Freddie Steinmark was the undersized University of Texas defensive back with a gutsy drive to win, whose courageous battle against osteosarcoma (bone cancer) made him a national symbol of courage and determination. He was also the starting safety for the UT Longhorns 1969 National Champion football team. He may not be the greatest of athletes, but his courage and determination have made him stand out from the rest.
Freddie Steinmark Biography
He was born on January 27, 1949, in Denver, Colorado, and named Frederick Joe Steinmark. Freddie had an early introduction to sports particularly football which he grew up to love and play vigorously. He was a member of the Rough Riders team of the citywide Young America League in Denver and played with them during his elementary and junior high school years. He also lettered in football, baseball, and basketball, while attending Wheat Ridge High School. Freddie Steinmark rarely lost a game throughout his sports career and he led his high school team to remarkable victories that reclaimed the spirits of people in his small town in Colorado.
In turn, he garnered a lot of accolades and mentions. Not only did he stay on top of his game, but he also made waves academically. Being an outstanding scholar and athlete, he received the Denver Post’s Golden Helmet Award and also the Colorado Hall of Fame award in his senior year. Moreover, he ranked twenty-fifth scholastically in his high school graduating class of 530. Despite his standout performances, his skill and knowledge about the game, his relatively small size made it almost impossible for him to get noticed by Division 1 schools.
Notre Dame which was his dream school didn’t look his way for the same reason – his size, but he never allowed that to deter him from his big dream which was to play his beloved sport in college and on a pro-level. Eventually, his unlimited potential and scholastic ability won over his seemingly physical limitation. He received offers from the Texas Longhorn and subsequently, the Cincinnati Reds but chose the former.
Freddie was recruited by the Texas coach, Darrell Royal, who was also undersized when he played football for the Oklahoma Sooners. He appreciated Steinmark’s skill and offered him a scholarship to UT in 1967. Along with Freddie, his 200 pounds teammate, Bobby Mitchell was also recruited. He went on to become a valuable addition to the Texas Longhorn team. During the offseason, he never goes out of sports but would play baseball – the sport whose smoothness he said was a nice 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 Arkansas Razorbacks in the game dubbed “The Game of the Century” by sportswriters to win the national championship. He limped through the game due to severe thigh pain which was revealed by an X-ray to be a malignant bone tumor just above his left knee two days later. Amputation of his left leg at the hip followed four days later at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Saddled with a resilient spirit, Freddie, balancing on one leg with the aid of crutches only 20 days after the operation stood valiantly on the sidelines at the Cotton Bowl, cheering as his team defeated Notre Dame.
The feisty competitor whose fearless play and valiant fight against osteosarcoma made him a symbol of courage and hope lost his nationally publicized battle with 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 in his own right and played minor league baseball though, his big league was truncated by injuries from a head-on, car-truck collision, and fatherhood. 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 coached him during his early years. While he inherited his incredible work ethic and probably most of his athletic ability from his father, Freddie learned faith and devotion to the family from his mother. The Steinmarks are fervent Catholics.
During his lifetime, Freddie Steinmark dated and almost got married to his girlfriend, Linda Wheeler. The duo met in eighth grade and was together until Freddie lost his leg. He thought he was going to die and suggested they broke up. They did for a while but reconciled later and got engaged. Unfortunately, Steinmark died before they could marry.
Linda served as a consultant on the biopic film, My All American, and, presumably, she did marry. Her daughter, Mackenzie Meehan, is an actress who played a nurse in the film.
Cause of Death
Freddie’s determination to push through every obstacle was evident in every phase of his life. He never lets the anxiety of any problem get to him and he worked hard to maintain his morals; not letting obstacles steer him from it.
From the time he was diagnosed, he lived his last 17 months in the spotlight with humor, grit, and grace. He continued his studies, attended to myriads of letters and speaking invitations, coached freshmen, served as spokesman for the American Cancer Society, and underwent chemotherapy.
His last visit to the hospital was on April 20, 1971, for issues associated with the problem which originally beset him. He continued to receive extensive therapy, nevertheless, the disease continued to progress. Eventually, the valiant soldier could no longer keep up with the pains; he took the last bow after a year and five months of courageous battle, on June 6, 1971. He was laid to rest a few days later in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Denver, Colorado. However, by his death, it could be presumed that he accomplished more than he did in his lifetime.
His fight against cancer inspired the United States Congress to write the National Cancer Act of 1971 and President Richard Nixon to sign it into law, thus beginning the “War on Cancer”. He also left a huge impression on all that was around him and became an inspiration to countless youngsters all around the country including the Longhorns. A giant picture of him remains on the wall outside their locker room, and all the football players touch the photo for luck as they head onto the field.
Freddie Steinmark Autobiography and Legacy
The months before his death, Freddie employed the help of legendary sportswriter Blackie Sherrod to write his autobiography titled I Play to Win which was posthumously published three months after his death. It chronicles his years as a starting defensive football safety and a personal story of his faith in God, which became his greatest ally against despair.
Other books, documentaries, and films have been produced as per his life including the 2015 film, My All American based on the book by Jim Dent, 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 Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was dedicated to Freddie Steinmark on September 23, 1972, and after the stadium got remodeled, the current version nicknamed Godzillatron which stands forty-seven-feet high was rededicated to him in 2015.
Furthermore, the Denver Rocky Mountain News presents annually, the Fred Steinmark High School Athlete of the Year Award to high school students in Colorado for excellence in athletics, academics, and citizenship.
What is His Height?
One thing that almost beset his career besides the sarcoma was his size which was perceived as relatively small. However, he proved that where size failed, determination and courage always pull through. He was 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m) tall and weighed 165 lbs (75 kg).