"I wanted to be the smallest guy ever to play in the NBA," Vieira says. But he never got the chance, and by the time he was able to play again, a few months later, the opportunity had passed. "That injury was devastating to me," he says.
After his NBA dream died, Vieira married, taught high school phys ed and played ball in the semipro leagues. "It was sort of a Have Sneaks, Will Travel existence," he says. Porky Vieira, the scoring machine, became so popular with fans that he formed his own team, Vieira's All-Stars. "At that time I felt I was the greatest offensive player in the world," he says. "I never was awed as a player. I was 5'6", but I would take on anybody."
One night while playing in the Catskills, Vieira went face-to-waist with Wilt Chamberlain, then a 7-foot about-to-be freshman at Kansas. Porky outscored the Stilt 37 to 33, at one point delighting the crowd at Wilt's expense. "Wilt grabbed a rebound and when he came down with it I crawled through his legs and stole the ball for a layup," Vieira says. "The crowd believed it was part of some act, but I thought Wilt was going to kill me."
In 1961 he got a call from Don Ormrod, the new athletic director at the University of New Haven, who was looking for an assistant basketball coach and head baseball coach. Vieira hung up the phone and his sneaks in the same instant.
He also hung up Porky and became Frank. "People in Bridgeport went crazy," Vieira recalls. "One guy said, 'That's like Babe Ruth calling himself George.' "
Nonetheless, Frank Vieira was to become a legend as a coach at New Haven. Not as the basketball coach, however. He was no baseball novice, having played well enough in high school to attract a $1,000 bonus offer to sign with the New York Giants as an outfielder. (He turned it down because he saw too many guys he knew, all better than he was, bombing out in the minors.)
Over the years, Vieira has relied on a combination of his father's work ethic, the promotional skills of Tuffie Maroon and the velvet disciplinary touch of a George Patton. "I am their leader; my kids don't want me to be their friend," he says. "If they know they're going to have this wacko on their wagons for four years, they've got to be tough."
"In 1977, we beat New Haven 6-2 and were scheduled to play them again three days later," says University of Hartford coach Dan Gooley, Vieira's lifelong friend. "The day before the second game, UNH practiced in freezing cold weather, and Frank saw a pitcher blowing on his hands. Frank stopped practice, took off his jacket, his sweatshirt and his shirt and hit fungoes bare-chested for two hours. The next day they beat us 16-2."
Behind the leadership there is also the threat of expulsion. Anybody who mouths off to an opponent, to an umpire or, god forbid, to Vieira, can clean out his locker. No appeals.
Between games of a 1964 doubleheader, outfielder Joe Lahoud discovered he would not be starting the nightcap and threw his glove against the dugout wall. Lahoud went on to play 11 years in the majors, but he was through at UNH.