BY Andy Furman Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Jimmy Smits remembers Moe Finkelstein. Yes, that Jimmy Smits.
Finkelstein had no equal as a high school football coach. He retired in 1986 after 33 years at Thomas Jefferson High School, with a record of 202-57-3.
Finkelstein passed away at the age of 88 in July.
And Jimmy Smits played for Finkelstein.
“Well, I never actually played on the team,” he told the Eagle. “It was one game against New Utrecht.”
The star of “LA Law,” “NYPD Blue” and “The West Wing” recalled his physical training at the Lavonia Avenue Field House, prior to his sophomore year at Jefferson.
“We went to camp in Pennsylvania,” he said, “and on the way home I sat next to Moe on the bus. When we passed Shea Stadium, Moe gave me a nudge and said something to me that I’ll never forget, ‘If you work hard enough you could end up there, too.’”
Smits moved up from Jefferson’s jayvee squad to varsity as a sophomore and then had a revelation.–>
“I really wanted to join the Drama Club,” he said.
A true crossroads in his life.
“I went to see Moe in the Field House and he was great to me,” he said.
But football was over for linebacker Jimmy Smits.
“I couldn’t sit with the team at lunch anymore,” he lamented, “and couldn’t wear any football gear – the team jacket or T-shirt.”
And his real test wasn’t a third and one on the football field – it was on the stage during a school play at Jefferson.
“It was Purlie Victorious,” he said, “I was terrified. And the football team sat in the first two rows. I thought they’d throw tomatoes at me.”
Not so – in fact Smits said those footballers led a standing ovation.
“For me,” he said, “it was a silent conformation, an acceptance.”
Jimmy Smits, the grad of Brooklyn College, remembers his Brooklyn roots.
“I tear up every time I think of this,” he said.
He was talking about a ceremony at Prospect Park, sometime in the ’90s. “There was a parade, a Walk of Fame and a King of Brooklyn for a Day.”
And Moe Finkelstein arrived for the dinner and evening ceremony. “He spoke,” said Smits, “and brought me my Jefferson letterman jacket. Which I still have.
“He meant so much to me.”
As for his coach for one game, Smits says he not only had a love for the game, he had discipline as well as tremendous preparation.
“All of those things I was able to use in the career I chose,” he said. “He was a big influence in my life. I chose a different path – for the better.”
He’s best known for playing attorney Victor Sifuentes on the 1980s legal drama “L.A. Law.”
And he’s the most famous player who never played for Thomas Jefferson High School.
Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host; previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.