Bill's Sports Binge: Bye, Tom

I met Tom once about 15 years ago at a press conference for a boxing match. I have no idea exactly when or where, who the two fighters butchering the English language to convey the details of how they were going to render the other brain-dead were, or even why the hell I was there. I do remember looking over and seeing the man I never knew this city to be without, sitting on a folding chair wearing a black leather jacket and thinking to myself, "He looks like a gray-haired Fonzie."


To someone who'd never actually heard him speak, he looked as if he were going to mumble something about a 3 p.m. dinner at The Colonnade and excuse himself to go to the bathroom...again. When I shook his hand, he immediately displayed the sharp wit of Howard Cosell, the charisma and likability of Don Meredith and the genuine kindness of Lee Roy Selmon. I was already a fan of his columns. From that day on I was a fan of the man.

A man, I'm afraid, who represents a dying breed. A man who knew everybody, had the power and influence to do whatever he wanted and was at the top of his game; and you never saw him in shackles, a domestic dispute or at a podium apologizing for something. In a world where we've been smothered by a penis panoramic of Weiner's wiener, Schwarzenegger's shlong, Brett's boner and Tiger's wood, a jaded society searches in futility to explain away the behavior.
"Hey, everybody does it."
Well, no. Not everybody.
The sports page fills to the brim with players shooting themselves in the leg, shooting into the night with their mamma's gun, clubbing until tased then clubbing some chick's face.
"Hey, it's a rough sport. You can't win with choir boys."
I'm sorry, ever see Lee Roy Selmon break a triple-team to sack the quarterback? I don't remember McEwen writing about the risk the Bucs were taking with such a ferocious player because of possible off-the-field character issues.
Seriously, can you imagine Selmon punching out a stripper in a million years? We barely blink when it happens today. I know I'm flying off the track here, so bear with me.

Don't get me wrong, folks. These are truly exceptional people. We just need to stop treating them like the exception. We need to stop listening to morons as prophets because they decided to be good little boys after getting out of prison and start listening to the real men who avoided it altogether. We need to knock off the cynicism after reading about another dick-pic or love child and prop up the guy who married one woman and lived a fullfilling productive and inspiring life and died a very old man. Sure, it's boring as whale shit and would never make it into one of my columns but...wait, it just did.
Rest in peace, Tom. There'll never be another like you. But as you once said, "Let's try it anyway. Let's try to get it done."

Quicker Hits: The MLB Draft began this week (I'd try and break down all the kids the Rays picked but honestly I'm terrified I might dislocate my jaw yawning); ex-wide receiver/con Plaxico Burress was released from prison Monday and predictably wants his old job back in the NFL ("If that mutha-f***a comes near me, I will bust his rehabilitated ass!" said Burress' leg); finally, the NFL is considering shortening the season to as low as eight games should the lockout linger. This just in: Glazers consider doubling ticket/beer prices. Okay, I made that last part up (maybe).

I've always said, show me somebody born and raised in Tampa and I'll show you a tree. There are, of course, a few notable and honorable exceptions. By now, anyone who's ever known or cared about anything involving local sports knows about the passing of former Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen. People from local politicians to Hall of Fame legends kindly shared personal experiences with the man, writer, ambassador, WWII vet and Gator grad who had a bigger influence on the growth of Tampa Bay than I-75. Like the passing of George Steinbrenner almost a year ago, it's difficult to write about an icon without repeating what's been covered at length, but here goes.

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