"I lived at 519 Jefferson and Jimmy lived at 521," Muraca recalled. "We played sports from the morning into the night. We played on the street corner. We were best friends since we were babies. He was really like a brother to me."
The two buddies went through elementary school together and into Demarest High School, where they became teammates on all the Demarest athletic teams, especially football. Muraca was the quarterback, with Lisa as the star halfback.
"Actually, at first, we shared the same position," Muraca said. "I was a halfback and he was the other. I could always throw the ball, so when I was a senior, I became the quarterback. Those were the best days of my life." Muraca and Lisa were inducted into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame a week ago Thursday, along with 15 other legends from the world of Hudson County sports.
Besides Muraca and Lisa, who died in 1995, Hoboken was represented by basketball star Jimmy Foster, who went on from Hoboken to play at the University of Connecticut and later the American Basketball Association.
Muraca and Lisa both earned All-County honors together as seniors, playing on the same Demarest team with immortals like John McMullen and George Maguire. Muraca and Lisa were the co-captains of the Demarest football team.
In 1950, although he was only 5-foot-6 and weighed 155 pounds, Lisa scored 14 touchdowns and became the first Demarest player to ever win the New Jersey state scoring title. The Red Wings went 8-1, not surrendering a single point that season until they lost to Memorial in West New York on Thanksgiving Day.
Muraca was the fearless signal caller on that team. The two were inseparable.
Two weeks ago, Muraca was moved to tears when the time came for him to receive his Hall of Fame induction.
"I really don't know what to say," said Muraca, who went on to play semi-pro football for the West New York Alumni team for nine years and was the father of the Hoboken Pop Warner football program in the late 1950s. In Pop Warner, he gave people like legendary former Hoboken High School football coach Ed Stinson their first chance at playing organized football.
"I have so many family and friends here," Muraca said. "This means more to me than anything else. When I heard I was going in with Jimmy, I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. It's an honor to go in with him. He was my best friend. He was everything to me."
Lisa's wife, Claire, accepted the award on her late husband's behalf. She was joined on the podium by her brother-in-law, John.
Another Lisa brother, Bobby, was inducted into the Hall of Fame two years ago and he was present for the ceremonies, along with several family members.
"Jim would have been very proud to be here tonight and somehow, I know he's here," Claire Lisa said. "He would be happy to see all his family members and friends here, including his friend and brother in spirit, Jack Muraca. He's smiling tonight to know he's here with Jack. He would be most proud to join his brother Bobby in the Hall of Fame. He never spoke much of his accomplishments. I had to learn about them from his friends and family. He would be glad to see his family tradition carried on, because his grandson, Ryan, is wearing his No. 37."
Foster, a basketball great
Foster, who is widely regarded as the best basketball player to ever come out of the Mile Square City, having spent three years of professional basketball in the United States, then another seven years in Europe, spoke about being a basketball player in a town where football reigns supreme.
"I grew up at 421 Monroe Street, two houses down from Frank Sinatra," Foster said. "Hoboken is a football community and was never known for basketball. I learned to play football and that taught me to be tough. But basketball became my better sport."
After Foster had a great career at Hoboken from 1967 through 1970, earning All-County and All-State honors his senior year, he didn't have a college interested in him.
"Someone asked me if I was going to college, and I said, 'No,' because I couldn't afford college and no one offered me a scholarship," Foster said. "So he told me to go upstairs, put a suit on, and he was going to get me into college. He drove me to Becker Junior College himself. That man was John Wendelken."
Wendelken, one of the best basketball players to ever come out of Hoboken as well, who became a star at Holy Cross, personally took Foster to the junior college in Worcester, Mass. There, Foster became a JUCO All-American. Foster would eventually head to the University of Connecticut.
"I'm proud to be from Hoboken," Foster said. "I'm fortunate and lucky to have come from Hoboken."
Muraca summed up the evening the best when he said, "You never have any better friends in the world than sports friends, the guys you meet while playing sports. I'm so fortunate to have so many friends in sports."