Frank Gifford was a part of my childhood.
I never met the National Football League legend, but he became a weekly visitor to my house in the 1970s. His 1964 football card has been in my collection for about 40 years.
While I laughed at Howard Cosell and Don Meredith on Monday Night Football, I listened to Frank. He was the steady voice of reason each week for many years as my love for the sport grew.
Watching all of the news reports remembering him as word of his passing spread over the weekend, it brought back many memories. He is someone I wish I had met. Not everyone is lucky enough to meet a hero or someone that is an icon that many feel is a part of their lives. Radio and television broadcasters are really like that for sports fans.
Back in 1999, I was fortunate that I was able to meet one of my “family” members.
The newspaper where I worked as a sports writer was doing a project on the greatest Cincinnati Reds of the 20th century. I called the Reds and asked to set up an interview, but was told just go down to the field during batting practice and talk to him that he was always available.
He was Joe Nuxhall.
So when that day came, I walked right up to him, introduced myself and asked for an interview. I was so scared. I was like a 12-year old, but I quickly regained my composure and was ready.
He answered the questions about both players and it was a great interview. Of course, he wouldn’t say who was better. Couldn’t really ask that because the readers were going to determine that anyway, but I was pleased with the few minutes I had with him.
Amazingly, it wasn’t over once I put the tape recorder down. A very short chat turned into about 25 minutes as we had a discussion out the old ball park where my high school played.
Nuxhall had played there when he was in the minor leagues and told me stories. Some I had heard before and thought people just made that stuff up, but it turned out they may have been true. Just listening to him for that time is one of the best memories I was lucky to experience as a sports writer.
My guess is that many of my sports writing colleagues would have similar stories about their time with Gifford.
As I think about being jealous about not having that opportunity, I remember that another very gracious man once allowed me to experience something I’ll never forget.
Fortunately, some heroes are really like that.