"I decided, if I'm going to be there, I didn't want to be no damn laborer," Steward says. "When I started, I sat in class and didn't even know what they were talking about. I was so embarrassed. I had been an honor student, but the standards at inner city schools had been so low. I had never done any algebra or geometry, and I couldn't participate in class. I used to go home and study related books till three o'clock in the morning, trying to understand. It was rough."
For three years Steward stayed away from the gym. "I didn't even miss it," he says. "I bought myself a new little brick bungalow, in a nice section of the city. I bought a German shepherd puppy. I had a new little LeMans sports coupe, burgundy and black. I had a career at Detroit Edison. In 1969 another kid [Sylvette] was on the way. The Great American Dream. I was really happy. And then fate intervened."
Steward's father, who had remarried, called from West Virginia and asked him to look after his 15-year-old son, James—Emanuel's half brother. Steward agreed. One day in the fall of 1969, James quietly asked Emanuel, "Can you take me somewhere to get some boxing lessons?" They were living on the far West Side at the time, and there happened to be a gym nearby. It was named after a former city councilman, John F. Kronk.
Soon Steward was immersed in boxing again. James won the 1970 subnovice Golden Gloves title in Detroit. Steward became a part-time coach at Kronk at $30 a week, and in 1971 seven of his kids won Golden Gloves titles. "I got so engrossed in it then," he says. "I started taking the kids on weekends to little tournaments, trying to get them more experience, running here, running there, and it got back into my system."
Steward was climbing steadily at Detroit Edison—he was a master electrician by then, a project director supervising 200 employees; he also had a new gold Cadillac and a salary of $500 a week—but the gym was becoming more demanding. Marie didn't like it. "We had a regular check coming in, with overtime," she says. But Steward took $5,000 from their savings and invested it in a cosmetics distributorship. Then, on March 3, 1972, he resigned from Detroit Edison and started to devote all his attention to his amateur program at the Kronk.
"I decided to see how far I could go in this," he says. "My dream was to take an amateur team and make it nationally famous. The deep dream of everybody is always to have a world champion, but I never really had any specific plans for professional boxing."
Elbert Steele Sr., Steward's 68-year-old father-in-law, recalls when the two used to fish for crappies and bass from the banks of the Detroit River. Emanuel would let Steele off by the bank and then drive a block or two to park the car.
"By the time he got to the river, I'd have caught three or four fish," Steele says. "This went on a few days. One day I said to him, 'Man, Sonny, you're so slow. What are you gonna do when you're my age?' He said, 'When I get to be your age, I hope I don't have to do nothin'.' His ambition was to be rich. He knew he couldn't get there working for someone else. If he'd just wanted to make a living, he could have stayed at Detroit Edison. He'd have been making $1,000 a week by now. He'll make more out of this fight than he could have working a hundred years."
"It's just something that happened," says Marie. "It wasn't like, 'I'm gonna get in there and build these fighters up and, wow! we're gonna be rich one day.' He loved boxing, and I think that's why it happened."
Whatever, if a very violent fear of failure possessed Steward, it didn't govern him. Detroit Edison meant success, security, and he left it to court what he feared most. It wasn't an easy time. The cosmetics distributorship failed, so he did electrical work and sold health insurance on the side. The gym work paid him $1,500 a year, and he used what other money he could scratch together to support his family and finance the weekend excursions of the Kronk Boxing Team.