Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: "Finding Frank: Full Circle in a Life Cut Short" by Buzz Ponce

Finding Frank: Full Circle in a Life Cut Short
By Buzz Ponce

After the untimely death of former San Diego Chargers linebacker Frank James Buncom II in 1969, Buzz Ponce made a personal promise to document the life of his fallen best friend in the form of a book. Forty-four years later, his promise is finally fulfilled.

About Frank Buncom II

Buncom was drafted by the Chargers out of the University of Southern California in 1962. During his six season tenure, he was selected to three All-Star games and helped the Chargers win the 1963 American Football League championship.

His run with the Chargers ended after he was acquired by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968 through an expansion draft. Buncom started all 14 games for the first-year franchise in what would unfortunately be the last season of his career.

During the morning of Sept. 14, 1969, Buncom passed away while sleeping in his Cincinnati hotel room. His death was later diagnosed as a “pulmonary embolism”. He was survived by his wife Sarah Buncom and seven week-old son Frank James Buncom III.

When the Chargers introduced their team Hall of Fame in 1976, Buncom was one of four members selected to the inaugural class. You can find his name on the Chargers Ring of Honor during home games at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Buncom legacy will continue to live on with Frank Buncom IV getting set for his third season as the starting cornerback for the St. Augustine High School varsity football team.

More Than a Football Player

While Buncom was known for his high level performances on the gridiron, Ponce made sure to keep the focus of the book on the man he was off the field.

“I never wanted this venture to be a sports story,” Ponce wrote. “The center was to be squarely on Buncom, his time, what made him unique and very singular, and how we may still learn from him all these years after his death.”

Ponce met Buncom for the first time in the summer of 1965; it was during his first day on the job as the official ball boy for the Chargers. The all-star linebacker welcomed him to the Escondido training facility and the two would go on to form a close friendship.

When Buncom wasn't having dinner at Ponce's house or supporting him during high school football games at Orange Glen, he was befriending and mentoring other youth from all over San Diego. His selfless off the field endeavors earned him appreciation from parents along with the title "King of the Kids".

The Number 55

If you were living in San Diego County during the 1990s, it was almost like you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a No. 55 Chargers jersey. Whether it was an authentic powder blue throwback or a navy blue and white replica, people across the county proudly wore the double fives in support of their homegrown hero, the late Junior Seau.

While Seau made the number famous, Buncom became the first of eight Chargers to wear it after joining the team in 1962. In the chapter titled “The Original Number 55”, Ponce describes some ironic similarities between Buncom and Seau.

"Both were raised in Southern California, both came from underprivileged backgrounds and both went on to football stardom at the University of Southern California," Ponce wrote. "Both were college All-Americans, both were drafted by the San Diego Chargers. Both had brilliant Chargers careers that culminated in both being enshrined in the team's Hall of Fame. Both played a linebacker position, both ended their playing days with different teams. Both wore the same jersey number and large, infectious, luminous smiles."

Final Thoughts

If you're a football fan or historian who enjoy untold stories involving those who play the game just as much as the action on the field, "Finding Frank" is highly recommended for you.

Author Buzz Ponce deserves a lot of credit for refusing to give up on his promise to publish this book despite the many obstacles that stood in his way. Fourty-four years of hard work and resilience resulted in a well written biography that not only documents the inspirational life of his best friend, but an important time in United States and pro football history.

While Ponce's purpose was to teach a valuable lesson through the life of a man whose character outweighed his status as a professional athlete, the publishing of this book should remind us all of a very important lesson: Never give up on your goals no matter how long they may take to obtain.


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