Hundreds came out to Central Presbyterian Church to say their last goodbyes to the man whom some called the godfather of Montclair youth football.

Howard Finney III started the Montclair Cobras in 1969 and was involved with the program until he died last December.

Because of the surge in COVID-19 last winter, the family decided to push the memorial service celebrating his life until this spring, on Saturday, June 4. The front interior of the church was decorated with a Montclair Cobras helmet and jersey as well as a family picture and a picture of Finney coaching his beloved Cobras.

Several members and coaches of his teams over the years came to Montclair on Saturday morning to recall Finney’s accomplishments.

One of those players from the early days was Chester Frank Terrell, who kept in touch with Finney all of the years after he played in the youth football program.

"He was a guy that didn't need to do what he was doing," Terrell said at the service. "Black kids, white kids, he didn't care … He was my friend. I can stand here all day and tell you different stories. There was no other man who made an impact in my life."

Finney family members also came out to remember him. Lily Lefave, one of his  granddaughters, read a poem entitled “Legend” by her mother, Finney’s daughter, Susan Finney Lefave.

"You always will be our father, a mighty, king Cobra in bold blue and pure white. A Harvard man, a skier both on snow and water — what else shall we list?" Lily Lefave read. "Too overwhelming to share of what you’ve given to all of us that you shall be missed by this great town called Montclair. They even named a field after you. Legend, legend you are. You will never be forgotten."

Howard Finney
Howard Finney
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Later in the service, Susan Finney Lefave said she took her father's work on the sidelines into her work as a teacher. "I believe in every one of my students like my Dad believed in every one of his players," she said. 

Another of Finney's daughters and one of his coaches, Linda Williams, also reminisced about how she carried over her Dad's coaching into her own life. 

"I took a lot from being a coach, and I hope to think I will be as good as a coach as he was," Williams said, adding that her father was a backer of Title IX, which was passed in 1972 and helped ignite women's sports in the U.S. "He told us that nobody can tell us what sport we could or couldn't do," she said.

Williams added that her father always said: "Never forget, never give up, and never quit."

Another sibling, Howard "Jay” Finney, remembered fondly that his father was the same at home as on the gridiron.”Dad was no different at home than on the field," he said. “I couldn't get out of the house without going through the handshake drill."

He also pointed out that if a youngster joined the Cobras he would get on the field. "Everybody had guaranteed playing time that was significant," he said.

Cobras program founder Howard Finney, seen above at center, was a role model to children of all races as well as to other coaches, friends and family said at his memorial. (COURTESY SUE LEFAVE)
Cobras program founder Howard Finney, seen above at center, was a role model to children of all races as well as to other coaches, friends and family said at his memorial. (COURTESY SUE LEFAVE)
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This approach came from Finney’s time at Harvard, as a result of his smallish stature and trying to get playing time, Jay Finney said. "He worked harder than anyone," he said.

At Harvard Finney played football, baseball and club rugby. In 1952, he became the first junior varsity player to win the university's William Paine LaCroix Memorial Award "that best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, sportsmanship, loyalty and team spirit."

Wilhelm Young, who is the current director of the Cobras and a Montclair Police Department deputy chief, talked at the memorial service while surrounded by former players and current and former coaches.

"Coach Finney will be sorely missed," Young said. "He's always had the love of young men and women."

After Finney passed away last December, Young recalled that his best traits came from his background in the Marines. 

"Marines' mantra is ‘Adapt and overcome,’" he said. "That’s how the coach was. ‘Just get it done.’  Or find a way. He had a drive for perfection. He pushed both his kids and his staff to ‘Just get it done.’ 

“Nothing was too complicated. He set his tasks, and to work he went. If you couldn’t get it done, he would do it himself. You never heard the word ‘can't’ from him, and there was nothing off the table."

Wilhelm Young, current director of the Montclair Cobras and a township deputy police chief, reminisces at the memorial service about the life and times of Cobras founder Howard Finney III. Young is surrounded by former Cobras players and coaches. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Wilhelm Young, current director of the Montclair Cobras and a township deputy police chief, reminisces at the memorial service about the life and times of Cobras founder Howard Finney III. Young is surrounded by former Cobras players and coaches. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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One of the benchmarks of Finney's success was that several of his players went on to collegiate football and even professional football careers over the years. They included New York Giants Super Bowl XLII hero David Tyree, Dwight Sean Jones and his brother, Max Jones, along with Quintus McDonald, Alvin Bowen, David Caldwell and Kyle Queiro. 

Dale Berra, one of the sons of Yankee great Yogi Berra, played for the Cobras and would go on to a decade-long stint in Major League Baseball.

Finney and the Cobras were also instrumental in the three-peat for the Montclair High School football team that won state titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

He coached his own children not only in football, but in other sports including baseball, basketball and ice hockey.

Born in Utica, New York, Finney spent his formative years in Montclair and played football for Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. 

During his time at Harvard, he volunteered for the Marine Corps and spent three summers at the base in Quantico, Virginia.

After the Marines, he came back to Montclair and became a stockbroker. 

He retired as a commodities and futures broker shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

His office was at 200 Liberty St., attached to the South Tower of the World Trade Center. But his birthday was Sept. 11, and he slept so late that he never commuted on the ferry to New York City that day.

Lily Lefave, granddaughter of Howard Finney III, reads a poem about him at the Central Presbyterian Church service on Saturday, June 4. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Lily Lefave, granddaughter of Howard Finney III, reads a poem about him at the Central Presbyterian Church service on Saturday, June 4. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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Finney is survived by his children, Linda Finney Williams of Nantucket, Massachusetts, Howard “Jay” Finney of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Nantucket, Paul Finney of Palm Springs, California, and Nantucket, Susan Finney Lefave (Steve) of Herndon, Virginia, and Douglas Finney of Montclair; his brother, John R. Finney of Montclair and Nantucket; his grandchildren, Aryn Perryman (Alani Na’a) of Adelaide, Australia, Colin Williams (Meggan) of Nantucket, Evan Finney Gerardi of Nantucket and Tyler Lefave and Lily Lefave of Herndon, Virginia; great-grandchildren Adaline Perryman-Na’a, A.J. Na’a and Gavyn, Isla, Eloise and Henry Williams; his first wife, Sheila MacDonald Finney, and extended family.

He was predeceased by his wife, Edith “Edie” Baum Finney, and his parents, Susan (Leach) and Howard Finney Jr. of Montclair.

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