MEDFORD, Ore. —One of the oldest living NFL players turned 100 Thursday, right here in the Rogue Valley.
Ken Casanega was the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers back in 1946.
Thursday, several generations of his family were here to honor and celebrate with him, even if it was done a little differently, due to the pandemic.
“It’s just rare that you see someone these days with that kind of history,” says Chris Casaneda, Ken’s grandson.
On Thursday, 4 generations of the Casanega family gathered to celebrate patriarch Casanega’s 100th birthday.
Originally from the Bay Area, Casanega earned a spot in the Santa Clara University Hall of Fame on the football field.
In 1942, after a successful college career, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Instead, Casanega chose to serve his country.
During world war 2 he was a Navy Pilot.
“I said dad you could have played quarterback for the steelers right after college why didn’t you do it, and he said ah I don’t know,” says Len Casaneda, Ken’s son.
After 4 years of service, he got a telegram from his college coach, who had since become the coach of the 49ers.
Len Casanega, Ken’s oldest son, says at the end of his dad’s rookie season, he was second in the league in interceptions.
“Would you like to play for the San Francisco 49ers and dad said who the heck are the 49ers because it was a brand new team,” says Len Casaneda.
The family says he’s one of the oldest NFL players today, and the oldest 49er.
The team even honored Casanega Thursday, through social media.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have him has a father,” says Len Casaneda.
But serving his country and playing in the NFL is only part of Casanega’s story.
He went into education, becoming a Principal and Superintendent in Hollister, California, near Monterey.
“Personally he’s just the most wonderful person I think most of us have ever met and to just be around him, his charisma, he just makes everyone happy and lights up the room when he’s in it,” says Chris Casaneda.
His 100th birthday celebration may not have been exactly what the family envisioned.
Due to COVID-19, Casanega was inside his assisted living facility in Medford.
But it didn’t matter, the family was still able to honor their patriarch on his historic birthday.
It’s just amazing he’s just humble, he doesn’t talk about stuff he did so we are still learning about new stuff today,” says Len Casaneda.
Ken Casanega and his wife Helen have been married for 78 years.
Helen celebrated her 99th birthday, just two weeks ago.
The family says the two still hold hands in bed every night and share a kiss goodnight.
NBC5 News Reporter Jenna King is a Burbank native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at the U of O, she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through interning with the PAC 12 Network.
When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors, or binging on the latest Netflix release.