmas break he said: ‘Why don’t you bring the whole family to my house?’ He accepted my four kids and treated them as though they were his grandchildren. He was just a wonderful guy.

“Tim also was a very successful salesman for Amway and wound up running their sales department. He would go out and tell people all around the world how to be successful in sales. He always said: ‘It’s about making an impact on other people’s lives; you build relationships.’ He was a big believer in that and I probably think he got a lot of that from Loyola Academy where our motto is being men and women for others. He truly lived that motto.”

Foley won a Super Bowl ring with the Miami Dolphins in 1972.

That commitment also was manifested through Foley’s service on the board of directors for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Boystown of South Florida and Ronald McDonald House of Miami.

Not only did Foley achieve success in football and his broadcasting and sales careers following his retirement from the game, but also he was a poet, songwriter and singer, and an accomplished musician who played the guitar, drums and piano. Highlighting his singing career, he recorded an album entitled “Now That I’ve Found You.”

“He did that all the way back in high school, at parties and things like that,” O’Donnell said, recalling his musical talent. “Tim was an amazing man.”

Sadly, late in life, according to the Miami Herald, he “was diagnosed with cognitive impairment caused by football-related injuries” and the hitherto outgoing charismatic man became a recluse.

But Foley’s legacy is enduring.

An Amway news release announcing his death said “his love, encouragement and inspiration is exponentially advancing forward to create a better world for all of us.”

Dick Anderson, who played in the Dolphins’ defensive backfield with Foley on the undefeated team, told the Herald, “I don’t ever recalling arguing with him. He was a very bright guy and very religious. You couldn’t find a nicer person than Tim Foley.”

Foley is survived by his daughter, Kathryn Holder (Justin); his son, Thomas David (Samantha) Foley; older brother, Mike Foley; younger sister, Sheila Cochran; and five granddaughters: Mary Grace and Emily Holder, and Calloway, Palmer and Birdie Foley.

A private celebration of his life will be held in St. Augustine on Oct. 28.

Tim Foley spent 11 seasons in the NFL with the Dolphins before finding more success in broadcasting, sales and philanthropy.

“Tim was our biggest encourager…our steadfast leader, our biggest fan…our best fan,” a family post on Facebook said. “He lived each day selflessly. He never sat back and wished for things. He got up and made them happen. He was such an incredible leader and mentor to so many in all corners of the world. Understanding that belief in others is what gives us our strength is what he stood for. It’s how he lived.”

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Neil Milbert

Neil Milbert was a staff reporter for the Chicago Tribune for 40 years, covering college (Northwestern, Illinois, UIC, Loyola) and professional (Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls, horse racing, more) sports during that time. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on a Tribune travel investigation and has covered Loyola Academy football since 2011.

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