Tommy “Bug” Kuznicki: Nothing Short of Sensational

football

Before my great-grandfather enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II; before he took up professional boxing to pass the time; before he married the Swedish girl from the barn dance outside of town; and before he raised a son of his own, he was a high school student who devoted all of his time to football and baseball. He was good, too: the local newspaper published article after article detailing the First Ward Falcons’ wins, highlighting Thomas’ plays and tryouts for the coveted quarterback position. As Dunkirk’s sports columnist reported on November 20, 1939, he was “nothing short of sensational.”

Thomas was known in the local papers as Tommy “Bug” Kuznicki–this was the late 1930s, and I can’t imagine him with a nickname, let alone a nickname like “Tommy” or “Bug.” To me, my great-grandfather was a kind man and a loving father, but he was also an imposing and larger-than-life figure. Where did the nicknames come from? Kuznicki is a Polish surname that can be loosely translated to “bug” in English. My great-grandfather’s team had a winning streak in 1939, and the players gave each other nicknames; naturally, Tommy Kuznicki became “Bug,” and I guess it stuck.

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The Kuznicki’s: Thomas, Sr., Beatrice & Thomas, Jr.

In one baseball game in 1938, Tommy was singled out for stealing five bases, including home, and he alternated between the pitcher and first baseman positions each game. “Tommy Kuznicki was the outstanding star at bat by clouting for the circuit and then following this with a lusty triple into deep left field.” And later, “Another interesting feature of the game was the base stealing of Tommy Kuznicki, who along with his three hits, stole five bases including home.” When the season ended that year, my great-grandfather formed “The Kuznicki Nine” baseball team with his older brothers, and they played their Tofil cousins and the employees of other restaurants and bars in town.

In 1939, Tommy joined the First Ward Falcons’ football team, and he devoted the entire season to impressing his coaches and vying for the next year’s first string quarterback position. My great-grandfather was good at baseball, but he excelled in football: “The visitors were given a scare on the kick-off following the touchdown as Tommy Kuznicki took the kick and started wide to the left. Tommy started down the sidelines and out-ran three would-be tacklers and…had but three men to pass when he reached the visitors 40. Tommy cut in and raced the rest of the remaining 15 yards without one hand touching him on the entire run.” Touchdown, Falcons.

That next year, my great-grandfather became the team’s quarterback, and it was his dream to secure a spot on a college team. He was kicked off the football team and expelled from school, though, after he was caught selling his parents’ moonshine around town one evening. Tommy dropped the nicknames, joined the Navy, married a local girl and started boxing with his Navy friends in Pearl Harbor. While he never played professionally, he did continue to form baseball teams with his brothers and cousins, and he imparted his love of football onto his son and granddaughters. Sadly, I didn’t inherit the sports gene, but my cousins are pretty good at soccer–maybe all of the talent went to them. 

17 thoughts on “Tommy “Bug” Kuznicki: Nothing Short of Sensational

  1. How wonderful you have so many stories to tell about your grandfather. I never knew my mother’s father – he was a filandering lout. And my father’s father died when he was thirteen. Thanks for sharing these stories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very lucky, I know, and I’m so sorry you weren’t able to meet your grandfathers. That’s why I share the stories–I recognize that they’re each a gift (even the crazy stories!), and I don’t want to forget them years from now. Thank you for reading and replying–it means a lot!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, they’ve made me smile! I’m very lucky my grandfather remembers so much about his family–and lucky that they published EVERYTHING in the newspaper, ha! And it’s one of my favorite photos–finally found a reason to share it here.

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  2. Wonderful story. Sports play such an important part in many of our ancestor’s lives and we’re not always able to find the evidence and the stories about it. So it’s great that you know so much and have written it down!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree–I recognize that I’m very lucky to have family stories and newspaper articles to help me piece together everything. Blogging about my family history has really helped my research too–I’m so glad it’s all being written down now. Thanks for reading and reaching out, I really appreciate it!

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  3. You have to love newspapers that printed details of local sports, and you have woven magic here by using them to tell your great-grandfather’s story. Wonderful post and photo. Look forward to reading more during future Genealogy Blog Parties

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  4. Such wonderful stories about your great-grandfather! My grandfather also played sports early in life. He was on a tournament-winning team in high school, and after he graduated, he was on a community baseball team. I don’t know if he was any good at the sport, but he loved watching the Cubs baseball games with me when I was little! I’m looking forward to learning more about your great-grandfather!

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    1. Thank you! Watching games with your grandfather must be a great memory–I loved watching hockey with mine when I was a kid, and I would always ask about his basketball days in high school. His dad, my great-grandfather, was the baseball/football player, and he was REALLY good. He was kicked off the football team, though, after he was arrested in high school for selling moonshine, ha! So I do have a lot of stories to share! Thank you again for reading

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  5. What fun to know so much about your great grandfather’s sports talents. Newspaper stories add so much color to daily lives, don’t they?

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