A tribute to Frank Budd, by Elliott Denman

Frank Budd (number 25), photo from NY Times Obituary 
(photo credit: United Press International)

Many of us read the fine obituary by Frank Litzky on the late Frank Budd last week. Elliott Denman traveled to Frank's memorial service and wrote the following piece on the late, great Frank Budd. 

A tribute to Frank Budd, 
 VILLANOVA, PA. - Wondrous stories and the liveliest of memories filled the air at St. Thomas Church on Francis Joseph "Frank" Budd's beloved campus of Villanova University Monday (May 5) on a day of final tributes to the man they once called "the world's fastest human," who had reached life's finish line, at age 74,  last week.
   Some thought that Frank Budd's decision to sign a Philadelphia Eagles' contract in 1962 after his final races as a Villanova Wildcat and his graduation from the university that had recruited him from Asbury Park (N.J.) High School  were a very bad mistake.
   The call took him away from track and field forever (the strict amateurism rules of the days allowed no flexibility on the matter) and precluded any possibility - ever, ever - of improving on the world-record performances he'd already put in the books.
    "But you've got to remember that Frank loved football, too," said Mrs. Barbara Budd, his beloved wife of long years and now the matriarch of the extended Budd family.  "He didn't think it was a mistake at all. There was no money available then in track.  He'd been a terrific player at Asbury Park, and he thought, with all his speed (despite no college football experience), he'd have a long career in the NFL."
   Well, he did play a season with the Eagles, another with the Redskins, and three more with the CFL's Calgary Stampeders.  But no feat he ever achieved on the gridiron ever could compare with the successes he achieved in track.
   His portfolio of track and field honors would include: the world record at 100 yards, as the first man to run it in 9.2 (at the National AAU Championships of 1961); two earlier clockings of 9.3, equaling the world mark first set by Mel Patton in 1948; world records indoors at 60 yards, and further world records outdoors at 220 yards.
  All this plus three NCAA and seven IC4A titles, plus a long list of major honors from the Penn Relays, Millrose Games and an array of other big ones.
   Three weeks after that first 9.2 in 1961, Budd arrived in Moscow for the USA-Soviet Union dual meet that captured the world's attention in an era when track interest was huge and the planet's population vitally concerned with the next critical turn of "The Cold War."
   All he did at Lenin Stadium was win the 100-meter dash and run the key second leg of the 4x100-meter relay victory that would provide the vital margin in a 124-111 USA team triumph, cool stuff at an event billed as nothing less than "Communism Vs. The Free World."  And Muscovites had no recourse but to put  political ideology out of mind and cheer the obvious talent of the young man from Asbury Park and the Jersey Shore, and his USA buddies.
   That Team USA foursome was Hayes Jones of Eastern Michigan, destined to win the 110 high hurdles at the 1964 Olympics, leading off;  Frank Budd, at the key number two spot, taking it from Jones and handing off to Charley Frazier, the Texas Southern flash, and Frazier safely depositing the baton in the hand of Paul Drayton, Budd's fellow Villanovan and Olympian-to-be in 1964, who completed the victory in the world-record time of 39.1 seconds.  The Soviet Team was a not-close second in 39.4.
  Best of all, perhaps, was that famed Villanova coach James "Jumbo" Elliott, there with the American team, got to see it all transpire.
  "That was, absolutely, one of my Dad's greatest moments in track," said his daughter, Joy Elliott Shugrue. "It gave Dad chills. It was with him forever."
  Villanova track alumnus Tony Sellitto was there, at a post-St. Thomas service gathering, to relay the recollections of a classmate, Harry Smeck.
  "My first meeting with Frank Budd was at Villanova in September 1960," Smeck wrote. "I was just arriving at Villanova to begin my career and Frank was returning from his summer trip. What a summer it was for Frank - 1960, an Olympic year, and Frank Budd was returning as an Olympian."
   One day at practice would stand out in Smeck's mind forever - "Jumbo" Elliott declared it "an easy day" for his sprinters - just a couple of short runs, match-up races - run one all out, rest; then run a second one, all out - at the odd distance of 300 yards.
   "When Frank and Odie (Drayton) crossed the imaginary finish line the first time, 'Jumbo" and assistant coach Jim Tuppeny just looked at the stopwatch...then told them to get ready for another run.
  "Once again, Frank won by a narrow margin, and 'Jumbo' clicked his stopwatch as they crossed the finish line.
   "Jumbo looked at his stopwatch and when 'Tup' asked 'how did they do?' Jumbo simply replied...they broke the world record...both times."
   "Jumbo" Elliott never did tell Frank Budd how fast he had run that day."
   But a few weeks after that "record" workout, Frank Budd did equal another world record
when he ran the straightaway 220-yard dash in 20 seconds flat in a Villanova home
dual meet against the Quantico Marines.
   Budd's lone Olympic opportunity fell a tad short of what it might have been.
   On the first of September 1960, he placed fifth in the blanket-finish 100-meter final of the Rome Games, just 1/10th of a second back of winner Armin Hary's 10.2 Olympic record win for Germany.
 A week later, Budd ran a blistering lead-off leg for Team USA in the 4x100-meter relay final. But as Budd approached the exchange zone, second man Ray Norton set out far too early, and nearly came to a complete halt before he could take the baton.
  But the damage was done - Norton was already out of the exchange zone. Stone Johnson and Dave Sime, the 3-4 men, would bring USA home first - to no avail. The Americans were DQ'd and the gold medals went to Martin Lauer-anchored Germany.
  In a sense, Villanova did even the score four years later - when Drayton's blazing leadoff leg paved the way for Gerry Ashworth, Richard Stebbins and "Bullet Bob" Hayes to do the rest and bring home the 4x100 gold in the world-record time of 39 seconds flat at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
    Oh, the other Frank Budd stories being told......
    Chris Merli, now the East Stroudsburg University women's team coach, remembered the afternoon his dad, famed Asbury Park HS track coach Nick Merli, brought Budd to Madison Square Garden where he won the 60-yard dash at the National AAU Interscholastic Championships, and got him home on time to lead Asbury Park to a basketball win over Emerson High that night.
    John Morton, a growing-up friend of the whole Budd family, remembers the days they staged the Asbury Park grade-school Olympics, "and Frank won the team title all by himself."
   And the day that Budd "played hookey" to go fishing with some APHS pals, endured a case of food poisoning thanks to his catch, swore off sea food forever, and became a steak-and-potatoes man the rest of his life.
    Mile great Marcus O'Sullivan, now the Villanova men's coach, remembered Frank Budd as "a wonderful man and wonderful gentleman.  He truly loved Villanova, the education and opportunities he got here, and the friends he made, and Villanova truly loved him.
  "In his last visit to the campus last winter," said O'Sullivan, " he was introduced at halftime of a basketball game and the reception he got was unbelievable.  In a matter of seconds, everybody in the building was standing and cheering. It was all spontaneous - and
   Frank Budd never did hear overwhelming cheers as a pro football player.
   He thus joined such great trackmen as Eddie Conwell (often called the fastest-starting sprinter in track history), Elmore Harris (who might easily have won the 400 meters at the 1948 Olympic Games had he not signed with the Buffalo Bills), Milton Campbell (the 1956 Olympic decathlon champion who joined the Cleveland Browns long before he could have raised all decathlon records to amazing heights), and Renaldo Nehemiah (the world record-high hurdler who became a San Francisco 49er when his 1980 Olympic dream was shattered by the American boycott) who left their sport far too early in lives of lost potential.
   "Frank was already the 'world's fastest human' with that 9.2 in 1961, and remember that he did the 9.2 running on the beaten-up inside lane of that cinder track at Randall's Island in New York," said John Moon, the veteran Seton Hall University who was himself one of the great sprinters of his day.
  "There's no telling how much faster Frank could have run. He could have run 9.1 or 9 flat, maybe even 8.9, Frank was that good. Without a doubt, he was that good, that fast.
  "But those were different days. If you accepted one dollar as an amateur, you were classified as a pro, which is ridiculous if you look at things now.
   "I look at Usain Bolt now, and all the money he's making. For me, as an old-timer, I think Frank would have been in the class of Usain Bolt. I really believe so.
   "So my hat will always go off to Frank Budd. He was a great athlete and a great human being."
   New Jersey track and field historians often ponder the list of sprint greats who've emerged from The Garden State...and ask "why so many from America's 47th largest state?  "
  The roster would include Chester Bowman, Bob Rodenkirchen, Eulace Peacock, Eddie Conwell, Herb Thompson, Andy Stanfield, Arthur Bragg, Dave Sime, Billy Gaines, John Moon, Sam Perry, Carl Lewis, Dennis Mitchell...and forever and ever and ever, Francis Joseph "Frank" Budd.
  Frank Budd Jr. has been nicknamed "Speedy" since his earliest days.
  Of course, he could never match strides with his quicker-than-quick Dad.
   Hardly anyone else could, either.

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