ESCANABA - Fifty years ago a dazzling bolt flashed across Upper Peninsula football fields, lighting up opponents massed to stop him.
Ronn Rubick was running wild for the Manistique Emeralds, standing out to such a degree that then Daily Press sports editor Ray Crandall dubbed him "The Manistique Missile."
Manistique football coach Todd Kangas told The Daily Press this week that Rubick was "Manistique's favorite son."
He was also beloved in Manitowoc, Wis., where he led the Ships to three straight Division 1 state football titles and a state-record 48 consecutive wins during a 32-year career as head coach.
"The excitement generated by the Ships back in the 'glory years' was a local version of that generated by the Green Bay Packers in their Lombardi heydey," the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter said in an editorial Wednesday.
It also said Rubick's career at Lincoln High School "is much more than numbers, however. He helped to shape the lives and values of hundreds of young men who were privileged to pass through his program."
Rubick earned extensive acclaim, including All-American recognition, at Manistique High School. It helped him land a football scholarship to Michigan State University, where he played for Duffy Daugherty.
He never started a game at running back, where the Spartans were deep. But he did have one spectacular game, running for three touchdowns and a school-record 207 yards in 14 carries against North Carolina.
He was named Spartan of the Week twice that season, as a reserve, and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
Just as he was ready to get more playing time, Rubick suffered a serious knee injury in practice, which eventually relegated him to defensive back. He played that well enough to land a berth in the 1963 North-South All-Star Bowl, where he intercepted a pass from George Mira, who went on to the NFL.
He also earned raves in Daugherty's book, "Defense Spartan Style," getting mentioned as one of the smaller players who excelled at defensive back.
Upon his selection to the Lakeshore Hall of Fame in Manitowoc in 1987, Rubick said "I was proud of the fact I was mentioned in there, because people always thought of me as a running back."
Two weeks after his breakout game, he was tabbed a starter against Purdue. But after MSU lost to Carl Eller and Minnesota, Daugherty called a team scrimmage against the freshmen to prepare for the Boilermakers.
In that outing Rubick sustained torn ligaments and cartilage to his right knee, an injury much more serious than it is today.
After his final season, Rubick was contacted by NFL representatives from Dallas, Oakland and St. Louis but decided to get into coaching, where he really made his mark. He was 179-106-3 at Manitowoc, after one-year stints coaching at St. Ignace and Manistique high schools.
Rubick's death hit his friends hard in Manitowoc. "I have the highest respect for this man," former Manitowoc Roncalli coach Ron Klestinski told the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter. "I've never seen a man so unselfish in my life."
Biff Hanson, who played for and coached with Rubick, said "he truly believed in being a role model and he didn't have to do it by being macho."
Former Manty quarterback Carl DiRaimondo told the HTR "he was a coach, but he was also a father figure and a mentor to all. He understood the big picture of life."
DiRaimondo also said winning was important but noted it "never came at the expense of teaching us how to be a good person down the road."
Pete Holm, a long-time Rubick assistant for the Ships, said "he did everything he could to make the lives and the futures of people better. He was not only my mentor, but a very special friend."
I never saw the "Manistique Missile" play but was fortunate to cover a couple of his games at Manitowoc while I was with the Green Bay Press-Gazette. In all the years I've known him, Ronn Rubick was class.
An excellent player and coach, but more importantly, an excellent man.