"See, I had campaigned for Kennedy in 1960 as a favor to [Colts' owner] Carroll Rosenbloom, who was a good friend of his and who'd helped me get started in the burger business.

"The first time I met Kennedy, at a fair in Washington, he shook my hand and thanked me. I looked in his eyes and, swear to God, it was like he could see through you, like he had come from heaven. But I didn't tell anybody that because they'd have thought I was nuts."

One Saturday, Marchetti said, the future president invited him and other well-known athletes to the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., for a rousing game of flag football.

"He was a great player," said Marchetti, who had to temper his aggression that day. "You had to be careful not to hurt him."

Though the NFL took heat for playing two days after Kennedy's death, the 87-year old Marchetti stands by the league's decision.

"The president would have wanted it that way," he said. "He loved the game that much."

'A sad day all around'

Pro football wasn't the only sport to carry on. Racing also continued Saturday at Pimlico, not that the president's death had any less impact on horsemen there.

On Friday, Walter "Mousey" Blum, the nation's leading rider, was bounding up the stairs to the jockeys' room, having just won the fifth race, when he heard the announcement. Blum froze. Could it be? Confirmation came soon enough. Pimlico cancelled the remaining races and lowered the infield flag to half staff as 9,407 fans filed out in tomb-like silence.

"I was sad, upset, in shock. It was unbelievable," said Blum, 79, who changed clothes, got into his car and drove home to Cherry Hill, N.J.

Though a stoic bunch, many horsemen broke down that day, Ron Turcotte recalled.

"So many people were sobbing," the 72-year-old Hall of Fame jockey said. Ten years later, Turcotte would win the Triple Crown aboard Secretariat. This fateful day, however, he finished fourth in the final race at Pimlico.

His mount's name was Realism.

In Owings Mills, McDonogh and Gilman players were warming up before 3,000 fans for the 48th game in their storied rivalry when reports of the shooting spread. Tom Beck, Gilman's captain, was punting near McDonogh's grandstand when he heard a radio bulletin: . . . and the coffin of the dead president . . .

"I thought, my goodness, there's been another coup d'etat in South America," Beck, now 67, said.

The coaches knew the truth but agreed to stay mum until the game ended. McDonogh won, 8-7, on a two-point conversion pass by its captain, Andy Beath.

Moments later, in Gilman's somber locker room, Beck led the team in prayer:

"Lord, please help us to keep our heads up as Americans."

For McDonogh, victory was bittersweet.

"There wasn't a lot of celebration afterward," said Beath, 68. "As soon as the game was over, we were involved in the same circumstances that the whole country was involved in."

Half a century later, Dick Working, then McDonogh's coach, defends the decision to play that day.

"Was it hard to stay focused? Nothing could take my mind off of the Gilman game," said Working, 91. "But it was a sad day all around."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com