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Life Lessons from Football and the Jesuits: Five Questions with John Zizzo

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To John Zizzo, FCRH ’69, Fordham football is more than just a sports team. It’s a community and an educational experience that he carries with him to this day.

It was 50 years ago that Zizzo helped lead the Fordham club football team to a national championship as co-captain, helping revive a sport that was a Fordham hallmark in the days of Vince Lombardi and the Seven Blocks of Granite but that had been absent at Fordham from 1954 to 1964. The 1968 club team’s victory gave Fordham football a brighter future—contributing to the University’s decision to bring back the sport at a varsity level in 1970 and laying the groundwork for more recent successes, including a Patriot League title in 2014.

At the annual Football Dinner in the week leading up to Homecoming on September 22, Fordham will be honoring the 1968 team. At least 35 of the 40 surviving team members are planning to attend.

“Keeping the team together has been a big thing in my life,” says Zizzo, a member of Fordham’s Board of Trustees since 2013. “It sounds strange, but I feel an obligation to do it, but I also want to do it. The striving together and relying on one another as a team has kept us together for so many years, so this is a great thing for us.”

Zizzo attributes the team’s triumphs and enduring camaraderie to their ability to rely on each other and put the Rams’ success over any one player’s individual ego. “No matter how good you are,” he says, “your team cannot excel unless the other players are excelling at the same time.”

In some ways, Zizzo says, those team dynamics reflect the strengths of Fordham’s rigorous Jesuit education, which, he says, “is about expanding your horizons and realizing there’s a whole world you have to be responsive to, that when you act, you act not only for yourself but on the basis of all humanity, to help others. You can’t be isolated and looking only to yourself.”

These are lessons that Zizzo, a retired real estate attorney, says served him well in life and in his profession. “You have to be able to work together as a group,” he says. “Everybody always asks how we should divide the pie up. But the better question is how do we grow the pie? It’s the growing of the pie that leads to bigger success, and you can’t do that with one individual’s effort.”

In 1968, Zizzo (front and center, No. 75) helped lead the Fordham Rams to a national club football championship.

Last year, Zizzo joined forces with John Costantino, GABELLI ’67, LAW ’70, and John Lumelleau, FCRH ’74, to launch the ongoing Football Office Challenge to help raise funds for the renovation of the Fordham football offices. “The new offices will help recruiting and the operation, experience, and success of the current team,” he explains. “And the team’s success could enhance the face of Fordham to the rest of the world.”

It’s that larger goal that has driven him to not only stay involved with Fordham football but to continue participating in other alumni activities, like his trip to the Dordogne region of France with the Alumni Travel Program a few years ago.

“I mean, I enjoy the game and want to see football excel,” Zizzo says. “But the larger importance of football is to support the identity of Fordham and help people realize that Fordham is an important place to be.”

What are you most passionate about? 
Other than the health, well-being, and happiness of my family (which is by far the most important thing in my life), my most passionate goal is to see Fordham University climb to the prominence it deserves—that is, to be considered one of the best universities in the country. As a relatively poor person from a relatively poor family who received a scholarship from Fordham, I appreciate that Fordham has done more than any prominent university I know to pursue its mission to educate all levels of our society in the intellectual rigors of the Jesuit tradition with a focus on the highest human values.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 
There are two pieces of advice that have helped me lead my life and helped me professionally. First, my immediate family impressed upon me the importance of working as hard as I could in everything I did. Second, two of my professional mentors showed me through both their words and actions that being honest and never lying would lead me to a successful and rewarding career.

What’s your favorite place in New York City? In the world?
By far the most incredible place in New York City is Greenwich Village. The vibe is tremendous: winding tree-lined streets, a diverse population, local theater productions, other cultural amenities, incredible restaurants and shops. To me, it’s the greatest area in the greatest city in the world. Maybe because it resembles New York City so much, Rome is my favorite city in the world. It has many of the great qualities of New York with two big pluses: First, Roman traditions and philosophy are prominent in Western history and are ingrained in many of us. Second, the people of Rome are as warm and welcoming as any I have encountered.

Name a book has had a lasting influence on you.
Atlas Shrugged has made a lasting impression on me. I have read it twice: once as a relatively young adult and again about 15 years ago. The basic principle of the book is that people must be given the incentive of possible profit and success in order to reap the rewards of the world and to help protect and support the family; I have many examples of this being true. I believe the book also makes it clear that the drive to success and security does not necessarily interfere with a person’s desire to help others, especially those that are willing to contribute to society or those who are not able to work.

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most?
I have nothing but admiration for Joseph Cammarosano [professor emeritus of economics]. He has the unique ability to be helpful and warm, and he is a professional educator who is both an intellectual and a leader. I remember him as a great teacher and a great source of knowledge. He also greatly contributed to the University in two ways: His even personality and desire to help Fordham made him excellent at being a practical and successful liaison between the administration and the faculty in the 1960s, and in helping Fordham overcome financial struggles in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

 

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