On this President's Day, I thought I'd share my closest run-in, almost literally, with a U.S. President.
I'll set the scene - New York City, mid-nineties at the intersection of 50th Street and Park Avenue. I was walking southbound along the western sidewalk of Park Avenue, hustling to get to the train on a summer Friday.
In my rush, I scurried across 50th Street, against the light, beating the traffic heading west on 50th.
As I crossed the intersection - I ran quickly (and closely), in front of an older gentleman who was casually walking along the south side of 50th Street. The man was not happy, and glared at me. We definitely made eye contact. I had come too close. I had most definitely invaded his personal space.
I quickly said, "I'm so sorry," but then the story took a strange turn.
"Man, he looks familiar," I thought, as I turned around and saw another gentleman following him with an earpiece in his ear.
"Wait a minute... that's Gerald Ford!" I turned around and scooted back to double-check, and sure enough, it was President Ford.
And that's how I got a "Presidential Dirty Look."
You can catch me filling in on NESN, hosting NESN After Hours at 10pm (or following Bruins coverage) and NESN Sports Update from 5-9am the next morning.
It's been great to meet a group of new people face-to-face. Because of a partnership between Boston 25 and NESN, I was very familiar with many of the people at NESN and we've partnered many times in our coverage of big events, including Patriots games and championship parades.
I'm grateful to Mike Coppola at NESN for reaching out and asking me to help. As always, you can follow along on Twitter and Instagram @TomLeyden and on Facebook @TomLeydenBoston.
It was a wild first interaction - out of a dream, really. Fresh out of college at 21 years-old, I was working at the NFL and making my first trip to attend a Super Bowl. The story could end there for me, but it got so much better.
The first book I ever read was "Super Bowl," by John Devaney. It was written in 1971 and chronicled the first five Super Bowls. Of course, each of those five games was legendary in its own right, but none quite as impactful as Super Bowl III, when the Jets beat the Colts.
On that day in 1969, Colts running back Tom Matte set a record that still stands 53 seasons later. No running back has ever averaged more yards per carry in a single Super Bowl game - he rushed 11 times for 116 yards, a 10.5 average per carry. Had the Colts won the game, it's probable Matte would have been named MVP. Instead, Broadway Joe and the Jets pulled of the all-time upset that changed professional football.
During my trip to Miami for Super Bowl XXIX, Matte was a special guest of the NFL's publishing department. He joined us at dinner Friday night and lit up the room with his stories and his presence. We sat together at the same table and I told him he was a central character in my first book report.
"Really?" he asked. "Why?"
I explained my first book report was focused on the Jets/Colts Super Bowl and because he played so well that day, he was prominent in my summary.
Because I'm always a little extra, I hit him with a doozy.
"I actually have a copy of it in my pocket," I said.
Matte's jaw hit the floor. He couldn't believe it. Neither could I three days earlier when my Mom had faxed a copy of the book report from 1979 to me. After hearing I was meeting Matte in Miami, Mom dug through the archives and found my handwritten, cursive recap of Super Bowl III.
Matte said, "Gimme that thing," as he snagged it from my hands. Moments later, as he addressed our dinner party of more than 75 people, he told the backstory and read my book report out loud:
"Colts star running back Tom Matte was nearly unstoppable that day, but victory wasn't in the cards for a dominant Colts team."
I don't know whose face was more red - Matte's or mine?
We enjoyed a few cocktails and laughs that night and began a friendship that carried through my time at the NFL and through my transition from marketing to broadcasting. He was always open to a phone call and would inject his sense of humor into any advice he delivered.
I'll never forget joining Matte in the Ravens broadcast booth in 1998, the same day he casually introduced me to one of his old friends.
"John, I want you to meet my buddy, Tommy."
My head spun watching Matte be Matte. He was Baltimore royalty, acknowledging the fans throughout the game from the booth while providing his expert commentary. Something rare happened that day. Three straight kickoffs were returned for touchdowns - Boom, Boom, Boom! Insane.
After the Ravens lost to the Vikings, Matte told me to stick to his hip and we headed to the Baltimore locker room, where he managed the postgame interviews with panache and empathy. He commanded such respect, he had no problem getting players to join him for a few words - Rod Woodson and a young linebacker named Ray Lewis just to name a pair.
As the years passed, we checked in occasionally, but lost touch about a decade ago. When I read the news of his passing, I gasped because you never want to see the name of someone you KNOW in an obit headline.
He lived a good life. Best remembered for subbing at quarterback and reading the plays off his wristband, a memory we had some fun with when creating the NFL Family Cookbook. Tom was always up for something wacky and memorable.
He was a super guy. A super friend. And he still has a Super record. Don't ever forget it!
I'll never forget him.
WynnBet Sports Bar Grand Opening - September 15, 2021
Some thoughts on my departure from WFXT.
As I was driving my older daughter and her friends to a football game Friday night, I listened to them talking about September 11. None of the five girls in my car were alive on that awful day, but they each had a story to tell - a story inevitably shared by their parents, their aunts and uncles or maybe a teacher.
In other words, another generation.
We've lived that long. A generation has passed since we suddenly and cruelly had more than 3,000 people torn from our lives. I lost four friends in the Twin Towers, and more friends I would have made had they lived past that fateful day twenty years ago.
Mike Elferis was hilarious. We worked together at the NFL and he was so proud to become a New York City police officer, and then a New York City Firefighter. Mike was rescuing people when the towers collapsed. Mike would be 47 years old today.
Ed Vanacore didn't know how not to smile. His amazing talent on the saxophone put him in the #1 chair of B.C. Bop! from day one at Boston College. When we asked him to pull out his sax in Roncalli Hall, he was more than happy to do it. And we were happy he did. Ed would be 49 years old today.
Joe Holland was my buddy Ferg's roommate in New York. His wry humor was his signature and he loved when we visited the city. Joey had lived through the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 but was not so lucky eight years later. Days after becoming a father to his son, Joseph IV, he was gone. Joe would be 52 years old today.
Dan McNeal was the kid from Baltimore who was everybody's friend. He ran for office and won time and time again at BC. That's because he was likable and approachable and friendly. When you saw Dan, your day got better. Dan would be 49 years old today.
These are just four short stories. Four people who made the world a better place. Each of these stories is multiplied by more than 3,000. That's what I'm reflecting on today.
The Never Forget 911 Foundation strives to honor the officers and heroes around our community and those officers who are survivors of September 11, 2001.
I was fortunate to cover the Tigers when Jim Leyland was the manager of the club. Jim was so unique, so raw and genuine. I always felt I was learning something about baseball when I listened to Jim, and I always appreciated his gruff, sincere human touch.
One of my favorite memories with Jim came in 2010, when our station's longtime Chief Meteorologst, Jerry Hodak, was throwing out the first pitch at Comerica Park to commemorate his retirement. Jerry was a pillar upon which the WXYZ brand was built over many years and I wanted to do anything and everything I could to make sure his night with the Tigers was special.
Before the game, I sat in Jim Leyland's office as he chatted with the media. With his feet on the desk, wearing only socks, his uniform pants and a tee-shirt, Jim would hold court and answer any questions we might have. It was during these sessions I picked up tidbits about Major League Baseball that are still invaluable.
When everyone was exiting, I asked Jim for an extra minute. We spoke privately and I told him it was Jerry's big day. I asked if he would be willing to answer a few questions about Jerry on camera - what a guy like that means to a community, a happy wish on Jerry's way out the door. Jim said, "Sure thing."
What happened next really says a lot about Jim. He asked me if I wanted him to catch the ceremonial first pitch. I was floored. It's very rare for a manager to catch the first pitch and he was offering unsolicited. Of course I said, "That would be great," and Jim played it up as if it was the most important thing he had to do that day.
Jerry took the mound, delivered a strike to the skipper and the two legends shared a moment afterwards, with Jim personally signing a picture - "Dear Jerry, Thanks for the Memories, Jim Leyland."
The Chief felt like a million bucks. The Skipper winked and made his way back to the dugout. A special moment, made possible by a guy who just gets it.
This time of year has always been special - back to school. We hang onto the warmth of summer while focusing our minds on the months ahead, turning the page as football starts, baseball heads to the postseason, basketball and hockey are weeks away... it's just a fun time.
I remember walking the campus of BC and thinking about how lucky I was to be surrounded by such beauty every day - and people who were much smarter than I who motivated and challenged me to keep up and hold my own.
Now, I have two nieces in college. I'm watching my friends post pictures as they drop off their kids at college. In just a few years I'll be right there with them. And I'll always love September on campus.