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Larry Higgins

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Larry Higgins Obituary
"Lombardi," a drama about win-at-all-costs football coach Vince Lombardi, is currently running on Broadway.

Larry Higgins, in a way, saw the play more than 60 years ago.

The Edgewater native played for Lombardi at Englewood's St. Cecilia High School and at Fordham University and inspired the legendary coach's famous instructions: "Run to daylight!"

Mr. Higgins, a member of Fordham's Athletic Hall of Fame, died Jan. 3 at his home near Los Angeles. He was 84.

Lombardi, who earned his Hall of Fame credentials in the 1960s with the Green Bay Packers, hugely influenced Larry Higgins' life.

Mr. Higgins starred for Lombardi's undefeated St. Cecilia teams of 1943 and 1944. He served with the Army in World War II after high school and enrolled at Fordham in 1947 on a football scholarship, rejoining Lombardi, now the coach of Fordham's freshman team.

"Lombardi was a great teacher," Mr. Higgins told a Record sports columnist in 2008. "I got a 100 in chemistry at Fordham because he taught me that subject in high school. I'm not a 100 student. That grade stood out so much for me that it makes my transcript look phony."

At freshman practice in |the Bronx one autumn Monday, Lombardi had Mr. Higgins, |a fullback, concentrate on |punching the ball across the goal line. But the sun, fast setting behind the New York Botanical Garden, was playing havoc with Mr. Higgins' ability to run to the left side.

"All I could see when I ran to that side was a line of silhouettes," Mr. Higgins recalled in a 2000 letter to tThe New York Times' sports section. "I either ran into my pulling guards or missed the hole completely. When I ran to the right, I also saw the silhouettes, but the sun was reflecting off a white building adjacent to the field. When the silhouettes parted, I could see the hole, run to it and complete the play.

"Coach Lombardi, with his Mount Vesuvius temper, asked me why I fouled up every time I ran to the left and was successful every time I ran to the right. I explained that it was too dark on the left but on the right I could see the hole and I just ran to the daylight. Coach Lombardi laughed and said we would only 'run to daylight' for the rest of the practice."

The phrase stuck with Lombardi, who wrote a book titled "Run to Daylight!"  an account of a week in the Packers' 1962 championship season.

Mr. Higgins played football all four years at Fordham. Lombardi was an assistant coach during Mr. Higgins' sophomore year, then left for an assistant's job at West Point.

Nicknamed Mr. Inside, Mr. Higgins led Fordham in rushing as a junior. The next year, he was a key cog on an 8-1 squad that just missed out on a bowl game invitation.

He was drafted by the Chicago Bears but had other plans.

"Larry developed good habits under Lombardi that carried over at the CIA and through his life," said a friend and Fordham teammate, Andy Lukac, a retired Fair Lawn educator.

Mr. Higgins had a 35-year career as a CIA agent. In retirement, he joined the Screen Actors Guild and became a background actor in movies and television. The distinguished-looking former spy portrayed Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in an episode of "Boston Legal."

Patricia Higgins attributed her father's "never give up attitude" to having played for the fiery coach.

"Lombardi was a real tough guy, and he gave my dad that fighting spirit," she said. "And he passed that on to my sister and me."

The old fullback was planning to come back East in October for the Fordham-Army game. He was hoping "Lombardi" would still be on Broadway, his daughter said.

Mr. Higgins is survived by daughters Patricia Higgins of New York City and Caroline Higgins of Bodega Bay, Calif., two grandchildren and his companion, Mary Ellen Blinn.

A memorial service will be held Jan. 22 at 11 a.m. at the Mount Carmel Cemetery chapel, Tenafly.

E-mail: levin@northjersey.com
Published in The Record on Jan. 13, 2011
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