By Andy Loigu
Jim Ringo, Phillipsburg High School class of 1949, is the only player from a Warren County high school to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.
His achievements will be celebrated on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Hawk Pointe Golf Club, when he is inducted posthumously into the Warren County Hall of Fame.
After graduating from Syracuse University in 1953, Ringo played in the National Football League for 15 seasons. He was chosen to play in the showcase Pro Bowl 10 times and was named the All-NFL center seven times. Ringo had a 182-consecutive games started streak, the longest in the NFL at the time.
In 1962, Ringo contracted a nasty illness and for six weeks he was in a hospital bed from Monday to Friday, but he suited up and played for the Packers each Sunday.
His ties to Phillipsburg remained strong. Ringo came back to PHS every off-season to motivate young players and teach skills to the next generation of local linemen.
“He never forgot where he came from, and he was a really good person,” said former Phillipsburg player and coach Bob Stem. “He was a big inspiration to me. I was a kid when he was at Syracuse,” Stem recalled. The Phillipsburg High School field house is now named after Jim Ringo.
Stem followed in Ringo’s footsteps and played center at Syracuse University, where he was a big part of the action when the Orange won the 1959 national championship, completing an 11-0 season with a 23-14 win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
“I was a guard, but he (Ringo) made me a center,” Stem said. “He showed me how to do it at spring practice. He was a real master of the technique and fundamentals. Applying what I learned, I snapped because of him.”
Ringo is one of seven Syracuse players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is in good company, alongside Orange legends Jim Brown, Larry Csonka, Al Davis, Floyd Little, John Mackey, and Art Monk.
Stem added that Ringo is one of two Phillipsburg alums to become a center in the NFL, with Bill Walsh (a college star at Notre Dame who later coached in the Super Bowl) being the other.
“Ringo became a center at P’burg high and by the time he was finished playing, he was regarded by everyone at the highest level of the game to be the best to ever play the position,” Stem said.
From 1960 to 1962, Ringo played in the NFL Championship Game three straight times for the Packers. In 1960 they lost 17-13 to the Philadelphia Eagles, but they won two championships against the Giants (something Tom Brady wasn’t able to do five decades later) by scores of 37-0 in 1961 and 16-7 in 1962 at Yankee Stadium.
It almost didn’t happen.
In his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, on Aug. 1, 1981, Ringo modestly remembered his first training camp with Green Bay. He was intimidated, because the other players competing for his position all were bigger than him by 30 to 50 pounds. When Ringo arrived at Syracuse he was 17 years old and stood 6-1 and weighed less than 200 pounds. When he arrived at Green Bay, he was exactly 200 pounds.
He went back to Phillipsburg, but was not welcome back home.
“They didn’t want a quitter,” Ringo said. “They said you should go back and at least try.”
The rest is history.
Lombardi designed his offense around Ringo’s skills.
“The reason Ringo was the best in the league was because he was quick and smart. He really could move,” Stem said. “He ran the offensive line, calling the blocks and each lineman’s assignment on each play from scrimmage. In the famous Packer Sweep (the defenses knew it was coming but still could not stop it) the most difficult block was by Ringo, moving in the direction of the attack after the snap. He’d block the defensive tackle, so the guard could pull to the outside. Before Ringo came along, that was unheard of. It was new stuff.”
Lombardi has been quoted as saying he could count the number of mistakes Ringo made on one hand.
Ringo also made the long snaps for punts and placekicks on special teams, duties which are handled by specialists in today’s NFL.
Beatles fans may be interested to know that Ringo made over 12,000 center snaps as a pro, most of them to future Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr. The Packers had their Ringo-Starr combination before the Beatles had Ringo Starr playing the drums.
At the conclusion of his playing days, Ringo was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills for one season, and a position coach for many years, developing the line that enabled O.J. Simpson to enjoy a record-breaking season.
The Jim Ringo Scholarship Fund is endorsed by the Community Foundation of New Jersey. For more information, contact Terri Castagnoli at Phillipsburg High School.
Ringo died in 2007 at the age of 75.
The establishment of the Warren County Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Warren County Community College Foundation, provides a forum for honoring the county’s finest from an array of fields, from business to community service.
The 7th Annual Warren County Hall of Fame dinner is open to the public. Tables may be reserved. For tickets to the recognition dinner, please call 908-835-2334 or email email@example.com.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.