Subscribe

Barber: Bob Melvin's Super Bowl connections

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

MIAMI - There aren’t a lot of people with personal connections to both the first Super Bowl and the 54th, the one that will be played Sunday between the 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs — especially people who don’t have the last name Hunt.

One of the unlikeliest isn’t a football guy at all, though he is most certainly a sports guy. It’s Bob Melvin, manager of the A’s, first cousin of Chiefs tight ends coach Tom Melvin and, as it happens, a personal acquaintance of the late Vince Lombardi.

“He told me to be a punter,” Bob Melvin said of Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay head coach for whom the Super Bowl trophy is now named. “I guess he could see I’d be an athlete. I think it resonated with my grandmother. She didn’t want me to play football because she thought it was dangerous. Maybe punting would be safer.”

Quick story: Melvin’s maternal grandfather, R.B. “Bud” Levitas, had been a ballboy for the Acme Packers, the ancient precursor to the Green Bay Packers. He later became so close to Lombardi that he served as a pallbearer at the coach’s funeral in 1970, along with the likes of Pete Rozelle, Bart Starr and Paul Hornung. Levitas and Lombardi even partnered in an unsuccessful bid to buy the 49ers in 1968.

The two men were so tight that, according to Melvin, Lombardi mentioned young Bobby in a book about the coach.

It was a different grandparent, Mary Melvin, who facilitated Bob’s other Super Bowl tie. He and Tom Melvin were born 27 days apart in 1961, and as children they lived just a few miles from one another — Bob in Menlo Park, Tom in Palo Alto. They were friendly, but it’s not like the kids were inseparable.

“We definitely had something in common,” Bob said. “It just seemed like back then, anything that wasn’t in your city was like another country. Even though Palo Alto was the next city over, it felt like a country away. My world was Menlo Park.”

Common ground was Sunday breakfast at Mary’s house — Gram, as everyone in the family called her. She was an Irish immigrant who never lost her accent. Tom Melvin, speaking during Super Bowl LIV media access, said his grandmother’s family owned a pub in Ireland called the Melvin Bar.

“The back of the bar was Northern Ireland, and the front opened to Ireland,” Tom told me. “They were right on the border.”

Tom’s family would go to church on Sundays, then gather with Bob’s family afterward. Tom is a junior; his full name is John Thomas, just like his youngest son, and just like his father, who went by Jake or J.T. Bob’s father was Paul Melvin. A third sibling, Pat, lived in Southern California.

There were two immutable truths to breakfast at Gram’s. One was the menu.

“It was always a bacon sandwich,” Tom Melvin said. “She was gonna fry a pound of bacon. And depending on how many people were there, you were gonna get one slice or eight.”

The second constant was sports. The dining-table talk revolved around it. After eating, there’d be a game on TV or in the back yard. Often, Paul Melvin would take the boys (including Tom’s brother) to Menlo College and throw them some batting practice.

“My brother played baseball at UC Davis. And obviously Bob played in college (at Cal),” Tom said. “I was just out there hacking around. I’d go shag balls for those two to take batting practice.”

From the earliest stages of their sports careers, it was clear to Tom that his cousin was bound for bigger things. Bob, who would play 10 seasons in the major leagues before becoming one of baseball’s top managers, was a natural athlete with a strong presence.

“You always knew Bob was gonna be a manager,” Tom said. “That’s the way he was as a catcher — which is why you have a lot of catchers that are managers. But Bobby was that way when he was 12. He always had that intellectual side to him, and had that ease of dealing with people and getting the best out of them.”

Tom’s path was more arduous. He played some baseball, but quit after separating his throwing shoulder his freshman year of high school. Football was his true love, anyway. He eventually walked onto the team at San Francisco State — a program that no longer exists — as a 5-foot-8, 230-pound guard. Even by lower-division standards, that was improbably small. He worked his butt off and rarely played.

“I had a role, but it wasn’t on game day” is how Tom put it.

“I’ve always marveled at guys in any sport who are that good at what they do and really didn’t play a ton,” Bob Melvin said. “Just his knowledge of the game and how closely he follows it.”

As Tom prepared for his senior season, the Gators fired his offensive line coach. Melvin, who was now going from a run-heavy offense to one based on pass protection and much less suited to his abilities, was immediately standoffish, or even hostile, toward the replacement. As it turns out, that man would change his life. Andy Reid was barely out of college himself when he came to San Francisco State. It didn’t take Melvin long to realize he had found a kindred spirit.

Melvin already was interested in coaching. In fact, it’s the main reason he enrolled at SF State. The longtime head football coach there, Vic Rowen, had developed dozens of high school and college coaches. When Reid came aboard, he launched a graduate-assistant program. Melvin was pretty much his first GA.

He would coach under Reid for two years at SFSU (the staff soon included Dirk Koetter, currently the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator), then follow him to Northern Arizona in 1986. When Reid left for UTEP a year later, the two coaches went separate ways for 12 years. They reunited when Reid got his first head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999. Melvin has been his tight ends coach ever since.

“Twenty years later, we’re still together,” Melvin said.

Nobody has worked more closely with Reid, who will coach the Chiefs against the 49ers on Sunday. Nobody knows the big man’s strategic tendencies better. Really, outside of Reid’s family members, few humans have spent more time with him than Tom Melvin.

“He’s been in the offense for so long that he just knows the ins and outs, and kind of knows how it’s done,” Chiefs tight end Blake Bell said. “He’s doing such a great job, and I’ve learned so much from him this year.”

“I think it shows you what the respect is. From both sides,” Bob Melvin said of his cousin’s longevity. “In Tom’s case, he’s a self-made guy. To stay with one guy that long, you know he has to be good at what he does. And you can see that in practice. Guys have respect. And he has a good way about him, being funny at times, serious when that’s needed.”

Bob has had a chance to observe Tom at work on several occasions, during Mariners or Diamondbacks or A’s road trips that swung through Philadelphia or Kansas City. Tom has repaid the visits at spring training in Arizona. This year, for the first time, Tom’s Chiefs played on the infamous infield dirt of the Oakland Coliseum. Bob Melvin’s infield dirt.

“I kept telling him we were gonna mess it up,” Tom said. “And he goes, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just don’t flood the locker rooms.”

The opportunities for meetups are limited, though. “We’ll have about 12 days when we’re not both going,” Tom said.

The family connection never disappears, though. Bob Melvin is a Menlo Park kid. He rooted for the Giants, the A’s, the 49ers, the Raiders — “whoever was doing well at the time,” as he put it. But there’s no question where his allegiance will fall on Sunday.

“I’m Chiefs,” he said. “Have to be. Tom supports us, he comes to Kaufmann Stadium (in Kansas City) with an A’s hat on. I’m obviously a huge Bay Area sports fan, but blood is thicker.”

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

Please read our commenting policy
  • No profanity, abuse, racism or hate speech
  • No personal attacks on other commenters
  • No spam or off-topic posts
  • Comments including URLs and media may be held for moderation
Send a letter to the editor
*** The system is currently unable to accept new posts (we're working on it) ***

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine