"A brilliantly reported and written work that will not only teach you things about one of football's greatest innovators, it will tell you things you never knew about one of football's greatest times. This book is as memorable as the man who inspired it." --Mike Freeman, author of Undefeated: Inside the 1972 Miami Dolphins' Perfect Season
"Gillman’s incredible football journey is, for the first time, closely chronicled in Josh Katzowitz’s welcome and much-needed biography, Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game. These days, it doesn’t happen often that a sports author brings to light a truly historical figure whose story has somehow gone untold. Katzowitz, however, has accomplished that.
His book not only rolls through more than half a century of football’s evolution, but makes it personal. Gillman’s obsession with the game is presented, to a large extent, through the loyal eyes of a wife and four children equally steeped in love and tolerance. From sitting at his side as he studied film in the garage every night, decade after decade, Esther Gillman understood more about passing schemes than . . . well, certainly more than most sportswriters. So did the Gillman sons and daughters. The great innovator’s unconventional family life is treated in the same thorough fashion as the casual Judaism that sometimes blocked his career path." --Lonnie Wheeler, New York Times Best-selling author whose works include I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story
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But the person who really made Gillman’s players feel at home, the one who made them feel a part of the family, was Esther. That began when Gillman coached under Francis Schmidt at Ohio State, and he and Esther started inviting the players to their home for dinner. Not just one or two players at a time, but a dozen here and a dozen there. By the time the Gillman’s reached Oxford, the family had to set up tables in the basement because that was the biggest room in the house and it was the only place they could fit such a huge squadron of hungriness. The players, their wives or their girlfriends, and their tremendous appetites showed up throughout the night, wave after wave. It wasn’t just a dinner; it was a party. The food was good, and it certainly was plentiful.
I never learned to cook well,” Esther said. I learned to cook a lot.”
At first, she didn’t have the kitchen equipment to undertake such a huge project. Eventually, Esther maintained a nice collection of cooking utensils, but at the time, when money was still relatively tight for the Gillman family, Esther and Sid were forced to come up with clever ideas, forced to audible their original plans. One day, as she prepared for a dinner party, Esther baked a few hams, made salad in a dishpan and cooked spaghetti in another. When the pasta was nice and soft, she realized she had nothing big enough to strain out the water. Gillman looked around the kitchen, spotted their saving grace and asked why they couldn’t just use a window screen instead.
So,” Esther said, we took it out, poured boiling water over it to sterilize it and drained the spaghetti.”
Sometimes, it wasn’t the sheer size of the clientele waiting to be fed. Sometimes, nature provided a roadblock that forced the Gillmans to seek alternate solutions. One night, while preparing a meal for 60 Denison athletes, Esther baked six pies and set them on the back porch to cool. She went outside later and was horrified to discover that birds had picked away at all the crusts. Gillman, though, came to her rescue. He rushed to the corner drugstore, bought ice cream, smeared it over the missing pieces of pie crust and yelled, Look kids, pie a la mode!”
By the time the Gillmans made it to Cincinnati, Gillman’s Bearcats players took to calling her creation Jewish Spaghetti.” The Gillman’s would host a dozen athletes at a time, and as Shundich recalled, It was the hottest stuff in town.”
It didn’t necessarily have to be. The food could have been only average, and the Gillmans still would have had scores of football players trampling through their home in order to suck down Esther’s window-screen strained spaghetti. But Esther’s recipes also weren’t spontaneous. They couldn’t be. Not when she had half of a hungry team to feed.
Her spaghetti sauce didn’t only have to taste good when it was dumped on the pasta. There also had to be gallons of it. And how do you make gallons of what Esther called Big Batch Spaghetti Sauce?” After years of experimenting, here’s the recipe Esther developed.
Ingredients: Pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a big kettle and heat before adding the following: six onions diced, one whole bud garlic, three large cans tomato juice, nine cans tomato paste, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt, sugar, two pounds of lean ground beef, mushrooms.
Preparation: Sautee the onions and garlic only until they change color. Add ground beef and brown gently. Add the tomato paste, tomato juice, seasoned mushrooms and simmer very gently, stirring occasionally for at least 3 hours. If desired, add a batch of meatballs to the sauce, one hour before serving on a bed of thin spaghetti topped with parmesan cheese.
Serves: 25-30 people.
Esther proved to be one of Gillman’s biggest allies when it came time to make peace with some of his players. Even when he insulted them at practice, he could always make up for it by inviting them to Jewish Spaghetti the next night. Their feelings might have been hurt, but at least their bellies were full.