YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Before he was a congressman, before he was even in politics, Jim Traficant made a name for himself in Youngstown.
On Monday, Traficant’s leadership in sports was remembered at Cardinal Mooney High School, where he played a pivotal role in the team’s 1958 victory over rival Ursuline. It was one of the first times he displayed his leadership ability.
“He was a leader. He was confident in his own abilities,” retired Cardinal Mooney alumni director Paul Gregory said.
One drive on a football field more than 50 years ago raised his profile around the area. Mooney, the underdog, was lagging Ursuline. It was fourth and one in the fourth quarter.
“Coach had told Jim to punt the football back to Ursuline, but Jim being Jim, he decided he was going to throw a pass,” Gregory said.
Nearly everyone who saw that game remembers the fake punt that led to the scoring drive and a Mooney win.
“He was driving his team down for the winning touchdown to beat my beloved Ursuline,” actor Ed O’Neill said in a documentary about Traficant.
That documentary, “Traficant: The Congressman of Crime Town,” has been sent to the Sundance Film Festival.
“He was a flashy, cocky, confident, huge ego, football player and he was very good. And I remember he drove them down. And he scored the winning touchdown and they beat us. It was a big upset, and that was the first time I saw him,” O’Neill said.
It was just the beginning of a lifetime of support by Traficant for the high school. He would call coaches to commiserate over losses and celebrate wins, and he was a frequent visitor on the sideline.
“I can still see him going up and down the sidelines in his cowboy hat, covered in snow,” Gregory said.
He was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 1993, which was the first year the school granted the honor.
Traficant went on to play football for the University of Pittsburgh and was selected in the 20th round of the 1963 NFL draft by Pittsburgh, but never played professionally.