Barber: Bob Melvin's Super Bowl connections
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.