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Wheaton North's J.D. Marconi (left) and Glenbard West's Joe Marconi will square off in a Class 7A quarterfinal on Saturday. | Colleen M Kane
When the Marconi families from Glen Ellyn and Wheaton get together for Thanksgiving, chances are the conversation won’t be about the weather or the new Bond film.
“There’s definitely a lot of football talk,” Joe Marconi said. “Both families are obsessed with football.”
Little wonder about that. Joe Marconi and J.D. Marconi, first cousins and senior defensive standouts at Glenbard West and Wheaton North respectively, are the latest members of their extended family to make their mark in the sport. On Saturday, they’ll renew their friendly rivalry for the first time at the high school level and maybe the last time ever, when Wheaton North (10-1) travels to Glenbard West (11-0) for a Class 7A state quarterfinal.
The Marconis are building their own legacies in a family that’s been producing football stars for decades. It all started with the late Joe Marconi, who starred at West Virginia before going in the first round of the 1956 NFL draft to the Los Angeles Rams. A fullback, he played six seasons with the Rams and five more with the Bears, making one Pro Bowl appearance. He had 781 combined rushing and passing yards and four touchdowns in 1963 when the Bears won the NFL title.
Both of Joe’s sons played college football, Joe Jr. at Wisconsin and George at Western Illinois. And now Joe (George’s son) and J.D. (Joe Jr.’s son) have entered the family business.
The one unfortunate note in this story is that the eldest Joe Marconi isn’t around to see it. He died in 1992 at 58, a few years before Joe and J.D. were born.
“He would have loved this,” George Marconi said. “It’s just so sad that it’s gone on like this and he’s not a part of it.”
But maybe he is. Both Joe and J.D. Marconi have dedicated this season to the grandfather they never met but who has nonetheless played a big part in their lives.
“Teachers at my school say, ‘I remember watching your grandpa. He was a tough guy,’ ’’ said J.D. Marconi, who has checked out some YouTube clips of the ‘63 Bears. “By looking at his pictures and seeing how successful he was in the NFL, [it] made me realize what I had to do to be successful.”
“We love the fact that we got to be named after him,” Joe Marconi said. “I pride myself on having a grandpa who played for the Bears. I would always tell people, ‘My grandpa played in the NFL. What did your grandpa do?’ ’’
The cousins are also best friends. “When summer break hit, J.D. would live at George’s house,” Joe Marconi Jr. said.
Joe and J.D. played against each other a few times in youth football, but this is their first meeting in high school. And with their college plans still to be determined, it could be the last time they’re on the same field together.
Given the stakes, this could be a tough week for the Marconis and the families. But that’s not the case.
“It’s going to bring back some memories of being competitive and having a lot of fun playing against each other,” J.D. Marconi said.
“It’s not going to affect [my] and his relationship,” Joe Marconi said. “We’ll still love each other.”
Maybe the person in the toughest spot is Jan Marconi, the cousins’ grandmother. “At every game when we played [against each other] it was tough on her,” J.D. Marconi said.
Especially tough now was the decision of where to sit: on the Glenbard West side or the Wheaton North side? “That was the big dilemma,” George Marconi said. “She was like, ‘I’m not going, I’m going to sit in the car.’ ’’
But now a compromise has been struck.
Jan Marconi will be sitting in the end zone on Saturday with a couple of her granddaughters. And when it’s all over, she and the rest of the family will have more great memories to relive over Thanksgiving dinner.