East New York

Remembering Moe Finkelstein, longtime Thomas Jefferson football coach

July 17, 2020 Andy Furman
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He was the borough’s best. And just may have been the best in the city.

Moe Finkelstein had no equal as a high school football coach. He retired in 1986 after 33 years at Thomas Jefferson High School, with a record of 202-57-3.

Finkelstein passed away at the age of 88, Tuesday morning.

His accomplishments were remarkable.

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Finkelstein guided the Orange Wave to a pair of unofficial city championships in 1963 and 1965, three “official” Public Schools Athletic League titles in 1971, 1974 and 1975, and second-place finishes in 1978 and 1979.

He turned out such notable players as John Brockington, the former Ohio State and Green Bay Packers running back, and Otis Wilson, the Chicago Bears 1985 Super Bowl-winning linebacker.

Finkelstein was a star running back for Rip Goldman’s Jefferson football team. He parlayed that career into a football scholarship at Bucknell University and then returned to Jefferson to eventually succeed Rip as the head coach of the varsity football team.

“Moe left nothing to chance,” former assistant coach Jeff Schrier told the Eagle. “Each morning before classes, the coaching staff would meet in the teachers’ cafeteria and Moe would go over that day’s practice plan and constantly write offensive plays and defensive schemes on paper napkins. Nobody worked harder or was better prepared than Moe.”

Schrier, who later coached championship basketball teams at Brooklyn’s Tilden High, credits Moe with the work ethic he developed as a coach.

At one football clinic, where coaches listen to other coaches lecture about various aspects of the game, Moe was sitting around a large table diagramming plays on cocktail napkins, according to Schrier.

“Other coaches would look at him and wonder who he was and why was he not socializing,” Schrier said. “Then, all talking stopped as a figure walked through the door. It was Bo Schembechler (then head coach of the University of Michigan) fresh off an appearance in the Rose Bowl.”

Bo looked around and nodded to the coaches and, as Schrier recalled, saw Moe was looking at him. Moe said, “Well Bo, you sure **cked up that Rose Bowl.”

Bo looked at Moe and said, “Hiya, Moe! What are you talking about?”

Moe countered: “Sit your ass down and I’ll show you.”

Moe described a couple of game situations he observed and started furiously writing diagrams on the cocktail napkins once again. As he finished the verbal description, he slid the napkins across the table to the Michigan coach.

Bo said nothing. He scrutinized every x and o on the paper, Schrier remembers, and then he slapped the table hard.

“Son of a bitch!” he exclaimed, “You’re right! If we had done this, we would have won the game.

“Who is this guy?” yelled Bo. Moe and Bo – two of the all-time greats.

“One Saturday,” Schrier remembers, “the team didn’t perform well on the field. In the field house Moe was chomping on a cigar and fuming.

“He was outlining plans for Monday’s practice to strengthen the weaknesses he saw in the scrimmage. Moe’s wife, Elaine, a woman with the patience of Job, happened to have been the field house at the time. She said, ‘But Moe, Monday is Yom Kippur. You can’t have practice.’

“Moe looked at her, walked over to her and took the cigar out of his mouth. He leaned close to her, nose-to-nose, and jabbed the cigar at her and uttered these immortal words: ‘To you it’s Yom Kippur, to me it’s Brooklyn Tech!’”

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host; previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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