Apr 30, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Something really stopped me last week.
Not the occasion of a birthday, for there’s one of those every year and it always happens to fall during a busy time where there’s little chance to really kick back and enjoy things, not with the deluge of games, tournaments and meets to keep up with.
It was something else, sad news from where I grew up. Larry Felser, the longtime writer and columnist for the Buffalo News, passed away at age 80. Just like that, a large and important part of my childhood and development was gone.
Far too many sports journalists in Western New York have left us in the last few years. Jim Kelley, Tom Borrelli, Allen Wilson – these were all dedicated reporters, knowledgeable and passionate about sports, and by all accounts great people who left long before their time.
But Larry Felser was something else. He was, quite simply, the person I wanted to be as a child, the beacon to which I turned when in search of a way to make a decent living, back when this business could bring a decent living.
To understand this, you must follow me back to a somewhat idealistic childhood, mostly spent in the Buffalo suburb of Cheektowaga. Like each place and period, it had its own distinct rhythms and patterns, and one of those routines was picking up the Buffalo News every weekday afternoon, and weekend morning.
Sports nut that I was, inevitably I go to the sports section, to read about the Bills, Sabres, Bisons or some other topic that cropped up. Inevitably, the face at the top left corner, the main column, belonged to Felser, spreading his unmatched knowledge of the Buffalo sports scene, and the NFL, to tens of thousands of readers seven days a week.
That’s important to understand – Felser was a columnist, yes, but he knew his stuff. He didn’t offer forceful opinions at every turn, but when he did, they were taken seriously, and he had an innate fairness sorely lacking in today’s sports media culture where noise and negativity count for more than wisdom and perspective.
Whether in the News, or on the wonderful radio shows on stations like WBEN where Felser’s voice – calm, concise, thorough and never condescending – he taught me that one need not be loud, or brash, to have something meaningful to offer.
The credibility Felser carried with Buffalo’s incredibly passionate fan base came from the fact that he was born and raised there, lived his entire life in a place so many others escape from.
As such, he shared, with his readers, the city’s few triumphs and more frequent defeats, reflecting the pure joy that came with the Bills’ four Super Bowl triumphs and the acute pain of those subsequent defeats.
Add to that the respect he earned from players, coaches and executives not just in Buffalo, but around the country, and it was a point of pride having Felser as part of our daily lives. He attended each of the first 35 Super Bowls and was a key figure in Pro Football Hall of Fame votes, too.
And he did all this while maintaining a strong family life with a wife of 47 years, two daughters and four grandchildren. He carried a strong work ethic, too, but it didn’t deter him from keeping his priorities in life exactly where they should be.
In short, he had the job, and the reputation, and the respect of his peers that, as an impressionable child and then as a young man, I wanted more than anything else.
This is what makes Felser’s passing such a dear loss, one that hits harder than others. In so many ways, what I do now is so similar to Felser’s NFL beat, gathering as much information as possible and covering the scene as thoroughly as I can, using multiple media outlets (including radio, of course) to share whatever small gifts I possess.
The most proper analogy I can draw is that of Tim Russert, the Buffalo native, fiercely proud of his roots (and the Bills, of course), who rose to national prominence on “Meet the Press” before he died suddenly in June 2008. That loss hurt, too, because he had reached the top of his profession, loved and respected everywhere, but had never, ever forgot where he came from.
Felser didn’t achieve Tim Russert’s level of national fame, didn’t write any best-selling books and was never celebrated much beyond the sports realm. He simply worked hard for half a century and, by doing so, became Buffalo’s most authoritative sports voice.
That voice is silent now, but its echoes linger, even here. All of us that do what we do could only wish to do that job as well as Larry Felser did.