The connection between an old Brandeis University quarterback and tight end was apparently much deeper than Jim Stehlin ever knew.
Bill McKenna was one of Stehlin’s best friends and for one season together at Brandeis, the pitch-and-catch duo of Stehlin, the quarterback, and McKenna, the end, was among the best in the country.
The two men only played the 1952 season together at Brandeis. Then, they missed an opportunity to team up for the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders due to a military commitment, but over the years they remained close.
The news that McKenna, a Salem native, had passed away at age 79 on Thursday, Oct. 18 in Calgary, stung Stehlin.
“One of the last things Billy gave me years ago was a Calgary T-shirt to remember the Stampeders. I had kept it in a drawer and every once in a while I’d wear it,” Stehlin said. “It’s hard to believe and this hit me hard, but for some reason or another when I got up that morning I put it on. An hour later Mike Uhlberg, who was a great friend and classmate of Billy’s, called to tell me he had passed away. It seemed so strange that I would do that on that day. It was something I think I’ll always remember.”
McKenna was a memorable man.
He was a true student/athlete, setting an excellent example for younger brothers Bob, Dick and Jake while standing out on the athletic fields and in the classrooms of Salem High.
Athletically, he was a bit of a late-bloomer. He was a good football player for the Witches, but really took his game to another level when he reached college.
“He started to show his potential when he left high school,” 73-year-old Dick McKenna said. “Lo and behold, he got on the weights at Brandeis. He’d train and run all the time. When he was around Salem he’d run the railroad tracks in South Salem all the way down to the old tunnel in downtown Salem, then turn around and run back to the Swampscott line.”