The longest love affair of Ernie Koy Jr.'s life isn't with his wife, Barbara; they've been married only 35 years. It's with his hometown of Bellville, Texas, a small farming community (pop. 3,794) west of Houston, where he has lived for 50 of his 62 years. Even when Koy was bulldozing defenders as part of the New York Giants' Baby Bulls backfield from 1965 through '70, his heart was still in Bellville. "New York City was just too big," he says in his deep East Texas drawl. So when Giants coach Alex Webster cut Koy before the '71 season and told him, "You better go home," that's what he did.
After a year in Bellville he spent 1972 and '73 earning a master's in education and working as an assistant coach at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas. He returned to Bellville for good in '74 and since then has devoted much of his energy to serving the community in which three generations of Koys were raised. He had a 25-year association with the booster club of Bellville High, whose football team he led to the 1960 Class 2A state title game as a halfback, linebacker and punter. In '79 he helped create a nonprofit organization that teaches life skills to the mentally retarded. And in February 2004 he completed a seven-year term on the Brazos River Authority.
Throughout that time Koy was making a career in banking, first as a teller, then as a branch manager and an executive vice president. Today he's a commercial lending officer at the Wells Fargo branch in the town square. "I walk down the street and can say, 'This house was built with loans I made' or 'I helped this fella get his business started,'" he says. "Helping people realize their dreams has been satisfying."
Koy left Bellville three times--spending four years in Austin, helping Texas win its first national championship in 1963; six years in New York, where the 6'3", 225-pound back had a Pro Bowl season in '67; and the two years in Huntsville, where he quickly dropped the notion of a career in coaching. "I could kick and pass," Koy says, "but to tell somebody how to do it was tough."
The former running back is still running, two miles every morning, and has completed five marathons. His parents, Jane, 93, and Ernie, 95, a former Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder and Texas high school and college sports legend, live a three-minute walk away. With his four children all grown, Koy is starting to think about moving out of his five-bedroom house in town and living full time on his 200-acre ranch on the edge of Bellville. "He is happiest out there," says Barbara. "He'd be happier if we were out there every night." --Gene Menez
A star in Austin and a pro in New York City, Koy preferred a small-town life of banking and community service.