In anticipation of my show tomorrow on my Pop’s 90th birthday, I’ve begun receiving various emails of support, stories and tales about fathers all around Baltimore. Here’s a nice one I got last night that I thought I’d share:
I began writing this last summer and wanted to share it with you.
Your writing about your father a few years ago was part of my
inspiration to write about my own father, a diehard Baltimore sports
fan if there ever were one. Ultimately, my love for Baltimore sports
can be traced to no one but him. I hope you enjoy it, as it’s often
difficult to open up my feelings about losing him. I also sent it as
an attachment in case the format is difficult to read in the email.
Thanks and Happy Birthday to your dad!
My passion for Baltimore sports begins and ends with my love for my
dad. From the time I was a toddler, I attended numerous Orioles games
with Dad, who had the greatest part-time job of his life as an usher
at Memorial Stadium from 1983 to 1991. I vividly remember sitting on
his lap, chanting ED-die, ED-die, ED-die for my hero Eddie Murray who
always seemed to deliver the clutch hit.
My father was as devoted to Baltimore sports as anyone you would ever
know. However, the man was even more devoted to his family. Perhaps
the easiest way to demonstrate this was the choice he made to skip
working the 1983 World Series to watch the games with me, his
two-week-old son. Years later, I told him he was crazy, especially
when considering the Orioles had not returned to the Fall Classic
since, but that was my father’s love. He told me he never regretted
My fondest memory of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV victory was
giving Dad the biggest bear hug to celebrate Baltimore’s return to the
top of professional football after not having a team for most of my
life. Though I was away at Syracuse for college in 2002, I vividly
remember playing the Maryland fight song over the phone to my dad
immediately following the Terps’ 64-52 victory over Indiana in the
national championship. It was disappointing not being together for
that one, but we ran up a hefty phone bill that evening instead.
These, along with less-glamorous moments, I hold dear in my heart.
On October 31, 2004, we watched the Ravens lose a close game to
Philadelphia at his friend’s house. I had recently turned 21, so I
had brought a couple Yuengling bottles (my favorite beer) over to the
house. Dad had brought over a few cans of cheap beer. I clearly
reminded Dad that the bottles were for me, and the cans were for him.
Not even ten minutes later, I looked over and what did I see? Dad
casually drinking one of my Yuenglings, having clearly forgotten what
I had just told him. Instead of getting angry, I simply laughed and
jokingly yelled at him. Realizing what he had done, a sheepish smile
came over his face as we continued to watch the game. Looking back on
this day, I was glad to share my beer with him. Little did I know that
Sunday afternoon would be the last game and the last beers I would
share with my father.
We had been so disappointed that the Ravens had lost to
Philadelphia and failed to get revenge on Terrell Owens who had
spurned the Ravens in the offseason. It really makes the most
passionate of sports fans realize how unimportant the outcome of these
games truly are in the grand scheme of life. Despite how unhappy my
father and I were that evening after the loss, I will forever remember
this day fondly as the last game I ever watched with my father. I
will also remember this as the last day of my “childhood,” even though
I was already a young man at 21.
The next day, Dad passed away due to a massive heart attack. The
week of his death was a complete fog. It was difficult to think about
anything at all, even Ravens football, which I always wanted to talk
about with anyone who would listen.
Why had this happened? Is there anything that could have been done to
prevent it? What am I going to do without him? So many questions,
but no answers.
What does any person do when they need to take their mind off the
difficult moments in life? A person does something they love, a hobby
or pastime. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you viewed
it), that meant following sports, which would be a painfully obvious
reminder of my father.
Ironically, prior to his death, we had discussed going to the
next game against the Cleveland Browns on November 7. The Ravens were
set to debut their all-black uniforms on Sunday Night Football. We
were very excited about potentially going to the game. My father did
not have much money, so opportunities to go to Ravens games were rare,
especially in winning seasons when people were not as inclined to part
with their tickets. As many Ravens fans know, it can be difficult to
score tickets, even when having the money at your disposal.
The night my father passed away, his best friend Ken (with whom
we had watched the Eagles game) came to see my family and me. He
mentioned that he had club level tickets for Sunday’s game and asked
me to go with him to celebrate and honor my father’s memory.
Even with my emotions and absolute devastation over Dad’s
passing, I accepted the invitation without hesitating. Was there even
a doubt? I was receiving a chance to do what my father and I loved to
do on a Sunday in the fall. If I turned Ken down, Dad would have
said, “Luke, are you crazy? It’s a no-brainer. You better go to that
game for the both of us!”
While I was looking forward to seeing the Ravens game, it was
something I tried to put in the back of my mind. I had to focus on
preparing for the viewing and service later in the week. Being a
person that loved to write, I clearly would write a eulogy to read at
the funeral. It was very difficult to write, but I had plenty to
share about the man I so greatly admired and loved. Not surprising to
anyone who knew my father and me, much of what I wrote had a link to
sports in some way. There was mention of the Ravens’ magical 2000
season and attending the victory parade in the pouring rain, the
memories on 33rd Street, and the many afternoons and evenings spent
watching or listening to Baltimore sports. I was proud of what I had
written to honor my father. To this day, I have no idea how I was
able to read the eulogy without breaking down completely. I can only
think my father’s strong hands were holding me up as I read.
After getting through the funeral, I felt as well as I could
under the circumstances of the week. I knew I was going to the Ravens
game on Sunday night but still tried to think about other things. A
part of me knew that this game would be more difficult than the
viewing or funeral in many ways. As strange as it may sound, I almost
felt the real funeral would be going to the first game without my
father. Baltimore sports were what we both had loved our entire
lives, but only now, I felt terribly alone in that devotion.
When I arrived at the game that Sunday, I remember a few tears forming
in my eyes during the national anthem and the moments before kickoff.
I had been to very few games without him in my life. Going back to my
early days watching the Orioles at the old stadium, I was so used to
Dad sitting right next to me. It was a scary feeling, being there
knowing he was not with me, not in a physical sense or even a phone
The game itself was exciting, but that uncomfortable,
nerve-racking feeling that any Ravens fan can understand was also
present, as the Ravens had failed to put the Browns away entering the
fourth quarter. Baltimore had a seven-point lead in the closing
minutes, but the Browns were driving deep in Ravens’ territory. The
outcome of the game was in doubt as Cleveland drove inside the Ravens’
20-yard line. Jeff Garcia threw a pass into the end zone deflecting
off tight end Aaron Shea into the hands of Ed Reed. Pandemonium
overtook M&T Bank Stadium as Reed galloped 106 yards in the opposite
direction for a game-clinching score.
At this exact moment, I felt my father speaking to me: “Luke, I
love you. I’m doing just fine. I’ll see you in the ‘end zone.’”
While 70,000 fans were euphoric, my feelings overwhelmed me as I
realized my father was not there to physically share in this exciting
moment. I could not hug him or call him and scream “Reeeeeed!” into
I tried to keep my emotions under control, but I could not help
but think how Dad should have been right next to me going crazy as the
Ravens sealed the division win. Ken, sensing my struggle, gave me a
hug as I fought back tears, telling me this victory was for my dad.
Immediately, I began to receive text messages from close friends
saying how they had tears in their eyes knowing this win was somehow
I managed to hold myself together somewhat as we walked to meet
my mom and brother at the Unitas Statue following the game (they had
received tickets in another section). Knowing we were meeting at the
statue of one of Dad’s heroes, I felt myself losing the battle to hold
in the tears.
As we arrived at the statue, I saw Mom waiting there, knowing
exactly how her son was feeling while also handling her own pain. She
said not a word but only offered open arms, waiting to give me the hug
I desperately needed. At this point, I let it all go and began to cry
harder than I had at any other point during that terribly difficult
week. I sobbed and sobbed with no end in sight, minutes after an
exhilarating 27-13 victory for the men in purple.
It hurt so badly to know that I could not give my father a hug or
talk about the big win. It stung to realize I would never again walk
with my father into Oriole Park at Camden Yards or M&T Bank Stadium to
watch the Orioles or Ravens. More than any other reason, it tore me
apart to know that I had lost my best friend.
From this point forward, I knew that my sports experiences would
never quite be the same. This revelation was very difficult for me to
even begin to understand.
As the weeks progressed, sports were not only a part of the
healing process but also a painful reminder of who was missing in my
life. To this day, over four years later, whenever I watch a game on
TV or attend in person, it just does not feel quite the same, but at
the same time, I never feel closer to Dad than I do when watching
Baltimore sports. I can almost see and feel him right there, drinking
a cold one and snacking on his trademark popcorn or peanuts, crumbs
all over the place. It truly was the end of an extraordinary era for
a father and son that will forever live in my heart.
I love you, Dad, and I’ll see you in the “end zone.” Have a beer
with Johnny U for me.