- Tom VanHaaren, ESPN Staff Writer
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Pete Tierney first met Penn State quarterback commit Jake Zembiec in 2014 at Aquinas Institute’s homecoming game. The two shared a picture, a few words and the opening coin toss and went on their own way.
Tierney, who is months away from hitting 102 years old, had a big part in creating the football team at Aquinas, where Zembiec now attends, so he was excited about the chance to meet the local quarterback creating a ton of buzz around the community.
In October, 1930, Tierney’s senior year of high school, he and some friends tried to form a football team at Aquinas. The group practiced, but had no scheduled games, no real coach and no uniforms.
Tierney recalls that Johnny Sullivan, the freshmen coach at the University of Rochester, came down to help with some coaching and organize the team.
“The goal was to find a local high school that had an open date that would arrange a game. They finally got one that had an open date, but hardly any of the guys had uniforms,” Tierney said. “We got a batch of uniforms from the University of Rochester freshmen, who used hand-me-downs from the varsity team. They were well worn, but they got pants and pads.”
Since there was no stadium, the make shift team played its first game in an area where they held horse shows.
The following year, Tierney, a running back and defensive back, went on to the University of Rochester to play on the freshmen team and Aquinas had its first formal team with uniforms and everything.
All the history and stories Tierney was a part of interested Zembiec, so he decided to surprise his new friend with a visit. The ESPN 300 quarterback called Tierney to let him know he would come see him at his apartment, but because of his hearing, Tierney didn’t fully understand who was headed over to pay him a visit.
“He called and I misunderstood who it was, so I thought it was an alumni who I had seen before. So when he showed at the door I was dumbfounded,” Tierney said. “I was overly impressed in what a fine young gentleman he was. There was no bravado, no reference to his athletic ability, it was just a great visit and I was more than grateful.”
Brought my guy Pete Tierney a gift today ! Oldest living Aquinas alum..Almost 102 years old! Great opportunity for me pic.twitter.com/osCrvoPrZ2
— jake zembiec (@jakezembiec) August 12, 2015
Zembiec asked Tierney of his time at Aquinas and what it was like to be a part of creating a football team back in his day. The two spent over an hour together talking and building a friendship.
Tierney appreciated the company and the visit itself, but Zembiec took away an important message.
“He was just telling me to be thankful for everything because in his position he’s talking about losing his vision and hearing,” Zembiec said. “Health wise he’s doing awesome for 101 years old, but just be thankful for everything you get and don’t take anything for granted.”
After their meeting at the homecoming game, Tierney had sent Zembiec a card and a gold coin to show how highly he thought of the Aquinas quarterback. So this time around Zembiec figured he would return the favor and bring a gift of his own in the form of an autographed picture of Zembiec in his Aquinas uniform.
The picture and the meeting were just small gestures, but both meant quite a bit to Tierney, who easily recalls the days he was in Jake’s shoes over 80 years ago. To get to spend some time with a local athlete who plays on Friday nights because of the work Tierney and his friends put in back in the 1930’s was something very special to the Aquinas alum.
“He gave me a beautiful picture, autographed with a very nice, personal note on it so I’m going to have it encased. It was a real treat for a guy my age,” he said. “The thing that got me the most was at the doorway, about to leave, Jake bent over and said he wanted to give me a hug and that really touched me.”