Agostini: Lindstrom was the most unforgettable Pirate

ragostini@modbee.comNovember 13, 2013 

Jeff Lindstrom caught exactly one pass in his Modesto Junior College football career.

It happened on a cool night at Los Altos Hills in 1991 as the Pirates wrapped up a pleasing 42-0 win over Foothill and a Coast Conference title. Lindstrom, undersized and underskilled, was rushed onto the field as a wide receiver aligned near the MJC bench.

He was asked to run a 5-yard stop, which he executed, and quarterback Tim Meyer zipped an accurate pass. Lindstrom made the catch while the Foothill outside linebacker plowed him out-of-bounds, prompting a celebration on the MJC bench. Lindstrom, clutching the ball with both hands as though it were a cut jewel, was surrounded by happy teammates.

Lindstrom took home a piece of Foothill sod to remember his moment. No one loved being an MJC Pirate more than Jeff Lindstrom, who died two months ago due to brain cancer. He was 42, a light dimmed far too soon.

“He was so entrenched into MJC football,” Meyer said. “We called him Willie the Pirate, because he was always so wound up.”

It’s tempting, but incomplete, to dismiss Lindstrom as MJC’s version of “Rudy,” the movie-famed dreamer who willed his way onto the Notre Dame football team. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger viewed Notre Dame as an ultimate destination. For Lindstrom, MJC football became a springboard to an amazing, if all too short, life.

Raised in Pleasanton, Lindstrom moved to Modesto and lived with his aunt and uncle after his parents divorced. He was a youth martial arts champion and brilliant in the classroom, but his foray into football appeared to be a lost cause in the spring of 1991.

“He was a skinny kid who never played football before. He had no skills and I thought he would get killed,” remembered Steve Da Prato, the Pirates’ head coach from 1990 to ‘99. “But he was busting his butt through the spring and summer. I couldn’t get rid of him.”

Lindstrom bought into everything Da Prato preached about the concept of team and the every-day emphasis of accountability and discipline. He pushed underachievers and even had MJC’s skull and crossbones shaved onto the side of his head.

“I will never forget Jeff,” said MJC coach Sam Young, the team’s defensive coordinator in ‘91. “He applied everything he learned in football to what he did later.”

Lindstrom, who went on to Whittier College, eventually taught history at MJC from 1996 to 2000 and also served as an assistant coach. From there, he and his first wife Shauna joined the Peace Corps for a three-year term. They were stationed in Vladivostok State, where he started the Model United Nations program in the Russian Far East. The student exchange program remained dear to his heart until his death.

Later, he and his second wife Zhenya raised two daughters. Lindstrom received his Ph.d and was a professor at Chapman University when he was stricken.

“Coach Young and Coach Da Prato were his mentors. Much of his teaching methodology came from them,” Zhenya said. “Jeff was very unique. Football was a big part of who he was.”

Through it all, Lindstrom never lost touch with the Pirates. Offensive coordinator Rusty Stivers, a baseball-football star for MJC during the early 1990s, exchanged calls with him until his final weeks.

“He always wanted to know how the team was doing. We’d talk about Da Prato’s ‘Philosophy of One,’” Stivers said. “In my last conversation with him about two weeks before he died, he was talking about expanding his student exchange program. Jeff was all in.”

Today, MJC’s Iron Pirate Award – given each season to the team’s most inspirational player – was inspired by Lindstrom’s postseason letter of thanks to Da Prato. Lindstrom’s estate will endow two scholarships each season to worthy Pirates.

Lindstrom’s impact, you see, never has stopped at MJC. Young and Stivers have worn black for each game this season, including Saturday afternoon’s regular-season finale at home against San Joaquin Delta, for one reason.

To remember the most unforgettable Pirate.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeSports

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