It wasn’t the fact that I have my three kids during the days, and it wasn’t that I knew the church was going to be standing room only.
It also wasn’t because I had to work.
Those were just my excuses for not going to Tony Laslovich’s funeral on Friday.
The truth is I just couldn’t go. I couldn’t do it. I tried to make myself go. I told myself all week that I was going to go, and I was going to wear my “Team Laz” T-shirt.
In the end, though, I just couldn’t go to a funeral for a guy who I’ve known for 15 years that seemed like 150.
It was almost as if going to the funeral was an admission that Tony is really gone. That is something that, right now, is unacceptable.
Tony’s passing from cancer at 57 is heartbreaking. It is also enraging that life can cheat so much and rob us all of someone so special.
How great was Tony? Well, consider this: He was a sports official. That means he was a guy you are supposed to dislike because even the nicest officials are disliked by at least 45 percent of the population.
If Mother Theresa was a basketball official, one in three people in the crowd would call her names and swear she was a cheater.
Tony refereed 14 playoff football games, 15 state basketball tournaments and 17 state volleyball tournaments, so he was well known around the state.
That’s a lot of opportunity for a guy in a striped shirt to win some enemies. Tony, though, would have won an election in any county in Montana. By a landslide.
It was simply impossible to not like Tony Laslovich. Even the Butte Central fans loved him, and they don’t like any officials.
I first met Tony during the Wayne Estes basketball tournament in Anaconda. I think it was in 1999. Nichole (Evans) Brower couldn’t wait to introduce the two of us.
“You’re gonna love Tony,” she told me several times. “He’s awesome.”
Nichole was right. We clicked immediately. It was like she just introduced me to my favorite uncle.
From then on, every time I went to a game at Memorial Gym or Mitchell Stadium in Anaconda I immediately looked for Tony.
Talking to Tony was the highlight of any trip to Anaconda. No matter how fired up I could get on a subject, Tony would always put it in perspective with one sentence.
It was never anything profound. Tony just had a way making the complex seem so obvious. Every time I walked away from a conversation with Tony, I felt like a better person.
He also gave the feeling back that he genuinely enjoyed seeing me. “You also made his day each time he saw you,” Nichole said later. “You two were instant friends.”
Tony was a simple man who somehow seemed larger than life. I never dreamed he could be taken away by cancer. Right up until the last days, I always believed with 100 percent conviction that he was going to beat it.
In a way, Tony did beat cancer. He just didn’t outlive it.
Stuart Scott of ESPN is in the middle of his own fight with cancer. He said it best during a moving speech after he accepted the 2014 Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYs.
“When you die, that does not mean you lose to cancer,” he said. “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live. So live. Live. Fight like hell and when you get too tired to fight then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”
Those could have been words spoken about Tony, who was Tony right up until the end. He fought and did “whatever it takes” to show that cancer could take his last breath but not his marvelous spirit.
The last time I saw him was at the funeral for Mairissa Peoples in March. I pushed through the crowd filing out of the church to tap Tony on the shoulder.
He turned around, shook his head and gave me a big “Bill,” in a way only Tony could say. Then he squeezed my hand and pulled me close. We only talked briefly, but it was enough to brighten an otherwise awful day.
That was the only time I saw him since he began his fight last summer. I did, however, hear from him one other time.
In the afternoon before Game 6 of the World Series, I got a Facebook message from Tony’s wife Kathy. Tony, who wasn’t a Facebook guy, said to tell me good luck and that he was thinking about me.
The Red Sox won the World Series that night, but that short Facebook message was by far the highlight of my day. It made my day. It made my month.
I really wish I could have made myself go to the funeral to pay my respect because I have nothing but respect for that man and his family.
I’m sure I missed some great speeches and stories about the greatness of the man we are all so sad to see go way too soon.
Of course, I didn’t really need to hear those speeches anyway.
There is nothing anybody could say that would make me think more highly of Tony Laslovich.