George Tarasovic wasn’t born in York County, and he didn’t die in York County.
The longtime NFL player, however, will leave a lasting legacy in these parts.
For local folks, the Granville, New York, native, won’t be remembered primarily for his pro football exploits — even though they were quite significant.
Instead, the hard-as-nails defensive end and linebacker will be recalled mostly for his gentle nature and big heart.
Tarasovic, who died Oct. 24 in Savannah, Georgia, at age 89, was the driving force behind an event that has become a York County sports institution — the Special Olympics celebrity golf tournament.
A few years back, that annual June tradition at Out Door Country Club was renamed the Eddie Khayat and George Tarasovic Celebrity Golf Classic. Neither man wanted the recognition, but their fellow organizers insisted on it as a way of honoring the event’s co-founders.
During its 31 years, the celebrity tournament has raised more than $800,000 for York County Special Olympians. It has created almost as many memories.
Khayat remembers his friend: Khayat, who also enjoyed a long NFL career as a player and a coach, remembers his friend as the man who brought him to York County.
After his 13-year NFL career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, Tarasovic settled in York County to start his business career, spending nearly five decades in his home in Spring Garden Township.
A little later, his former Eagles teammate Khayat became an assistant coach with the Baltimore Colts. Tarasovic suggested that Khayat look into nearby York County for his new home.
“Moving to York was one of the greatest things I ever did,” said Khayat, who now lives in Nashville, Tennesse. “It was the greatest place in the world to bring up a family. Both of our boys graduated from York Catholic. It was a wonderful community. We still have lots of friends up there. We miss York.”
Starting the tournament: Shortly after Tarasovic and Khayat became York County neighbors, the pair came up with the idea for a celebrity golf tournament to benefit local Special Olympians. They felt York’s location, near Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh and New York, would help attract celebrities without having to pay for flights or hotels.
Keeping expenses down, you see, was paramount for Tarasovic. The less money spent on celebrities meant more money for the Special Olympians.
Charles Calkins has been involved in the Special Olympics tournament since its inception. He says one of his best memories about Tarasovic involved former New York Jets wideout Don Maynard.
“(Maynard) indicated he would attend the tournament in exchange for a fee, flight fare (from Texas), hotel accommodations, etc. I presented that to the (Special Olympics) committee," Calkins said. "George’s comment was ‘tell him that we’re not going to pay him anything, and if he does show up to the tournament, I’ll knock him out like I did playing against him in Pittsburgh.”
From all indications, that story embodied Tarasovic’s spirit. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 245-pounder was an intimidating presence on the field, but quite different off the field.
“He was a great man and a great teammate and a great athlete, and as happy a guy off the field as I’ve ever known,” Khayat said. “Once he stepped on gridiron, he changed. He became a really tough guy.”
'Tremendously decent man': Yes, Tarasovic was one tough competitor and an excellent player, but according to longtime Special Olympics tournament volunteer Allan Pettit, Tarasovic was also a “tremendously decent man.”
“When I found out he passed, I Googled his name and learned he was No. 93 on a list of the top 500 Steelers of all-time,” Pettit said. “I saw another article on all-time great Steelers defensive ends. They devoted a section to George and said New York Giants running back Alex Webster called him ‘one of the toughest SOBs I’d ever played against.’ I’m sure it’s true, except I only knew George as this big, funny, likable guy.”
Because of health issues, Tarasovic hasn’t been able to attend the Special Olympics event in several years, but the tournament he started more than three decades ago continues to thrive.
That’s a testament to Tarasovic’s vision, determination and humanity.
As legacies go, that’s a pretty fair one to have.
And as long as the Eddie Khayat and George Tarasovic Celebrity Golf Classic continues, that legacy will continue to live on here in York County.
— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.