JFK Remembered: Gunther Cunningham

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
2:40
PM ET
CunninghamAndrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsGunther Cunningham worried about the immediate consequences of President Kennedy's assassination.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who was born in Munich, Germany, in 1946, reflects on the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

"I was outside the physical education building getting ready to go to football practice and I'll never forget it. I stood there in shock. I remember it was a gray loudspeaker that the principal was on and he told the tale of what happened. It's funny, I've talked to people lately and it's on the 22nd of November and I knew that weeks ago that it was coming up. We don't watch TV [now], obviously, we don't have time.

"I came from Germany, so it was really an impact on my life to see all that happen. I watched it all on television as I remember correctly. Then. I try not to watch things like that anymore. The world's tough enough without having to go back and have nightmares come to you.

"I was probably 17, something like that. My dad, he was in the military. The only thing I can really recall is all the turmoil, listening to it, watching it. And being outside that gym and hearing that and wondering, 'What are we going to do now?'

Young kids and all my friends, we all thought the war was coming and we were just about ready to be 18, so we paid attention. At that time, it was the Cold War and the Russians. All kinds of things went through your mind and it was monumental. We all sat in front of televisions. I can't even tell you if we played the game or not, but I can tell you the event. It has stuck through my whole lifetime. Whenever November 22nd comes around, I remember.

"I do. A lot. That something like that could happen. I was fortunate enough when I was at Kansas City as a coach, [President] George W. Bush visited us to watch practice in River Falls, Wisconsin, in preseason and it was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me, to meet the President of the United States and not grow up here. So anything that happens in that area, my stepdad was in the military for over 30 years and I have all kinds of flags at home that were sent to me by different guys.

"The last incident, after 9/11, I got really involved with writing a lot of emails and things to the guys overseas and I got a flag one day at Kansas City. I can't even tell you the kid's name anymore, I know his first name was Jim, but I wrote him many, many times when he was over in Afghanistan and he passed away and his father brought me a flag.

"Then a pilot from Kansas City flew a helicopter gunship, a Cobra gunship into Fallujah and they always put American flags in their belly. The guy hand-delivered it to me and the other one to George W. Bush. So I felt like I arrived.

"And when I got to Detroit, I became a citizen, finally, after 50-something years. I've always been, I love this country and how many kids get a chance to come here and become an NFL football coach. It's been a great ride. I wouldn't change anything."

-- Gunther Cunningham, 67, as told to ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein.

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