John Polonchek finished an epic journey on Jan. 26, 2015, that began on Jan. 1, 1928. John, the eldest son of Gaspar and Mary Polomcak, was born in Granastov, Czechoslovakia and was preceded in death by his parents, elder sister, Julie Zaiko, and younger brother, Mike. He is survived by his younger sister, Helen Ignas, Schererville, Ind.
John was an outstanding scholar and athlete, earning All-State honors as a halfback at Roosevelt High School in East Chicago, Ind. He was inducted into the East Chicago Hall of Fame in 1979. John attended Michigan State University on an athletic scholarship. In 1949, he was the first recipient of the Potsy Ross Award, an honor given to the football player making the most contributions to the team on the field and in the classroom. He is still among the career leaders in interceptions at MSU. After graduation, John joined the U.S. Air Force and began his coaching career as a player-coach at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. It was there he met his wife of 59 years, Joan, whom he married in 1955. After discharge from the Air Force, John and Joan moved to East Lansing, Mich., where he coached for Michigan State University from 1956 to 1958. After three years, John joined the staff at the University of Colorado in Boulder as an assistant coach. In 1961, the Colorado Buffaloes were the Big 8 Champions and represented the conference at the Orange Bowl. In 1963, John was hired as a scout for the New York Jets. John joined the Oakland Raiders under Al Davis in 1967, beginning a 25-year NFL-coaching career. John had previously worked for Al Davis scouting National Football League players targeted for recruitment prior to the formation of the new American Football League (AFL).
While with the Raiders, John coached running backs. His first pro-football season in 1967 was a season of electrifying last-minute comebacks led by the "mad bomber" Daryle Lamonica and punctuated by a series of last-second field goals from the toe of George Blanda. That first season ended on a high note, as the Raiders competed in Super Bowl II against Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers. In 1968, he coached the Raiders in the infamous "Heidi Bowl" that forever changed the broadcast sporting world. Never again would a live football game be pre-empted by a scheduled network show, as the Raiders scored two touchdowns to defeat "Broadway Joe Namath" in the final minute: - a comeback that no one on the East Coast saw.
After five years at Oakland, John was hired by the Green Bay Packers, where he coached receivers under Dan Devine from 1972 to 1975. In 1975, John was hired by the New England Patriots as the Quarterback Coach/Special Assistant to the Head Coach for Chuck Fairbanks (1975 to 1979) and Ron Erhardt (1979 to 1983). In 1983, he joined a startup football league, the United States Football League (USFL) as the quarterback coach for the New Jersey Generals. When the league folded in 1985, John rejoined the New England Patriots as the Quarterback Coach/Special Assistant to the Head Coach under Raymond Berry. That same year, the Patriots competed in Super Bowl XX against the Chicago Bears. John continued his coaching career with the Patriots until his retirement at the end of the 1991 football season. Throughout his career, John had the honor of coaching with outstanding coaches and players in both the professional and collegiate ranks. John worked for Hall of Fame owner Al Davis, coached with Hall of Fame coaches John Madden and Bill Parcells and Hall of Fame players Raymond Berry, Fred Biletnikoff, George Blanda, Willie Brown, John Hannah, Mike Haynes, Ted Hendricks, Ron Mix, Jim Otto, Dave Robinson, Art Shell, Bart Starr, Andre Tippett, and Gene Upshaw. His teams competed in 16 NFL playoff games, with seven wins, earning visits to Super Bowl II and Super Bowl XX.
John is survived by Joan and their three children, son, John Polonchek, Stillwater, Okla. and his wife, Amy Weaver Polonchek; daughter, Jennifer Ferreira, Ridgefield, Conn. and her husband, John Ferreira; and daughter, Jeanna Polonchek, Taunton, Mass. and her partner, Robin Gaudreau; grandchildren, Allison Ferreira, MD, Alexander Ferreira, Christopher Polonchek and his wife, Maria, Audrey Polonchek, and Kathleen Polonchek, MD; great-grandchildren, Luke Polonchek, Taj Polonchek and Sola Polonchek.
In lieu of flowers, friends may make memorial contributions in John Polonchek's memory to the Trustees of Boston University with a note "In memory of John Polonchek" to support Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Research through the CTE Neuropathology Fund. The address is:
Boston University School of Medicine, Attention Lauren Murphy, 72 East Concord Street Suite B7800, Boston, MA 02118
The CTE Center was established to support high-impact, innovative research and to understand long-term consequences of repetitive brain trauma in athletes and military personnel.
A calling hour will be held in the Narthex of St. Charles-Borromeo Catholic Church, 300 NH Rt. 25, Meredith, on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Rev. Dennis J. Audet, pastor will be the celebrant. Interment will be private.
Mayhew Funeral Homes & Crematorium of Meredith and Plymouth are assisting the family. For John's Book of Memories: www.mayhewfuneralhomes.com