Jim Grizzle, a Fort Smith businessman and a member of the Arkansas Razorback football team during its legendary run in the early 1960s, died Sunday. He was 71.
Unfortunately, Grizzle is one of three prominent area business men to die in the past 10 days.
Luther Stem Jr., 81, died Dec. 21. He was the owner operator of Luther Stem Pools and Spas. Stem was also a regular supporter of the Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club, and was a past board member of the Girls Shelter of Fort Smith. (Link here for more about Stem’s life.)
Charles H. “Chuck” Cramer, 68, died Dec. 22. He was retired from Baldor Electric Co. after 31 years in human resources for the manufacturer. Cramer served on the Board of Directors of The United Way, Salvation Army, Bost Foundation, and MEA (Manufacturing Executives Association). Cramer also served as executive director of the MEA. (Link here for more about Cramer’s career.)
Grizzle, a defensive end known for harassing quarterbacks, was on the Razorback roster between 1961 and 1963. One of his college roommates was Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
In 1963, he opened a tire store in Fort Smith – Jim Grizzle Tire Company – that became a success and remains in business today.
Phillip Plunkett knew Grizzle from a friendship that began in the third grade. He said during a recent hospital visit with Grizzle they spent four hours reminiscing about the things they did – things no one would believe “or needs to hear,” Plunkett joked.
Grizzle, Plunkett was quick to add, was a great friend.
“His heart was so good. He would do anything for anybody,” he said.
But his heart wasn’t kind for those on the other side of the scrimmage line.
“Probably the thing he liked more than anything was running a quarterback down and putting him on the ground,” Plunkett said. “He had a nose for the ball and when he’d run and when he got there, he would deliver. He would thump you.”
‘TOUGH AND GREAT PLAYER’
Grizzle was “very competitive at everything,” but wasn’t necessarily emotional about it, Plunkett said.
Plunkett’s father often visited with Grizzle near the locker room after Razorback games. After one tough loss, players in the locker room were crying, but not Grizzle
“He told dad, ‘I did the best I could out there on the field. We just got our ass beat and that’s all there is to it.’ ... He didn’t see as he had anything to cry about,” Plunkett explained.
Bennie Westphal, who spent time with Grizzle in the hospital on Saturday, has also been a longtime friend. Westphal, who played for the Razorbacks between 1972-1975, said Grizzle was “a tough and great football player.”
Westphal said he remembers that then-Razorback Football Coach Frank Broyles would often begin speeches at Quarterback Club meetings with a Jim Grizzle story. The stories were usually about how Grizzle was “a raw, natural athlete.”
“Coach (Broyles) would say that Jim was uncoachable, and they’d put him out on the field and say, ‘Go get ‘em,’” Westphal said with a laugh. “He was an excellent athlete, ... and he could find the ball quicker and faster than anybody else.”
Grizzle was also remembered for his work ethic while playing football.
“He was the first one to practice and the last to leave,” Westphal said.
However, the grandchildren were Grizzle’s focus in recent years.
“I’ve never seen anybody that spent more time and did more and loved his grandchildren more,” Westphal said of Grizzle.
Westphal said Jim may be best remembered as someone who “just really loved to have fun” at whatever he did.
“The thing is, those who mention Jim’s name or tell a Jim story, they always do it with a grin, and that says a lot about somebody.”
The City Wire will update this story when a formal obituary is released.