Theodore “Ted” William Connolly, former All-Pro San Francisco 49er right guard, peacefully passed in his Gardnerville, Nev., home on Feb. 24, 2014, from acute myelocytic leukemia. He was 82.
Ted was born the youngest of five children on Dec. 5, 1931, in Oakland, Calif., to parents William Eugene Connolly and Dora Ray Waterman. He attended Piedmont High School from 1946-49, where he was All-Alameda County for three years in football and track, and lettered in baseball and basketball. He was inducted into the Piedmont High School Sports Hall of Fame.
He attended the University of Santa Clara, where he was an All-Catholic All-American tackle in 1951. When Santa Clara dropped football, he transferred to Tulsa University, Oklahoma, and graduated in 1953. Ted married his high school sweetheart, Mary Elizabeth Heidt, on April 19, 1954, in Tulsa, Okla., and had five children whom they raised in Oakland.
Ted achieved his childhood dream and was drafted in the ninth round in 1953 by his hometown team, the San Francisco 49ers. He played for the 49ers until 1962, his NFL All-Pro year. After holding out from signing his 1963 49er contract and being fined $100 per day, he showed up to his contract negotiations with his lawyer, Ray Bolton — an unheard of scandalous move for a professional athlete at that time. He was blackballed by ownership and the NFL, but prevailed and was traded to the Cleveland Browns. Ted is credited as one of the first professional athletes to retain legal player representation, opening the door for future athletes.
During his one-year 1963 season with the Browns, Ted blocked for legendary running back Jim Brown, the year Brown broke the all-time 1900-yard rushing record when the NFL schedule included only 14 games. Ted played 92 games in his nine-year NFL football career.
Taking time off from his football career, 1st Lt. Connolly served 18 months in the Air Force Reserve at Hamilton Air Force Base in the military police and as coach of the Air Force football team, ending his active service with a huge win over Army in the Penrose Bowl in 1956. Ted was honorably discharged from Air Reserve as captain on July 1, 1966.
“Not being able to support my family of five kids with an NFL salary,” he retired from football, and shortly after became vice president of development for Grubb & Ellis Real Estate. In 1966, he started Connolly Development Inc., which developed more than 40 shopping centers in California and Nevada. His first shopping center, Bonanza Square in Las Vegas, is still owned and operated by his family.
Equally committed to civic and community activities, Ted’s service included serving on the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid of Department of State’s Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C.; as president and commissioner of the Port of Oakland for 12 years, where he participated in the completion of numerous international trade agreements and the expansion of the Oakland Airport; on the Airport Operations International Council; as director of the Alameda County Real Estate Board; on the Oakland Planning Commission; as the founder of Oakland’s Mayor Sports Committee; and as a founding director of the San Antonio Youth Project.
Pursuing his passion for gourmet food and wine, in the early ’70s he developed Sky Hill Farms ranch in Napa Valley, producing gourmet cheeses and yogurts from Nubian goats and organic produce for local restaurants — one of the first “farm to market” providers in California.
He was quoted about his attitude: “In high school, I was a believer in what you put out can happen to you. There’s no reason why it can’t. All it takes is total commitment, getting in touch with being 100 percent in everything you do. I’m not going for 100 percent. I’m actually starting from 100 percent.”
“TC,” as he was known to friends and family, will forever be remembered for his gregarious nature and love of people, best signified by his very firm, sometimes painful, handshake (taught to him by his Irish father) as he pulled you toward his smiling gray-blue eyes, warmly welcoming you into his world.
Theodore William Connolly is survived by his children, Mark, Cary Byers (Jerry), Matthew (Sally), Chad and Amy Katsanos; his grandchildren, Wesley, Cole, Bryce, Austin and Dimitri; their supportive mother, Mary Connolly; good friend Marjorie McGee; his siblings, Francis Alexander and husband Ernie (deceased), Larry and wife Barbara, Norman (deceased) and wife Deletta; and many loving nieces and nephews. He was also preceded in death by his sister, Betty Spivey and husband Bill.
A memorial celebration date will be determined in the near future. Condolences can be sent to Legacy.com and charitable donations may be made to the Justin-Siena High School Honor–Memorial gift program (Justin-Siena.org).