Howard Finney III of Montclair, founder of the Montclair Cobras youth football program and longtime coach in township youth sports programs, died on Dec. 30, 2021, after a short illness. He was 91.
Mr. Finney was born in 1930 in Utica, New York. He attended Montclair public schools and then Phillips Academy Andover in Andover, Massachusetts, graduating in 1949. While attending Andover he excelled at baseball, basketball and football despite a significant hearing loss.
His 1948 varsity football team was inducted into the Hall of Honor at Andover in 2019, having outscored its opponents that season 207-41 and going undefeated.
Mr. Finney then attended Harvard University, graduating in 1953. He played multiple sports while at Harvard, as a pitcher on the varsity baseball team and playing JV and varsity football, among others. He also played club rugby.
He was honored with the William Paine LaCroix Memorial Award at the annual football team dinner in December 1952. He was the first JV player to win the award, “given annually to the varsity or jayvee player that best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, sportsmanship, loyalty, and team spirit.” These characteristics were to serve him well in the future as a multisport youth coach.
After his freshman year he signed up for the Marine Corps during the Korean conflict, spending the next three summers at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia in preparation for attending Officers Training School after graduation in 1953. He would spend the next few years stationed primarily at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point at Cherry Point, North Carolina.
Mr. Finney was honorably discharged after the Korean conflict as a first lieutenant and moved back to Montclair with his first wife, Sheila MacDonald Finney, and young daughter Linda. That marriage ended in divorce. He married his second wife, Edie, in 1963, and they remained married until her death in 2018.
He entered the business world in New York City as a stockbroker at Eastman Dillon and then at Hayden, Stone and Co. He stayed with that company through several changes of ownership, through the final one as Shearson/American Express.
He retired as a commodities and futures broker at REFCO shortly after 9/11, when his office was at 200 Liberty St., which was attached to the South Tower.
His birthday was Sept. 11, and he slept late and never commuted on the ferry from Hoboken to the city that day.
Mr. Finney was a long-time Nantucket summer resident, spending summers there since he was a baby. He was a member of the Montclair Golf Club, Sankaty Head Golf Club and Cliffside Beach Club. He enjoyed over 85 summers at the family home on Nantucket with extended family and friends.
His real love was football, fostered from a time when he was a very young boy playing on a Pop Warner team coached by his father, Howard Finney Jr. When his first-born son, Jay, reached the same age, Mr. Finney found that there was no youth/junior football program in Montclair.
In 1969 the Montclair Cobra organization was born to fill that void. Some 52 years later, the Montclair Cobras program is still thriving under Wil Young, who took over from “King Cobra” Howard when he “retired.”
Thousands of boys and girls have participated in the program over the years, including Mr. Finney’s youngest daughter, Susie. Several players played for Division I college programs, and others proceeded to the NFL and CFL, a few earning Super Bowl rings, including Sean Jones of the Green Bay Packers and David Tyree (“helmet catch”) of the New York Giants.
Mr. Finney was honored with a proclamation in 1992 by the Township Council for his dedication to the youth of Montclair and devoting “so much time from a busy schedule to foster the love of football in Montclair youngsters by providing them with a positive role model and a useful way of spending extracurricular hours.”
He also received the Mercier Club Sportsman of the Year award from the Mercier Club of Northern New Jersey for his dedication to youth sports and community involvement. He was among an elite group; previous awardees included Yogi Berra, Frank Tripucka (Notre Dame/NFL fame), N.Y. Giants GM George Young, and N.Y. Giants players Ottis Anderson, Michael Strahan and Carl Banks, among many other college and professional sportsmen.
In 2016, when Mr. Finney officially retired, though continuing to attend every home game, the Township Council honored him by renaming the northern section of Edgemont Park, known as the Meadow Field, the “Howard Finney III Field.”
During the first decades of the Cobras program the teams practiced on that section of the park, across the street from the Finneys’ house on the Parkway, every inch of which became “Cobra Central” for six months of the year. The garage and basement had the Montclair navy-blue spray-painted outlines of dozens of helmets for 40 years.
Mr. Finney provided experiences that many of the early players had never had, such as trips to Nebraska, Florida and Disney World. Many had never been on a plane before. His positive impact on the youth of Montclair cannot be understated, and he will be remembered by the community for decades to come.
He is survived by his children, Linda Finney Williams of Nantucket, Howard “Jay” Finney (Jacqui) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Paul Finney of Palm Springs, California, 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, Howard “Quint” Finney V of Burlington, Vermont, Fernando Villa and Noelle Villa of Cambridge, Tyler Lefave and Lily Lefave of Herndon; six great-grandchildren and extended family.
Mr. Finney was predeceased by his beloved wife, Edith “Edie” Baum Finney, and his parents, Susan (Leach) and Howard Finney Jr. of Montclair.
A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, June 4, with the location to be determined, followed by a reception. A private interment will be held at the family plot in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Montclair. A celebration of Mr. Finney’s life for family and friends will be held on Nantucket in July at the family summer home.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his name may be made to the Montclair Cobras Junior Program, 43 Virginia Ave., Montclair, NJ 07042, at montclaircobras.com or to the cash app $MtcCobras69. Donations are tax-deductible.