Cherish each step you take down 10th Street on a Saturday morning. Track all of those red balloons floating off into a blue sky. Soak up every win and loss, touchdown and interception, every joy and complaint, along this wonderful ride we call college football.
Of course, you already knew that.
Sometimes, you get a reminder.
I just returned from Denver, where I attended my second funeral in seven days. And this was unlike any I have ever seen.
This was a Funeral for a Sports Writer.
I met Tom Kensler in 1984, in the press box at Oklahoma State’s Lewis Field. We got together after the game at the Stillwater Holiday Inn bar, where a singer in a cowboy hat strummed sad country songs. We discovered we were both Dodgers fans. A friendship was born.
Over the years we covered games, played golf and ate a lot of grease. Eventually he moved to the Denver Post to cover Colorado and I ended up in Omaha. We soon had a Thanksgiving reunion every year.
I just saw my friend last January in Denver. He was 64, retired and planning a fun life with his wife, Pam.
Earlier this summer, he suffered a brain aneurysm. He never came back. Just like that. Gone.
On Saturday, in a southeast Denver funeral home, below the Rocky Mountains that Tom loved so much, we came to say goodbye to our friend.
It was a contrast to just seven days before, when 1,500 came to pay their respects to Sam Foltz, the Nebraska punter, at a large church in Grand Island. Seven buses brought NU coaches, athletes and, of course, Sam’s teammates.
There were about 80 family and friends on hand for Tom’s funeral. His teammates were there, too.
There were a handful of officials from CU and the Denver Broncos. The rest were mostly sports writers — from Denver, but also Seattle, Charlotte, Dallas, Kansas City and Omaha.
These were the people that Kensler touched. Not as many as a Husker football player, but it’s not the number that counts. It’s the impact you have, the legacy of love and friendship you leave.
At both funerals, you never heard about Foltz’s exploits on the field, never heard about all the great stories Kensler wrote or games he covered. The only accomplishments that were mentioned were how they treated people, and all the folks they helped.
Whether you are player or writer, coach or fan, the final score that matters is how many lives you touched.
They held a lunch afterward — at a golf course — and there was a display there with photos of Tom at work and play, a collection of his big-event press passes, and a letter from a Big Eight Conference official complimenting a story he had done.
There was also a box of Cheez-It.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1998, Kensler and Denver columnist Woody Paige came to Nebraska to cover the CU game. They flew to Omaha. I was their entertainment director. I took them to a party at the house of a guy who owned a popular restaurant in Omaha.
The Denver scribes were excited, because they hadn’t eaten on the travel day. But when we got to the party, there were no tables of turkey and dressing in sight. It was an “after-dinner” party. The tables were filled with bowls of snacks. And boxes of Cheez-It.
Soon, people at the party were wondering who these two guys were who were scarfing down all the Cheez-It.
I never lived down that story, and Kensler told it every Thanksgiving to whoever hadn’t heard it before. He loved that story, about the Omaha restaurant guy who served Cheez-It.
On Saturday, I provided the Cheez-It, so I could tell Tom’s favorite story.
It was great to see so many old friends from the press box, but melancholy, too. A lot of those scribes have retired, or took the buyout at their paper, or have found new ways to get into the press box on Saturday.
To a man, they miss that part. The writing. The people. The games. The Saturdays.
This fall, we’re down one football player and one writer who loved to write about football players. Two men who lived for Saturdays and I would do anything to get them back to Saturday again.
Thinking about them missing it reminded me how grateful I am for still having Saturday, and every day in between. It reminded me to enjoy every moment this fall and every other fall that welcomes me back.
So now practice has started, and we’re off to the races again. And we’ll obsess about turnovers and complain about play-calling, agonize over relevancy and ride the roller coaster of highs and lows.
That passion is how we honor the game. We’ll never take it for granted, and we’ll never forget the ones we wish were still with us, on this fantastic journey.
» When I asked for readers’ suggestions to best honor Sam Foltz’s memory, the athletic department hadn’t yet announced its plan for a scholarship and a leadership award for athletes in Foltz’s name. Those were among some of the readers’ ideas.
One of the best suggestions I received was to have a Nebraska-Michigan State trophy named after Foltz and Mike Sadler, the former MSU punter who also died in the July 23 crash.
That’s an outstanding idea, one that would touch both schools and provide a lasting tribute. One problem: NU and Michigan State don’t play every year. Could you have a trophy for a series that is discontinued every year or two?
I asked NU Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst about it, and he said, “I don’t see more trophy games (for NU) but anything is possible.”
If ever a trophy could be given for a series that is played every other year, this is it.
» He’s been criticized for his lack of visibility and access to the media, so it’s only fair to mention that Eichorst seems to be more visible in public than ever now. And more comfortable doing so, too.
That includes Eichorst now on Twitter. Say what?
The athletic director joined the social media outlet recently. He mostly retweets promotional posts and photos sent out by NU coaches and various school administrators.
“I look at it as an opportunity to promote Husker athletics,” Eichorst said. “Folks have wanted me to do this for a while. I think it’s kind of cool.”
Yes, that’s Eichorst running his account, not an assistant or staff member. If there’s any question about that, check Saturday’s timeline, when the Wisconsin native retweeted a photo of Green Bay legend Brett Favre going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
» Three thoughts on Eichorst not extending Tim Miles’ contract:
1. Miles’ personality and profile on social media have given Husker Hoops a positive image and drawn attention to a program that outside media usually ignore. And Miles’ recruiting has improved. Because of that, I think he should be given every chance.
2. Having four years instead of five on his contract should not hurt Miles with negative recruiters and a little incentive never hurts.
3. I’d love to know what Miles has to do to get another extension.
» One more and I’m outta here: NU provides football team posters every year, but I’ve never seen one like this season’s “Seniors” poster.
It’s a shot of the Husker seniors last spring, gathering in a huddle on the field. Among the names on the back of the jerseys facing the camera is “Foltz.”
The sports information office chose the photo as a tribute to Foltz. It’s powerful stuff.