Sunday, August 30, 2009

Legends Come, Legends Go...Legends Forever

You know, I've been at Idaho State for 12 years. I've been here long enough that only five people in the department, Nancy Graziano, Brian Jannsen, Dave Nielsen, Bobby Goeltz, and Shanna Neeser have been full time continuous employees for longer than me. It doesn't seem that long ago, but when I got here in 1998 Michael Jordan was still winning championships with the Chicago Bulls, Windows 98 hadn't been released yet, Bill Clinton hadn't admitted to any wrong doing with Monica Lewinsky, and there was no such thing as Google. I also got to meet three of the legends of ISU athletics in Jim Fox, Dubby Holt, and Babe Caccia.

Sadly, I've watched each of them pass on as well. Jim passed away in the summer of 2002 while on a vacation in Mexico with his wife and some close family friends. I remember sitting in my kitchen, feeling pretty good with the yard sale we had just finished with my wife when I got that phone call.

I remember when Dubby died, as we were coming back from Sacramento State from a basketball trip, when again, I got another phone call. Then yesterday, while eating lunch, I realized a call came to my cell while I was mowing the lawn. I returned it, and got the sad news.

But the great thing about knowing when a legend dies is that you know the legend themselves. All three of those guys were bigger than life characters, products really of a by-gone era. Jim Fox was truly larger than life, with a heart of gold. Funny, smart, well-mannered, generous to a fault, Jim Fox made road trips bearable in my first years here, taking me under his wing so to speak, showing me the ropes, teaching me about Pocatello. Sitting in a restaurant with Jim Fox, Doug Oliver, Jay McMillin, and Louis Wilson and trading story after story is one of my fondest memories. Before every home football game, I touch the plaque in the press box that I put there that bears his photo.

In Dubby, well, what can't you say. Well loved, spry as ever even in his advanced age, Dubby I think could still run the department right up until the end in early 2007. Dubby was so much fun to talk to, to hear stories about how Holt Arena came about, how the Big Sky Conference came about ... he was truly an encyclopedia of information about this university, and if he wasn't the school's greatest ambassador, it's only because Babe Caccia might have been as well.

Losing Babe hurts me a bit more just because of the Italian heritage we both shared (he let me call him Italo, and he called my his pizan...he is the only person to ever call me that). We talked media stuff, football, our mutual love of Canadian Football, and somehow, he always asked about my father, even though I don't think they ever met. I'm glad Babe saw the locker room the other day...his smile lit that room up. Think of the stories going on right now with those three.

Even going a step further, the loss of Earl Pond a few years back could be put right there along side Jim, Dubby and Babe as well. While not to turn macabre or anything, but I hope folks realize that the legends aren't gone. In my mind anyways, three more living legends are still around. Joe Richmond, who was the sports information director, ticket manager, and pretty much everything else back in the 1960s, still to this day can be seen at football practices and helping with youth track meets in the area as well. Joe and I regularly talk, and the other day he was at practice talking with some of the wives of the coaches, playing with the little kids they have. They had no clue of his background, because Joe won't tell it...that's just not his way.

Joe was followed by Glenn Alford, who is still around as well. Glenn worked at ISU in sports information as my predecessor for 31 years, and is still a treasure trove of information for me, and when ISU has success (hosting women's basketball tournaments and such), I always try to include him somewhere in the successes, because I know he can help, but most of all, I know he appreciates those successes. Affable is maybe Glenn's best trait, or the word that best describes him, although I personally love the dry humor. In 1992, Glenn was called into A.D. Randy Hoffman's office, and was read the riot act in part because the 1992 football media guide stated that Holt Arena was "the first doomed stadium on a college campus". Randy went off about how we couldn't afford typos and mistakes like that, and the story goes Glenn looked at him with a straight face and asked if knew of ISU's history in the building lately, and that it wasn't a typo. Typical Glenn.

The last legend hanging around is the one the athletes know best. When I travel I got the how is Dubby a few times, the how is Babe or Glenn a few times....but always, always, is Phil Luckey doing. Phil is the most beloved man I've ever met. I dare you to find anyone to have anything bad to say about the guy. You just can't. And his relationship with athletes is special, because that training room is like a therapists couch, and Phil was the personal confidant of many an injured Bengal. Think about get hurt, and you are far from home, you can't practice...athletes far and wide knew Phil Luckey better than anyone, and he has story after story in that head of his. I always gave Phil a hard time when a football game was on TV because he'd race out on the field in a dead sprint, and I'd joke that he was trying to get camera time, and it bothered him actually...I could see that getting under his skin. Because it wasn't true...I saw him in practice...if an athlete was hurt anywhere, Phil was sprinting to give aid. Phil loved, and still loves, all of the athletes at ISU.

ISU has lost some legends lately, but there are still more hanging around. Get to know Phil, and Joe, and Glenn. They are in the coffee shops, the bagel stores, the athletic offices, the practices and the games. Heck, Joe Richmond is a regular morning coffee guy at McDonald's. Say hi, chat them will be a better person for it. I'm a better person for it. Goodbye Italo....I'll miss ya'

Frank Mercogliano


Anonymous said...

Well done, Frank. I was just going to log on and blog on this same topic, but I could not have done it as well.

I was going to start off with a reference to the Neil Diamond song, "Done Too Soon." It begins with a rhyming list of famous people, and then concludes like this:

"And each one there,
Had one thing shared...

"They had, sweated beneath
the same sun...
And looked up in wonder at the same moon...
And wept when it was all done,
for being done too soon."

It's hard to say you're shocked when someone who is almost 92 dies, but I was truly shocked at Babe's passing. I think Glen Alford said it best in the paper today when he said, "For Babe, death just wasn't an option."

I'll miss him greatly.

ISU has lost a ton of Hall of Famers and "legends" in the last few years: Fox, Babe and Dubby, as Frank noted. And people like Mel Morgan, Earl Pond, Jim Killingsworth and Les Roh. It's one of the reasons middle age can really be downer -- your mentors, the people you looked up to and who you always thought would be there suddenly start dying. I guess the only thing worse is old age, when the people who are dying are your friends, family members and contemporaries.

At least I can say that one of the great privileges of my life was spending time talking to Babe and Dubby -- and sharing a close relationship with Jim. Those are moments I won't soon forget.

--Brad B

Anonymous said...

Great piece and contributions. Thank you Frank and Brad.

Just wanted to drop a few thoughts on a few of these folks that I knew pretty well.

Jim Fox, was my first real employer and someone who is very special to me. Mr. Fox was like a father to me as I was married and had my first child before my 20th B-day. Jim and Su in particular, stood beside me during some tough times, when adult maturity and adult choices were things that I struggled with.

Glenn Alford, very instrumental in my love of ISU athletics. As a young kid, Glenn on more than once, picked me up at the Dome and took me to his SID office on lower campus. He would buy me Coke and candy and I would read game programs, media guides and look at statistics for hours and hours. Glenn is extremely funny, and he is so smart, and he can make a joke out of anything and you can be the brunt of the joke and not ever realize it when it happens.

Phil Luckey, a lifelong friend of my family, has done so much for ISU. It is funny that Franks mentioned his sprint, because the dude hauled ass onto the field. I remember the Marcus Jackson injury--it seemed like Phil was on the field before anyone knew anything was wrong. Don't forget the pipe smell either, I loved the smell of Phil's pipe.

I am saddened by the passing of Babe and Dubby and it is great to see that the Dome and the field reflect the name of both of them respectively.


Dan said...

I agree, guys. It's a shame. I was only there a couple years, but I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Caccia a few times and even write a story about him. That one was definitely one of my favorites to write.

What a fine gentleman Babe Caccia was.