Sport: Yachting & Football
Born: May 15, 1950
Lawrence George Mialik was born May 15, 1950 in Passaic and grew up in Clifton. Big, athletic and gregarious, Larry was drawn to football and track at Clifton High School. His work as a fullback for the Mustangs caught the eye of college recruiters, and he accepted a scholarship to Wisconsin.
Larry was converted to wide receiver and tight end for the Badgers under head coaches John Coatta and John Jardine. The team had a losing record in each of Larry’s varsity seasons, but he was recognized as an All Big 10 receiver in 1970 as a junior, teaming with roommate and quarterback Neil Graff on 33 passes for 702 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also earned Honorable Mention as an All-American that year.
In 1971, Larry played mostly at tight end, blocking for Rufus Ferguson and Alan Thompson, who combined for more than 1,800 yards. Despite Larry’s reduced production, the Atlanta Falcons selected him in the 12th round of the 1972 NFL Draft. He played three seasons for the Falcons, primarily on special teams. In 1976, he was signed by the San Diego Chargers but released after 7 games.
A decade later, Larry received a surprising call from Buddy Melges, arguably the country’s greatest sailor and the head of the Chicago Yacht Club team that was determined to win back the America’s Cup from Australia, which had wrestled it away from the U.S. in 1983. Melges remembered Milaik from a play he’d made in college against Ohio State and asked him to come aboard as a “grinder”—a crewmember who operates the winches that raise and trim the sail.
Larry was in the restaurant business by this time, owning a string of Burger Kings in Wisconsin. The lure of glory was too tempting for him to say no. He left his restaurants in the hands of employees and became a grinder for $70 a week. Unfortunately, in qualifying, Melges’s boat, Heart of America, lost to Dennis Connor’s America II, which went on to win the Cup.
In 1992, Melges qualified to defend the Cup on his new boat, America3. Larry was again a crewmember. America3 defeated Italy’s Il Moro di Venezia in 4 of 5 heats to win. It was the last time a U.S. boat successfully defended the America’s Cup.
Larry’s fast-food empire continued to grow after his America’s Cup triumph, and he later partnered with fellow Badger Al Toon, opening dozens more Burger Kings in the Midwest.