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Xavier Magazine | April 27, 2017

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Gridiron Glory

By France Griggs Sloat

 At age 92, John Paul Sheetz is finally slowing down. After a lifetime of athletic activity, including coaching his nine children in baseball and football, Sheetz now keeps up with sports, especially Xavier basketball, by watching it on television.

Nearly 70 years ago, it was Sheetz who helped put Xavier in the nation’s spotlight.

On a hot night in August 1940, Sheetz and 68 other college athletes from across the country convened on Chicago’s Soldier Field to play what for many would be the game of their lifetime: a college all-star game against the professional Green Bay Packers. Though some of the details are fuzzy, Sheetz, who now lives in Cary, Ill., has no trouble recalling the pride he felt as the player in the Xavier uniform. The All-Americans put up a good fight, but that night, in front of a packed stadium of more than 84,000 fans, the Packers solidly defeated them 45-28.

Winning was not the point, Sheetz says. The schools got national recognition and the players—several of whom were recruited onto professional teams, and even Sheetz got a look by the Chicago Bears—got national exposure. But for Sheetz, the support he received at Xavier from his teammates and the entire student body, who waged a crusade for his nomination to the All-Star team, was overwhelming.

“I made the All-Star team, which included a tryout with the Chicago Bears,” he says. “But it was a very minor tryout. I was pretty fast, but it didn’t last very long when they found out I only weighed 160 pounds.”

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