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Colleagues remember Bobb McKittrick
Sam Farmer
SJ Mercury

Bobb McKittrick's determination and toughness earned him a load of respect as the longtime offensive-line coach for the 49ers. But those virtues also cost him some teeth.

In spring 1953, when McKittrick was a gangly junior on the Baker (Ore.) High track team, his coach staged a breath-holding contest. Long after everyone around him had exhaled, McKittrick was still going strong. He finally fainted and fell face-first onto the concrete. His two front teeth flew out of his mouth.

``We couldn't believe it,'' recalled Mike Doherty, McKittrick's best friend since childhood. ``He won the contest, hands down.''

Hundreds of friends, players and fellow coaches gathered at St. Pius Catholic Church in Redwood City on Monday to say farewell to McKittrick, who died at 64 last week after a 14-month bout with liver cancer.

The memorial service lasted 1 1/2 hours and drew the likes of Bill Walsh, Steve Mariucci, Mike Holmgren, Dennis Green, Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott.

``Bobb produced champions,'' said Walsh, who hired McKittrick in 1979. ``He treated everyone with respect. If you were a rookie with no chance of making the team, he treated you the same as a 10-year All-Pro.''

McKittrick, a Marine who had planned a career as a teacher, was legendary for molding undersized and overlooked linemen into standout players. His lines formed the backbone of five Super Bowl champion teams and garnered 19 Pro Bowl invitations, even though only one of those linemen was drafted in the first round.

``We've had a lot of coaches and a lot of offensive coordinators,'' Mariucci said. ``When you look at it, Bobb was the common denominator through all those years. He was the steady.''

Just as sturdy in her own way was Teckla McKittrick, an emotional rock for the duration of her husband's illness. The McKittricks were married 42 years.

``Teckla has worn so many hats,'' Mariucci said. ``She's been a wife, mother, doctor, nurse, chauffeur, liaison, right-hand man. . . . All the qualities Bobb possessed, Teckla also has.''

Mariucci, Walsh and Doherty delivered eulogies, as did George Seifert, former 49ers linemen Harris Barton and Jesse Sapolu, and McKittrick's son, Ladd.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former 49ers owner, could not attend the service because he is in Louisiana to testify in the federal racketeering trial of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards. DeBartolo faxed a letter calling McKittrick a ``pillar of strength'' and someone ``respected and admired more than anyone I know.''

The memorial service featured laughter to go along with the tears. Barton recalled some of the lovable peculiarities about McKittrick -- how the coach tooled around in a beat-up, yellow VW bug before the 49ers got him a car deal, and how he had a favorite blocking sled he nicknamed Big Bertha. Most of all, Barton remembers McKittrick's dry and sometimes cutting sense of humor.

``Son,'' Barton recalled McKittrick telling a 320-pound player, ``I don't know how you got so big. I don't think you have the coordination to get the fork from your plate to your mouth.''

Doherty told a story about being on the football team with McKittrick when the two were high school juniors who seldom set foot on the field. During one game, their coach instructed the boys to hurry and get their helmets. They did so in a flash.

Then, instead of sending the boys into the game, the coach collected the helmets and had them passed through the bleachers to collect money for the booster club.

``We were just crushed,'' Doherty said. ``We didn't say anything at the time, but we were crushed.''

The story was a testament to McKittrick's desire and dedication. He went on to play football at Oregon State and learn the nuances and mechanics of offensive-line play as well as any coach in the NFL.

When Mariucci took over as 49ers coach in 1997, one of the first people he spoke to was McKittrick.

``It was a recruiting job; I had to ask Bobb to stay,'' Mariucci said. ``He told me, `I don't know what you young guys do these days, but I come into work at 7:15 a.m., not a minute earlier and not a minute later.' When he was 200 pounds, he came in at 7:15. When he was 175 pounds, he came in at 7:15. And when he was 150 pounds, he came in at 7:15.''

Walsh said McKittrick's dedication raised the standards for everyone in the organization.

``You think I liked it when he'd get to work earlier than I would?'' Walsh said. ``I was embarrassed. He'd be halfway through a tape when I got there. I'd have to fake my way through it.''

Some of the more poignant memories came from Ladd McKittrick. At one point, he read the words of his two nephews -- Colt, 8, and Remington, 11 -- who were asked what they loved best about being with their grandfather.

``Playing catch, eating root-beer floats and rubbing Grandpa's fuzzy head,'' Colt said.

Remington couldn't narrow it down.

``Every minute I ever spent with him.''

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