Further Review: Thanks for the memories, Dad
Column by Ken Cohen
November 29, 2013 Last Saturday would have been my father's 81st birthday. Unfortunately a heart attack didn't allow him to even live to 60. With November 23 being his birthday and Thanksgiving usually right around the same time, this is always a week I reminisce about him, especially the times we shared together. I was very close with my dad and the truth is our love of sports fortified that bond. Here are some of my most vivid memories:
In January of 1969, we traveled to Madison Square Garden to watch St. Bonaventure and Bob Lanier play Purdue and Rick Mount in the finals of the Holiday Festival. While I remember Lanier scoring a lot of points (he would also figure in another memorable sports experience for me) and Mount having the most beautiful jump shot that I've ever seen to this day, it was our trip back that I will never forget. We hit a massive snowstorm heading into Middletown and my dad's little sports car couldn't get up the Wurtsboro hill. We had to turn around and spend the night in the Middletown Motel always exciting for a six-year-old!
Later that fall, my dad and brother went to Shea Stadium to watch the Mets win the World Series. I wasn't included in that trip and I recall being very upset. My father didn't forget me though somehow after the game he got on the field and brought me back a piece of turf from Shea. I kept it in a plastic bag for the longest time.
A year later in April of 1970, I woke up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom. I heard the loud yell of "Oh my God," coming from my parents’ bedroom. I ran in and there was my dad watching the Knicks playing the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Jerry West had just sank a 63-foot shot at the buzzer to win Game 3 for Los Angeles. I watched it on the replay and it's still as clear as day in my head. That first amazing sports moment you see never leaves you and West's shot was it for me.
As the mid 70s rolled around, it was all about the Big Red Machine in our house. My dad was an avid Cincinnati Reds fan (he attended college at The University of Cincinnati) and this was his time as The Reds dominated baseball from 1970-1976. In 1975, he took my brother and me to Cincinnati for the first two games of the National League Championship Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds won both games at Riverfront Stadium and went on to win the World Series that year.
But what I recall most about the trip was our plane ride there. The entire Detroit Pistons team was on our plane and when I got up to go to the bathroom, there was Bob Lanier spread across both rows, sleeping and blocking my way. I knew it was him and I was scared. I went back to get my dad and the next thing I know he's waking Lanier up. Big Bob couldn't have been nicer, apologizing for holding me up. He gave me his autograph and then walked me to the first class section to meet some of the other players and Ray Scott, the head coach.
Ironically, when we got to Cincinnati, the Pistons were staying at our hotel and when we saw Scott in the lobby, he recognized us and invited us to go to their exhibition game that night.
The Reds would make it to the World Series a year later against the Yankees. For sure, we went to Yankee Stadium for both games. It was extremely cold and the Reds swept the Yankees in four games. I wanted to see Don Gullett (my second favorite pitcher back then behind Tom Seaver), but he had already pitched in Game 1. I'm still numb from those two games so I don't remember much more.
In July of 1978, the Reds again had us hitting the road, this time back to Shea Stadium on two consecutive nights to watch Pete Rose tie and break the National League consecutive game hitting streak. You can understand now why we used to say we saw "Reds" growing up.
In 1985, I met my dad in Augusta, Georgia to watch my first Masters. We didn’t see much of each other -- he had been there for two days prior to my arrival and was completely wiped out. He spent the final two days camped out at one hole while I was all over the place taking in Augusta’s magnificence.
One year, my dad accompanied me to the New York State Amateur golf championships in Rochester. I was playing terribly and as he liked to do, he made a bet with me in the middle of the round. For every par, I made he would carry the bag the next hole. A birdie was worth three holes. I think I only carried my bag one hole on the back nine.
My last real sports memory with my dad ironically came late at night, just like the Knicks-Lakers game. Except this time I was the one yelling "Oh my God," and he was sleeping. It was 1990 in Tokyo and Buster Douglas was drilling Mike Tyson into submission. I was absolutely going crazy. My dad woke up, came in and watched the replay with me and couldn't believe it either. I actually said to him at the time, "Dad, doesn't this remind you of the Jerry West shot."
He smiled and said "you remember that?" How could I forget.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies. His column, “Further Review” appears every Friday.