49ers' 4x Super Bowl Champion Keena Turner Graduates from Purdue After 41 Years

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMay 23, 2021

PONTIAC, MI - JANUARY 24: Linebacker Keena Turner #58 of the San Francisco 49ers  raise his hand in the air celebrating the 49ers win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI at the Silver Dome on January 24, 1982  in Pontiac, Michigan. The Niners won the Super Bowl 26 -21. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Keena Turner graduated from Purdue on May 15 with a degree in organizational leadership 41 years after he left the school as a second-round pick in the 1980 NFL draft.

ESPN's Nick Wagoner reported Sunday that Turner, now 62, and his daughter, Ella, graduated together earlier this month. The commencement ceremony took place inside Ross-Ade Stadium, where the standout defender starred for the Boilermakers more than four decades earlier:

"Here's the stadium I played in, and it had all those kind of emotions and memories. Over this last year, we weren't sure if there would be a physical graduation, so there was all of this uncertainty about how it would happen, and so for Purdue to have a physical graduation and have all the graduates in the stadium and getting the opportunity to be acknowledged by family and friends in this way, it was great.

"I actually sat with Ella in the stands. I went in with Ella, and when my school was called, I stood up and got acknowledged with my school, but I was there the whole time with her. That was really cool."

Turner needed two classes' worth of credits to graduate, one in science and one in upper management, but he had to juggle the workload with his everyday job of being the Niners' vice president and senior advisor to general manager John Lynch.

The four-time Super Bowl champion and 1984 Pro Bowl selection told Wagoner finding out he could graduate with his daughter is what provided the motivation to finish the degree.

"Once I heard that possibility, I was like, 'I'm all-in,'" he said.

Turner earned an A grade in supply chain management and a B for physical geography to complete his course load, but he became wary about stealing his daughter's spotlight as graduation moved closer.

"I didn't even look at it that way," Ella told ESPN. "He's my dad; I would never think he's trying to take my shine. But he always emphasized and wanted to make sure I was comfortable with everything. That meant a lot to me."

So there was the Chicago native back inside the stadium where his football performance earned him a place in the Purdue athletic Hall of Fame to receive a different kind of accolade.

"The emotion of being proud of her and seeing her make this accomplishment back at my school, back at Purdue, that would have been more than enough," Turner told Wagoner. "But then the icing of me being there and being part of it in that way and that accomplishment, it doesn't get much better than that."

Turner, who played all 11 of his NFL seasons with the 49ers, retired from on-field competition after the 1990 season. He stuck with the franchise in the player and community relations department in 1991, and he later became part of the front office in 1998 and worked his way up the ranks into a key executive role.