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 Thailand.
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!