My father gave me just two pieces of advice when I was growing up. I got the first when I was about 11 and he found a Playboy in my room.
He looked at me with an amused smile and told me to stick to Sports Illustrated for a couple of more years.
I think even he knew that one was gonna go in one ear and out the other.
The other thing he told me a few years later, which I did take to heart, was to find a job that I really loved.
He didn’t do that. My old man spent his entire life working at jobs he hated.
When I was a kid growing up in Wilkes-Barre, he worked in a coal breaker, which is exactly what it sounds like. He broke up anthracite coal that came out of the Northeastern Pennsylvania mines for processing.
Later on, he spent more than 30 years working the night shift in a factory that made metal shelving. The hot liquid metals he handled every day used to eat through his clothing and burn his skin and caused God knows what kind of damage to his organs.
When he retired, the company gave him a $25 watch. He died two years after that at the too-young age of 67, without ever taking it out of the box.
The sin was my father was an incredibly talented man. He just lacked ambition. He was a master with a hammer and saw. Remodeled our house singlehandedly after Hurricane Agnes wreaked havoc on the Wyoming Valley back in 1972. (My lone contribution to that rebuilding effort was keeping him supplied with beer.) Yet he never considered becoming a carpenter or builder or handyman.
He was an incredible cook. I mean Graham Kerr-good. But he never tried doing anything with that talent either.
I saw my dad shed tears just three times. The first was when he saw the devastation the flooding from Agnes had done to our home. The second was when my mother died in 1984.
The third was in 1986, when my alma mater, Wilkes College (now University) gave me its Distinguished Young Alumnus award.
Hey, what can I tell you? Must’ve been a slow year for distinguished young alumnus candidates.
Anyway, when I got that award, besides being proud of me, I think it hit home to my dad that I had followed his advice and was doing something that I loved.
That’s been the case for just about every day of the 45 years I’ve spent in this business, including the last 39 at the Daily News and Inquirer. To borrow Lou Gehrig’s famous line, I feel like the luckiest guy on the face of the earth.
I’ve covered 36 Super Bowls.
I’ve chronicled the adventures — and misadventures — of eight Eagles head coaches and three ownership regimes.
I covered the USFL-NFL antitrust trial in 1986, which the USFL won, only to get $1 in damages because the jury hated Donald Trump’s guts.
I was at Franklin Field in ‘84 for a USFL playoff game between the Stars and Trump’s New Jersey Generals and watched the Stars’ 5-foot-9 linebacker, Sam Mills, stone Herschel Walker at the goal line on three straight run plays. Mills, who has been a Hall of Fame finalist the last two years, was the best defensive player to come out of the spring league, and that includes Reggie White.
I was in Charlotte 20 years later to interview Sam, then an assistant coach for the Carolina Panthers, as he battled intestinal cancer that he knew was going to kill him.
He died six months later, but his positive outlook that day floored me. “I feel so blessed to have been able to do what I’ve done and to have come as far as I’ve come,” he said.
I’ve had the good fortune to get to know players, coaches, agents ,and executives like Mills, John Bunting, Reggie White, Mike Quick, Seth Joyner, Ron Jaworski, Harold Carmichael, Randall Cunningham, John Spagnola, Brian Baldinger, Ken Dunek, Zach Ertz, Asante Samuel, Stan Walters, Jason Kelce, Andy Reid, Jim Mora, John Harbaugh, Leo Carlin, Jim Solano, Leigh Steinberg, Jim Johnson, Sean McDermott, Carl Peterson, Tom Modrak, George Young, Mike Mayock, Gene Upshaw, and so many more.
I helped Leo, who has been valiantly battling Parkinson’s for the last 13 years, write his memoir, A Bird’s-Eye View, which was finally published last September, more than a decade after we started the project.
I was at Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville.
Lightning in a bottle
I was at Super Bowl LII in frigid Minneapolis 3½ years ago, when Nick Foles and the Eagles caught lightning in a bottle and beat the Patriots. Nick’s 158.1 third-down passer rating in the Eagles’ three postseason wins will go down as one of the most impressive statistics in playoff history.
As I was coming out of the Eagles’ locker room after the game, I passed Howie Roseman. He looked at me and said, “You can’t rip me anymore. We won the Super Bowl.” He has since found out that even Super Bowl victories have a statute of limitations.
I was there in January of ‘99 when Jeffrey Lurie hired Andy Reid over Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
I was there for the Buddy Ryan era, which featured a lot of excitement and controversy, but no playoff wins in five years.
I was there for Terrell Owens’ driveway sit-ups in August of ‘05..
I was in Dallas in February 2011, when, as one of the 48 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we voted 94-year-old NFL Films founder Ed Sabol into Canton. The thank you letter I received from his son Steve hangs proudly on the wall of my office. Steve, who died in 2012, joined his father in Canton this past April.
I was in Canton early last month, when Harold Carmichael, as fine a man as he was a wide receiver, was inducted into the Hall of Fame. And I will be there next summer when Dick Vermeil is expected to go in.
I’m going to miss covering the Eagles with my pal Les Bowen. Les also took the buyout, leaving in June. We’ve been on the beat together for the last 19 years. That’s a lot of press boxes and hotels and plane rides and rental cars and dinners and alcohol and complaining about the state of business.
Who’s the boss?
I’ve been blessed to have worked for some terrific bosses during my career. Ted Battles, who died last month at the age of 98, hired me sight unseen at the Midland (Texas) Reporter-Telegram in 1976 and gave me a chance to write sports after 150 papers on the East Coast sent me rejection letters. I hardly noticed that I was making just $140 a week and living in the middle of nowhere.
Elliott Harris brought me to Fort Worth in 1978 when homesickness was starting to get the best of me in Midland.
My first sports editor at the Daily News, Mike Rathet, was an old-school boss who liked to scream and holler and threaten to fire you every couple of days.
On more than one occasion, I fantasized about running him over with my car. But the man knew how to get the best out of you.
Josh Barnett, who now runs the sports operation for the Buffalo News, was a good friend and joy to work for. He never seemed to mind listening to me complain, which was quite often.
Pat McLoone, another good friend, was one of the best people I’ve ever worked for. His people skills were unmatched. He knew when you were overworked. He knew when you were dealing with personal problems. He knew when underpaid football writers working 75-hour weeks who hadn’t had a day off in two months needed an atta boy.
The job he did getting the Daily News and Inquirer sports staffs to work together so well after we merged was, in my opinion, the journalistic equivalent of turning water into wine. I will always treasure the years I spent working for him.
And even though he inherited me post-merger, Gary Potosky has been easy to work for and has trusted my judgment as if I had worked for him for 20 years.
The Daily News was a writer’s paper, and I was lucky to have worked with some of the very best in the business over the years: Stan Hochman, Ray Didinger, Mark Whicker, Phil Jasner, Bill Conlin, Rich Hofmann, Mark Kram, John Schulian, Jay Greenberg, Paul Hagen, Dana O’Neil, Marcus Hayes, Dick Jerardi, Bernard Fernandez, Les, and so many more. And that’s just sports. It just was a great, great place to work.
I am eternally grateful to the talented copy editors I’ve worked with over the years, including Jim DeStefano and Doug Darroch and Deb Woodell, who saved me many times when I got something wrong in a story or buried the lead. When Jim retired a few years back, I asked him to sign the last Eagles’ scouting report of mine that he edited. That’s on my wall as well, right next to the thank you note from Steve Sabol.
I turned 67 in June.
I became a grandpa for the first time last month, and the kid’s probably going to need some help with his jumper.
It’s been 28 years since my dad died, but I’ve been thinking about him a lot the last few weeks.
I’m sure he’s happy to know that I never stopped following his advice. I’m sure he’s happy I found something I loved and kept doing it, hopefully pretty well, for the last 45 years. I’m happy about that too.