Freddie Steinmark was the undersized defensive back of the University of Texas with a courageous will to win, whose courageous fight against osteosarcoma (bone cancer) made him a national symbol of courage and determination. He was also the starting guard for the UT Longhorns 1969 National Champion Football Team. He may not be the greatest of all athletes, but his courage and determination set him apart from all others.
Freddie Steinmark’s Bio
He was born on January 27, 1949, in Denver, Colorado, and his name was Frederick Joe Steinmark. Freddie had an early introduction to the sport, especially soccer, which he loved and learned to play with great enthusiasm. He was a member of the Rough Riders team in Denver’s city-wide Young America League and played with them during his elementary and junior high school years. While attending Wheat Ridge High School, he also wrote letters in football, baseball, and basketball. Throughout his athletic career, Freddie Steinmark rarely lost a game, and he led his high school team to remarkable victories that restored the spirit of the people in his small Colorado town.
In return, he collected a lot of praise and mentions. Not only did he keep up with the times, but he also made waves academically. An outstanding scholar and athlete, he received the Denver Post’s Golden Helmet Award and the Colorado Hall of Fame in his senior year. He also ranked twenty-fifth in his senior class of 530 students. Despite his outstanding performance, skill, and knowledge of the game, his relatively small size made it almost impossible for him to be noticed by Division 1 schools.
Notre Dame, which was his dream school, did not look like him for the same reason – his size – but he never let this stop him from his great dream of playing his beloved sport in college and on a professional level. Eventually, his unlimited potential and academic ability triumphed over his apparent physical limitations. He received offers from the Texas Longhorn and later the Cincinnati Reds, but chose the former.
Freddie was recruited by Texas coach Darrell Royal, who was also undersized when he played football for the Oklahoma Sooners. He appreciated Steinmark’s skills and offered him a scholarship to UT in 1967. Along with Freddie, his 200-pound teammate, Bobby Mitchell was also recruited. He became a valuable addition to the Texas Longhorn team. In the off-season, he never leaves the sport, but plays baseball – the sport whose suppleness, he said, is a beautiful contrast to the roughness of football – to stay in shape.
Steinmark played with the Texas Longhorns on December 6, 1969, in their 15-14 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks in what sports journalists called the “game of the century” to win the national championship. He limped through the game due to severe thigh pain, which two days later on an x-ray revealed a malignant bone tumor just above his left knee. Amputation of his left leg at the hip followed four days later at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Freddie, who was saddled with a springy spirit and was balancing on one leg with the help of crutches only 20 days after the surgery, stood bravely on the sidelines at the Cotton Bowl and cheered when his team beat Notre Dame.
The lively competitor, whose fearless play and brave fight against osteosarcoma made him a symbol of courage and hope, lost his nationally publicized battle against bone cancer on June 6, 1971.
Family – Parents, Siblings
His parents are his mother, Gloria Marchetti, an Italian-American, and his father, Fred Gene Steinmark (Big Fred, 1929-2000). Fred was a really good player himself and played minor league baseball, but his major league was ended by injuries from a head-on collision, a car accident with a truck, and his paternity. Freddie was followed by three siblings: brother Sammy and two sisters, Paula Kay “P.K.”. Stevenson and Gloria Gene “GiGi” Kunz.
His father encouraged him in all sports and also trained him in his early years. While he inherited his incredible work ethic and probably most of his athletic abilities from his father, Freddie learned the faith and dedication to the family from his mother. The Steinmarks are fervent Catholics.
During his lifetime Freddie Steinmark was together with his girlfriend Linda Wheeler and almost married her. The duo met in eighth grade and was together until Freddie lost his leg. He thought he was dying and suggested that they separate. They did so for a while, but later they reconciled and got engaged. Unfortunately, Steinmark died before they could marry.
Linda served as a consultant for the biographical film My All American, and presumably, she got married. Her daughter, Mackenzie Meehan, is an actress who played a nurse in the film.
Cause of Death
Freddie’s determination to overcome every obstacle was evident in every phase of his life. He never let himself be overcome by a fear of any problem, and he worked hard to maintain his morale; he never let obstacles deter him.
From the moment he was diagnosed, he lived his last 17 months in the spotlight with humor, courage, and grace. He continued his studies, taking care of myriad letters and invitations to lectures, coaching freshmen, serving as a spokesman for the American Cancer Society, and undergoing chemotherapy.
His last visit to the hospital was on April 20, 1971, for questions related to the problem that originally plagued him. He continued to receive comprehensive therapy, but the disease continues to progress. Finally, the brave soldier could no longer keep up with the pain; on June 6, 1971, after a year and five months of courageous struggle, he bowed for the last time. A few days later, he was laid to rest at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. It can be assumed, however, that he achieved more through his death than in his entire life.
His fight against cancer inspired the United States Congress to draft the National Cancer Act of 1971 and President Richard Nixon to sign it, thus launching the “War on Cancer”. He also left a tremendous impression on everything around him and became an inspiration to countless young people across the country, including the Longhorns. A giant picture of him is hung on the wall in front of their locker room, and all the soccer players touch the photo for good luck when they go out onto the field.
Freddie Steinmark’s Autobiography and Legacy
In the months before his death, Freddie enlisted the help of legendary sports journalist Blackie Sherrod to write his autobiography entitled I Play to Win, which was published posthumously three months after his death. It describes his years as a beginning defensive football safety and a personal story of his faith in God, who became his greatest ally against despair.
Other books, documentaries, and films were produced during his lifetime, including the 2015 film “My All American” based on Jim Dent’s book “Courage Beyond the Game”: The Freddie Steinmark Story, Freddie Steinmark: Faith, Family, Heart (2015), written by his close friend and teammate Bower Yousse and Thomas J. Cryan.
The scoreboard at the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was dedicated to Freddie Steinmark on September 23, 1972, and after the stadium was remodeled, the current version, nicknamed Godzillatron, which is forty-seven meters high, was rededicated to him in 2015.
In addition, Denver Rocky Mountain News annually awards the Fred Steinmark High School Athlete of the Year Award to high school students in Colorado for outstanding achievement in athletics, academics, and citizenship.
What is His Height?
One thing that almost overshadowed his career besides sarcoma was his size, which was perceived as relatively small. However, he proved that where greatness failed, determination and courage always prevail. He was 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m) tall and weighed 165 lbs (75 kg).