Bob Talamini, the guard who began his pro football career by winning two league championships with the Houston Oilers in the American Football League's first two years of existence, then concluded it as the Jets' starting left guard in their Super Bowl III triumph over the Colts, died May 30. He was 83 years old.
"When people want to talk about football," Talamini recalled in the Houston Chronicle in 2004, "they never mention the six All-Pro years with the Oilers. They want to talk about that Super Bowl. I was fortunate to be part of it."
Fortunate yet all-star good. Talamini was born in Louisville, played his high school ball at St. Xavier there and his college ball at the University of Kentucky. After earning third-team All-SEC honors, he was drafted by the then-fledgling Oilers, in the second round of the first AFL draft held Dec. 2, 1959. From there he rose to Houston's LG starter midway through his 1960 rookie season and stayed in the starting lineup, blocking for the likes of QB George Blanda, Billy Cannon, Charlie Tolar and Hoyle Granger.
He earned his first AFL All-Star Game berth in 1962 and went back to the game five more times. He also received three first-team and three second-team All-AFL awards.
But after the 1967 season, Talamini and his first team split. The New York Daily News reported at the time that he quit the Oilers after the season ended in part because he sought to renegotiate his contract and GM Don Klosterman declined the request.
Joe Spencer, the Jets offensive line coach who coached Talamini and the Houston OL for five years, counseled head coach Weeb Ewbank to trade for him. Ewbank struck a deal during 1968 training camp, sending a third-round pick, No. 78 overall, in the '69 common draft for the Kentuckian and Houstonian who then became a New Yorker for the next eventful season.
Talamini, always No. 61, played in every Jets game that season and started eight of the last nine regular-season games at LG, most of them after replacing second-year man Randy Rasmussen. With Sam Walton sidelined for the Super Bowl, RG Dave Herman moved to RT, Rasmussen went to RG and Talamini stayed at LG next to C John Schmitt. From there, he and LT Winston Hill paved the way for most of FB Matt Snell's Super Bowl-leading 121 rushing yards on 30 carries, including on the Jets' only TD of the game, a left sweep by Snell.
"They were great, just great," Snell said after the game of his entire line, then said, "There aren't any better [blockers] in the game than Talamini and Hill."
"Bob Talamini's nickname should be 'The Missing Piece.' " longtime Jets public relations director Frank Ramos said, "because the Jets players all referred to him as the missing piece for the Jets to win the World Championship. ... The players felt this was the answer for the ground and passing games and it proved true."
And no less than Joe Namath emphatically agreed, most recently when he talked with the New York Post's Steve Serby in 2020. "Bob was a gift from the football gods," Namath said. "That was one of the greatest moves Weeb ever made, getting Bob to come out of retirement and join our team in '68. ... If it wasn't for having Bob Talamini, we don't win the championship."
Talamini, whose program size was 6-1 and 255, was an ironman from the old school. He played as many games as his teams played from 1960-68 — all 116 regular-season and playoff games (110 starts) with the Oilers from 1960-67, and all 14 games and two postseason games (10 starts) for the Jets.
After retiring as a player following another contract impasse with Ewbank and the Green & White, Talamini began his next career working as a certified financial planner back in Houston. He was president of the Houston Touchdown Club, president of the NFL Alumni Association, and a member of the Las Cruces (NM) Symphony board. He was active in church activities as well as in the lives of his many pets.
First and foremost, Talamini was a devoted family man. He is survived by Mary, his wife of 41 years, as well as sister Nancy, children Robin, Bob Jr., Tina, Tony, John, Juliana and Migné, 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his first wife and mother of four of his children, Charlene.
"The New York Jets lost a great one," Tina wrote on her Facebook page about the family member they all called "Big Paw." "He was such a larger than life man. ... He is lighting up Heaven with his smile now!"
The family will gather for a service at Saint Albert The Great Newman Center in Las Cruces on Monday at 10 a.m. MT. For those interested in attending the service virtually, it will be streamed beginning at that time at getzfuneralhome.com. Go to the Streaming Services button at tthe top of the main menu.
By the family's request, donations in Bob's memory may be directed to the Animal Rescue League of El Paso, TX, or to a charity of your choice.