Tue, 18 May 2021

Where are they now G Tom Luken

Philadelphia Eagles
23 Apr 2021, 19:12 GMT+10

Jim Gehman

As Midwestern as a wheat field, for all Tom Luken knew, he could have been heading for Mars when the Eagles chose the guard in the third round of the 1972 NFL Draft out of Purdue.

"I didn't know that much about Philadelphia. It was a different time; you didn't have the coverage of the NFL," says Luken, who played at Cincinnati's La Salle High School, which also produced longtime tight end Brent Celek. "I couldn't name hardly anybody who was on the team other than Leroy Keyes, who was four years ahead of me at Purdue. So I didn't really know."

However, he'd discover that with a 2-11-1 record in 1972 and a 5-8-1 mark in 1973, his career didn't begin as he would have liked.

"I wasn't real happy after my rookie year. I loved Eddie Khayat, and when he got fired (as the head coach), that kind of upset me," Luken says. "I wasn't even real sure I was going to come back for my second year."

Suffering a season-ending knee injury during the fifth game in 1975, Luken would still be on Injured Reserve the following year when Dick Vermeil replaced Mike McCormack as the head coach.

But by posting a 4-10 record during his first season, including a run of eight losses in nine games, it may have looked from the outside like it was the same old music with a different band. But from the inside ...

"I liked him. Thought he was a leader," Luken says. "Dick did a heck of a job. You hear the overused phrase, 'The coach lost the locker room.' It's not his locker room to lose. It's the players' locker room from beginning to end.

"What the coach does, he has to put the right type of players in the locker room. And then he's not going to lose the locker room because you've got good people in there. Dick got rid of a lot of deadwood. And what was left was on the team, they believed in him."

The Eagles went 9-7 in 1978, Vermeil's third year, and played in the postseason for the first time since losing to Baltimore in the 1966 Playoff Bowl, a discontinued game for third place in the NFL.

"In '79, he had a playbook dedicated to, he called, the Dirty Dozen. That was 13 players that were left from Mike McCormack's roster," Luken says. "And then when he traded me to Buffalo on Labor Day, I said, 'Now what are you going to do? Call it the Elusive Eleven?'

"He said I couldn't pass protect. He asked me (later) at one of his golf outings, 'Why could you run block, but you couldn't pass protect?' And I said, 'Well, I liked Wilbert Montgomery a hell of a lot better than I liked (Ron) Jaworski.'

"When Dick traded me to Buffalo, I told him I wasn't going. I was going to retire. He said, 'No, you can't. We traded you.' And I said, 'No, I don't have to go.' I was so (upset) that I got traded, on my way home to tell my wife, I stopped at a real estate office and listed my house. And we sold it within a week."

Coincidently, Luken's stint with the Bills also lasted a week before he was waived. But then, four games into the season, the Eagles came calling. Literally.

"They called me and said, 'Have you been working out?' And I said, 'Oh, yeah. Every day,'" Luken says with a laugh. "They said, 'We want to start you against the Giants on Sunday. Wade (Key's) hurt.' I said, 'Well, yeah, I guess I'll come back. Is this just for one game?' And they said, 'No, we're going to keep you for the whole season.' So I came back and signed a new contract.

"Later, we were practicing and Stan Walters kept poking me. 'Hey, why's Vermeil and (assistant coach) Herman Ball keep looking over here at you?' So we had a water break, and Dick yelled for me. He said, 'We sent your contract in and the NFL disallowed it. They put in a new rule to prevent stashing of players. So I was ineligible to sign back with the Eagles."

As puzzled as he was about Philadelphia when he arrived, Luken grew to love the city and its people.

"Billy Barber from the Flyers is one of my best friends. And Mike Anderson, Ron Schueler, a bunch of the Phillies were my friends," Luken says. "The way the Vet locker room was, I could go into the Phillies' locker room, because we used the same showers, and get a beer anytime I wanted.

"And the fans cared and they let you know it one way or the other. In the Midwest, you're walking down the street, people go, 'Hi, how ya doing? That's a nice coat.' And then they get by you and they make fun of you. You walk down the street in Philly and you've got a coat on, somebody will say, 'Where the hell did you get that piece of (trash)?' And that's what is great about it. I miss the people."

Out of football for a second time, Luken moved to Cincinnati, where he took a job as a car salesman for the infamous former Reds owner Marge Schott. After a year, he went to work for the Kroger Company, a supermarket grocery chain.

"I went into store management. And at Kroger, when you go into store management, you've got to train in each department. I was in the front end and they said, 'You do all the work that the clerks do. Go out and get some carts in,'" Luken says. "So I'm pushing carts and I hear somebody go, 'Luke! What in the hell are you doing?' I turned around and it was (former Eagles Special Teams Coach) Dick LeBeau. He thought that was my job now that I was out of football, pushing carts. I explained, but I don't know if he ever believed me."

After 10 years, Luken was transferred to Indianapolis, where he was in charge of the chain's city-wide baked foods division. And to keep his hand in the game of football, he volunteered as the offensive line coach at Cathedral High School.

"I was with them for seven years, and we won the state championship three out of the last four years. I really enjoyed that and my pay was really good," Luken says. "I got paid in pizza and beer on Friday nights after the game when we were looking at the film. They said it'd have been cheaper if they had paid me (money)."

The final third of Luken's 31 years with Kroger was at the corporate office in Cincinnati.

"I was in charge of all the commercial bakeries, from sea to shining sea, 2,200 stores," Luken says. "My last year, I did $1.3 billion in sales, and I retired in 2012."

Making his home in Mason, Ohio with his wife, Marcia, they have a daughter, Nicole, who was christened by the Eagles family.

"We were in Training Camp at Widener (University). There used to be this little bar, Campus Casino, between the fieldhouse and where we had to walk up to the field to practice," says Luken, who also has two grandchildren. "Guys would have babies and pass out cigars. Well, I ain't doing no darn cigars. So I went to Vermeil and asked, 'After the baby's born, what if we go to the Campus Casino and I buy beer for the team?' And he said, 'That's a good idea. We'll do that.'

"(Eagles Owner) Leonard Tose went to it and came up to me and says, 'Tom, this is a great idea. I want to pay for this.' And I said, 'No, you're not paying for this.' He said, 'Seriously, I want to pay for this.' And he was starting to get mad. I said, 'You weren't there when the baby was made, I was.' He kind of thought for a second, took a puff out of his cigarette, and says, 'I'll let you pay for it.'"

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