“You son of a —–,” was the first thing I heard as I answered the phone one fall night a few years ago at the newspaper sports desk.
I knew it was coming. On the other end of the phone was my buddy Mike, who worked at the paper in Missoula.
Mike is a huge fan of everything Cleveland, and he wears the torment of his teams on his shirt sleeve for all the world to see. When the Indians, Browns, Cavaliers or Buckeyes lose, I never know whether to taunt Mike or console him because he takes every loss like a death in the family.
This night, Ohio State’s football team suffered a huge upset loss to Wisconsin, and I decided to go with the taunt.
On the “agate share” web site where Montana newspapers share box scores and stats from sporting events, I posted the box score from the game. I left the “posted by” space blank, figuring Mike would know who sent him the anonymous message.
I looked across the desk to Bruce and said “I wonder how long it will take for …”
I was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. I got him. “I can’t believe you would do that to me,” he said.
Later that night I noticed another post on the agate share site. It was the box score from the worst baseball game of my life, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
Many of you know that game as the Bill Buckner game. I know it as the game manager John McNamara gave the World Series away for the Red Sox. I may or may not have cried.
Immediately I called the sports desk in Missoula. This is what I heard: “Sports, John McNamara speaking.”
Mike 1, me 0.
Mike hit me where he knew it would hurt, and I had it coming because I hit him where I knew it would hurt.
When we both covered the Class A semifinal football game between Butte Central and Frenchtown a few years before that, we had a long talk. I was really hoping to see the Maroons make the championship game because I liked the idea of being on the sideline to document such a big occasion for the Mining City.
I assumed Mike felt that way about a team so close to Missoula.
After Frenchtown won, I said something like, “You must be excited to get to cover the state championship game?”
“No,” he said. “I’m pissed.”
“You are? What could you possibly not like about covering the state championship football game?”
“Next week is Ohio State-Michigan,” Mike said. “Now I won’t get to watch it.”
He wasn’t joking a bit. The thought of missing that game made him physically ill.
When Mike posted on the agate share site, his name was usually “Schmuckeye.” In 2007 after Ohio State lost to Florida in the BCS national title game in football in January and the national championship basketball game in April, he changed his name to “Gatorhater.”
In October of that year, the Indians led the Red Sox 3-1 in the American League Championship Series, and Mike was absolutely positive the Tribe would blow it. When they did, he changed his agate share name briefly to “Foleyhater.”
What an honor.
Yesterday I learned that my good buddy has fallen on hard times. He no longer works or lives in Missoula, and he’s working out his demons in a rehab center in Connecticut.
Looking back, it’s amazing to think that I’m not in the room next to him. If I would have taken the job in Missoula in 2001, I probably would be.
I really wanted to move back to the party town of Missoula, too. If I could have found more affordable housing that allowed dogs, I surely would have taken that job.
Instead, I met my wife later that year. Six years later, I looked into the eyes of my 4-year-old daughter and promised her I’d never drink again.
Sure, I had told myself that many times. In the aftermath of seeing my buddy lose his daughter to a drunk driver, though, there was no way I could break that promise.
I was lucky in the fact that I wasn’t what you’d call an alcoholic. I just had a problem when I did drink. That is to say, I didn’t need treatment to quit cold turkey.
One was too many and 12 was never enough, and boy did I do a ton of stupid things when I was drunk.
Thankfully, that is all in the past for me. It took a while, but I finally realized what Billy Joel meant when he sang “The good ole days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
No matter how hard you try, you just cannot hang onto your college days into your 30s.
I hope my buddy Mike will be able to say the same really soon. I’m sure he will.
I left the newspaper last May. On my last night on the job I answered the phone like I did a million times, “Sports, this is Bill.”
On the other end was Mike. “Man,” he said. “I’m going to miss hearing that.”
Hearing Mike on the other end of the phone is definitely one of the things I miss the most about working there, too. I especially miss when he’d swear at me.