- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2014


John Wilbur passed away in the place he loved — Hawaii, where he found a life to suit his style — on Dec. 9, 2013.

Born in San Diego in 1943, Wilbur was a Stanford graduate who played offensive guard for the Dallas Cowboys from 1966 to 1969, then joined George Allen in Los Angeles with the Rams in 1970. Allen brought him to Washington with the Over The Hill Gang in 1971, and he blocked for Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer for three seasons.

Wilbur finished his pro football career in the World Football League, with the Hawaiians in 1975.

That’s his football resume.

His life resume? John Wilbur was an American original.

He was an Eagle Scout and Stanford graduate who debated the mysteries of the universe with Timothy Leary and Buckminster Fuller. He campaigned for George McGovern in 1972 and raised hell with his close friend, Hunter Thompson, immortalized in Thompson’s book, “The Curse of Lono.”

“My Dad would meet Hunter in the Bay Area or in Big Sur frequently, and drive up with him to Woody Creek to shoot guns, discuss the meaning of life, and talk football,” said Lindsea Wilbur, his daughter. “Then they’d go down into Aspen to terrorize the town.”

Wilbur was close to the Kennedy family, and hosted them at his Waikiki home and put the kids through “Wilbur Boot Camp.”

“He was an anarchist with a mischievous smile and a twinkle in his blue eyes,” Lindsea said.

Wilbur played 10 years in the NFL, after being drafted in 1965 by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a key part of that offensive line in Washington that led Larry Brown to rush for 1,216 yards and the NFL Most Valuable Player honor, on their way to the NFC title and Super Bowl XVII.

While he was in Washington, Wilbur served as the treasurer for the NFL Players Association and was a union activist. He finished his career in the place he fell in love with during the summer of his sophomore year in Stanford — Hawaii. “Dad loved the history of the Hawaiian people, their rich mythology and the sublime nature of the islands,” Lindsea said.

Wilbur played for the Hawaiians in the short-lived World Football League, and made Hawaii his home. He got a masters in business administration along the way, and represented a number of NFL players. He was also a special teams coach at the University of Hawaii, and continued to play a different version of the game he grew up playing — rugby. He was active in the Hawaii Harlequins rugby club and was a regular at the Aspen Ruggerfest.

“Rugby is a barbarian’s game played by gentlemen,” Wilbur once told a reporter in magazine interview.

It’s also a game often played by characters, and Wilbur was a certified character, his bonafides in the pages of “The Curse of Lono.” Wilbur had invited Thompson to come to Hawaii to write about the Honolulu Marathon, and that trip became the basis for the book.

In “The Curse of Lono,” Wilbur is a character named Gene Skinner, according to his daughter. “My friend Gene Skinner met us at the airport in Honolulu, parking his black GTO convertible up on the sidewalk by the baggage carousel and fending off public complaints with a distracted wave of his hand and the speedy behavior of a man with serious business on his mind,” Thompson wrote. “He was pacing back and forth in front of his car, sipping from a brown bottle of Primo beer and ignoring the oriental woman wearing a meter maid’s uniform who was trying to get his attention as he scanned the baggage lobby.”

In another section of the book, the Skinner character suggests how they could cover the race. “’[Blank] the race,” he said. “We’ll cover it from Wilbur’s front yard — get drunk and gamble heavily on the football games.’”

Later, Skinner describes a Wilbur episode at a previous Honolulu Marathon. “’Wilbur tried to pull a Rosie Ruiz a few years ago, when he was still in top shape — he jumped into the race about a half mile ahead of everybody at the twenty-four-mile mark, and took off like a bastard for the finish line, running at what he figured was his normal 880 speed…’ He laughed. ‘It was horrible,’ he continued. ‘Nineteen people passed him in two miles. He went blind from vomiting and had to crawl the last hundred yards.’ He laughed again. ‘These people are fast, man. They ran right over him.’”

Like a number of NFL players, Wilbur began suffering dementia and other issues in his final years. He was a plaintiff in the concussion lawsuits. His daughter Lindsea said he spent his final year in the shadow of Diamond Head near Kapiolani Park, listening to records and telling stories of history to her. “The bravery he exhibited in the face of dementia and the slow deterioration of his brain demonstrated his strength of spirit and heart,” she said.

His last words? “If it isn’t weird, it isn’t worth it,” Lindsea said.

An American original.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,”noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com

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