Lions' Family Loses Another Member

Friday, September 18, 2009

Passed along this morning from our friends in the Detroit Lions media relations department ...

Allen Park, Mich. - An ironman along the offensive line for the Detroit Lions from 1966-76 and a pillar in the community has died. Bob Kowalkowski, 65, died last night at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield (Mich.) after a brief illness.

Kowalkowski was a Lions' starting guard through most of his 11 seasons in Detroit after he was drafted as a future pick in the seventh round from Virginia in 1965. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound lineman immediately stepped into a starting slot at left guard as a rookie in 1966 and was switched to right guard in 1968. He started every game for the Lions for five straight seasons (1972-1976) before being traded to Cleveland in 1977. He finished his career playing four games for Coach Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers in '77.

Kowalkowski played in 138 games during his Lions' career.

"Bob exemplified the tough, physical player you had to be to succeed in the NFL," praised Pro Football Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders who played nine seasons with Kowalkowski. "When you played with him you knew he had your back, and if he was your friend he was your friend for life."

Quarterback Greg Landry counted Kowalkowski as among the leaders on his offensive line. "Bob was a little undersized compared to most offensive linemen, but he made up for it with hard work and always going the extra measure in the weight room, film room or during practices," recalled Landry. "Also, I will always remember how much Bob loved to hunt and fish. He and teammates Larry Hand and Ed Flanagan took every chance they could to enjoy the Michigan outdoors."

Tackle Jim Yarbrough was another standout on the Lions' offensive line from 1969-1977 and fondly remembers Kowalkowski as "determined to outwork everyone. Bob left everything on the field each Sunday. When I came in as a rookie he told me to be very thankful we had line coach Chuck Knox. Bob told me to keep my mouth shut and learn to do things the right way.

He was always a leader by example and a great role model for the work ethic required to be a real professional."

or 44 years, the Kowalkowski family has been closely associated with the Lions. Kowalkowski was drafted by the Lions in 1965 and, since 1990, Bob's wife Judy has worked in the Lions' front office and is the Lions' manager of accounting operations.

Another football Kowalkowski, son Scott, was signed as a free agent by the Lions in 1994 and was a standout on special teams and at linebacker for Detroit through 2001. Daughter Robin owns her own business in Chicago.

"The entire Kowalkowski family means a great deal to our organization," said Tom Lewand, president of the Lions. "Obviously, the football side of their contributions is well known but, off the field, the family contributes enormously to the Lions and to our entire community. Bob was a special leader on the field and off."

Community involvement is another Kowalkowski family tradition.

Bob Kowalkowski founded the "Kowalkowski Open" golf tournament in 1973 with friends from the Gladwin (Mich.) Lions Club to support Leader Dogs for the Blind. He also was active with the Danny Thomas March and co-chairman for the St. Jude's Children's Hospital Radiothon during his Lions' career. His Bob Kowalkowski Scholarship Award helped enable students with financial needs and high academic achievements attend college. He was voted the Lions' "Man of the Year" for his community involvement in 1975.

In 1991, the Kowalkowski Open grew into what is now known as Kolo Charities, which has helped raise thousands of dollars for a variety of charities in Michigan. Included among them is the Detroit Lions Courage House which benefits the child abuse prevention and treatment program at HAVEN in Oakland County.

Funeral arrangements for Bob Kowalkowski are incomplete and will be announced later.