Tackling Life is an apt title for Kevin Reilly’s autobiography, even though Reilly will be the first to tell you that he didn’t always make the tackle – there were times when Life faked him out and there times when Life ran him over.
But Kevin Reilly never stopped competing, and that’s what makes this book so compelling – the way he dealt with those jolting hits from Life and the way he used those experiences to help others.
Reilly was a star athlete at Salesianum School in the late 1960s before playing football at Villanova and carving out a brief career in the NFL, most notably with the Eagles.
Kevin Reilly had it all – fame, good looks, a beauty queen wife, three great kids and a chance to play for the team he grew up cheering for. But then Life came back and hit him hard, including a one-two punch that left him devastated – in 1979, Reilly lost his left arm to cancer, and in 1997 he was blindsided again when his wife of almost 20 years divorced him.
Reilly is open and honest in his recounting of those raw moments in his life, and he’s inspirational in his recounting of how he picked up the pieces and got on with his life. He and co-author John Riley, a long-time friend, do a great job interspersing tales of his days at Sallies, Villanova and in the NFL with stories of his painful battle with cancer and the depression that engulfed him after his divorce.
I’ve known Kevin for more than 40 years. We were at Salesianum at the same time and were even teammates in football and basketball, although we weren’t exactly equal – he was a senior star when I was a sophomore scrub. But I know the kind of athlete he was back in those high school days and what kind of a person he was. Kevin was cordial and even friendly to a scrub like me – on occasion he’d pick me up hitchhiking home after practice, as I’d stand at the intersection of Concord Pike and 18th Street with my thumb out. And, as sports journalists covering the Eagles for many years, we became friends as we got older.
So, I know how Kevin Reilly treats people and I know how people treat him.
It’s not a coincidence that when Kevin was a senior at Sallies he was voted captain of the football and basketball teams, a rare one-two honor, especially at a place with such a rich tradition in sports like Salesianum. Kevin was a true leader of those teams, someone who talked the talk and walked the walk. Nobody worked harder or tried harder, which is why nobody was more respected than he was. He wasn’t a yeller or somebody who jumped around to pump up his teammates. He was a quiet leader who motivated people with his example. He cared so much he made you care, too.
That understated leadership is also why Reilly was a co-captain at Villanova and captain of the special teams with the Eagles. It’s debatable whether leaders are born or bred, but everyone knows one when they see one, and Reilly has been a leader his entire life. Now he tackles that life in Tacking Life, and you don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy his journey and admire his courage as he personifies the Salesianum motto of Tenui Nec Dimittan – Latin for “I have taken hold and will not let go.” And Kevin Reilly is still holding on, even with just one hand.