For 31 years I had the best seat in the house, and now, one by
one, the memories of a professional lifetime are being packed
away, to be shipped home and hung on walls.
The visor Jack Nicklaus wore when he shot 65 in the final round
to win the 1967 U.S. Open. "This is the 65 hat," Jack scribbled
on the bill. "Thanks for it." Nicklaus was so superstitious that
after he played well wearing a visor I had bought him for the
first round of the Open--I was his collaborator on instructional
material at the time--he insisted I buy him a visor each day of
the tournament. I did, of course, even though it meant getting
up before dawn the day Jack had a very early tee time.
The Victoriaville stick Bobby Orr used on a Saturday afternoon
in March 1970, when he became the first NHL defenseman to
score 30 goals in a season. That stick had hung on the playroom
wall at home until my namesake son took it down and played
street hockey with it.
Programs from the last NBA and NHL games played in Boston
Garden, my real home as a kid, and from Les Canadiens' grand
finale in the Montreal Forum. No way I'd miss the chance to see
Bill Russell (sports' greatest winner) and Jean Beliveau (the
classiest athlete ever) in the spotlight one more time.
Pictures of a jittery me driving a pace car around the track at
Indy at 120 mph, with Rick Mears riding shotgun and urging me to
step on it. Mears took the wheel and did a lap at 140, dodging a
track sweeper with a mere flick of his wrist. "You did bring a
change of underwear, didn't you?" he cracked. Pictures with
Clint Eastwood playing golf at Pebble Beach. Pictures with
various swimsuit models on desolate beaches in Mexico and
And the ticket stubs....
Russia-USA, 1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid (Section 21, Row
M, Seat 6, $67.20). The day Mike Eruzione became a household
name: USA 4, USSR 3. Years later Eruzione, who scored the
winning goal in that historic hockey game, stayed at our house
and left his gold medal ring on the sink. My son Tom thought it
would be cool to flash the ring around school, but his sisters,
Kelly and Krissie, vehemently vetoed the idea.
Hearns-Leonard, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, 1981 (Section II,
Aisle 204, Row II, Seat 81, $500). Sensational fight. Sadly,
though, it was the last time I saw Tony Conigliaro. He had been
the rookie slugging star for the '64 Red Sox, I had been the
rookie writer; we had become friends. Tony C had been the most
luckless of athletes, his career essentially ended by a beanball
in '67. After Leonard's victory Tony and I talked for half an
hour. He was very upbeat, optimistic that the Red Sox would hire
him as a broadcaster. He went to Boston four months later for an
interview, and while there he suffered a massive heart attack
that left him in a coma for four months. On Feb. 24, 1990, Tony
C died at the age of 45.
Winter Olympics, 1984, the Zetra, Sarajevo (Ulaz e, Row 1, Seat
18, din. 6.500). Ken Dryden, the Hall of Fame goalie for the
Canadiens, and I were sharing a ride to a hockey game when the
young taxi driver asked if he could play some music. We nodded,
and he popped a cassette into the tape player. Suddenly the car
was alive with music, a brisk Yugoslavian polka, festive and
loud. "Great tape," we said. "Can we buy it from you?" He shook
his head. "No, my friends, it's not to be sold. Here take it,
it's yours...in the name of friendship." Today Sarajevo--a
glorious Olympic site--lies in rubble, and one can only pray the
cabdriver is alive.
Red Sox-Mets, 1986 World Series, Game 6, Shea Stadium (Diamond
View Suite, Box 14, Seat 3, $40). For all members of the
Blohards, the Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient
Red Sox Diehard Sufferers, this was the worst. One out--one
out!--from winning their first World Series since before my
father came over from Ireland in 1921, and pffft!
Angels-Orioles, Camden Yards, 1995 (Sec. 320, Row CC, Seat 9,
$14). This was Cal Ripken Jr.'s record 2,131st straight game. At
the last minute I was invited into a luxury box, and who was in
the adjoining box but President Clinton. Earlier that summer
SI's Rick Reilly and I had played golf with the President at
Congressional, where Reilly, no doubt fearful of an IRS audit,
tanked his round and lost to the President by four or five
shots. Now there was a tap on the window, and there was the
President mimicking a golf swing and then writing the numbers 8
and 3 in midair. "What's he doing?" someone asked. "Oh, he's
telling us he shot an 83 somewhere," I said. Moments later I was
invited to join the President. "What about this 83?" I asked.
"Played six holes at Pebble Beach three times last weekend, and
my score was 83," he said. I shook my head. "I hate to tell you
this, Mr. President, and I hope it won't cost me an
ambassadorship to Ireland, but that 83 wasn't a regulation
round." The President's reaction was silence, but if looks could
So many memories. How lucky I was to see so many great
performers, so many great events. Sad thing is, I can't take the
best seat in the house home, to Trish, with me.