Sports Editor’s Playbook, Friday, May 4, 2012

Patrick Newell

The sports world is still trying to make sense of the tragic passing of former NFL linebacker – and future Hall-of-Famer – Junior Seau. My significant other’s sister, Aida Ryder, lives in the San Diego area, and passed the Seau house several times a week with her morning jog on the beach. While not a friend or even an acquaintance of Seau, Ryder often shared “hellos” and “good mornings” with Junior Seau.
“ Junior Seau didn’t know my name, but I knew his. I saw him as a guy from my neighborhood,” Ryder said. “I pass his beach house on my regular morning run. Sometimes it’s around 7 a.m. and Junior might be pedaling his beach cruiser coming back with a coffee. Or he is on his deck or front porch with coffee and a paper. Sometimes he is with family or friends. He has no entourage, unless you count his smokey-colored pit bull. He is just out enjoying the quiet morning. Probably a far cry from the hustle and bustle of his professional life. We would pass with a smile and a wave, maybe even a “good morning.” It’s nice to think that he recognized me as a fixture in the morning routine.
“When the waves are right, I would spot him out on his surfboard. He was usually the one not wearing a wetsuit if the weather was warm. If anything, Junior Seau was not hard to miss! Even amongst a crowd of surfers, he was a powerful presence. A few times, I watched as he taught his son how to stand up on the board. Other times, he would be out sharing the waves and some laughs with fellow surfers.
“Once I was trying to adjust my mp3 player- while still running -and didn’t immediately notice that someone came running out of the sea with a longboard tucked under his arm. As my face nearly collided with the surfboard, I noticed that it was a beautiful wood inlayed pattern. We noticed each other at the same moment and laughed as we both fell down to avoid a collision. Still laughing, we sputtered apologies. As he pulled me up, he said, “You’re the smallest person to ever knock me over!” Then someone called out to him from his house and he said, “see you tomorrow.”
“ One day, passing the Seau house, I heard a ukele playing and someone singing with great joy. It was Junior relaxing, being happy – at the beach. That’s how I want to remember him.”

Speaking of loss, one of my NHS classmates, Doug Grzibowski, had his 27-year-old Section IV record broken earlier this week. Grzibowski set the sectional discus mark in 1985 with a throw over 172 feet. He made two appearances in the New York State meet as Section IV’s discus representative during his high school career, and he was the decathlon champion in Section IV his senior year. The decathlon was and is still not an official event in the New York State Track and Field Championships, but Section IV used to hold the two-day event for top area athletes. Grzibowski’s mark was broken by Ithaca’s Sam Cherney, who tossed the disc 174 feet, 1 inch. Grzibowski’s record was one of the oldest standing records in Section IV.

Former Evening Sun sports editor Tom Rowe wrote a marvelous blow-by-blow account of the 1937 football team’s perfect season. We published part one of the story yesterday, and today’s sports section wraps up perhaps the most detailed account of that season ever produced by this publication. Only eight of the 44 team members still survive, yet many will be in attendance May 12 when the team is inducted into the Norwich High School Sports Hall of Fame. On a sad note, the number of surviving players was at nine up until early this week when Tom Mirabito passed away. Mirabito was a fixture at every function I ever attended that recognized the 1937 team. His complete obituary appears in today’s edition.

Follow Patrick Newell on Twitter @evesunpat