#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Johnny

Here's a column I wrote eight years ago on ESPNTheMag.com about my friend Johnny Salamone, who died on September 11, 2001. It had probably been five years since I'd last seen Johnny when he died, but his passing hit me hard. I guess mostly because we were both young dads. Memories of Johnny came flooding back to me and all I could do was get into my car, drive north and search for old high school friends to make sure they'd gotten the news. In the time that has past, I've thought so much about Johnny. He was truly a one of a kind character. When I go back and re-read this column, I know I could've done much better...but this is what came off my fingertips that day. The one line that rings true to this day is that it was indeed Johnny Salamone who taught me to laugh...hard...at myself. I can't thank him enough for that.

Anyway, because it's a stay-in kinda day, I've decided to go back through this column and make some comments. You'll find them in italics. Peace, Johnny. You'll never be forgotten

Go ahead, Johnny
ESPN The Magazine

Twenty-five years ago, or around the time I met Johnny Salamone at West Essex Junior High, I thought I'd forever remember the soccer games we played together. Sports were such a big deal, I figured the scores, the highlights, the details of every goal, would survive for eternity in my mind.

I was wrong.

All these years later, I don't remember much at all about the games. But as I learned this week, when I found out from old friends that Johnny had been lost in the World Trade Center tragedy, you never forget a teammate.

What's funny is that in the eight years that have passed, so many memories have re-entered my brain. Yes, memories of games and moments. Some of them you'll see in previous blog entries of mine. I want to thank Johnny for that. Of course, they're not memories of anything good I did on a field...usually the opposite.

On Saturday, Johnny will be eulogized at St. Aloysius Church in Caldwell, N.J. He was a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald, up on the 104th floor. Those closest to him will remember him, most of all, as a loving, doting father to his three children, Alexander, Aidan and Anna.

I regret that I didn't get to know that Johnny.

I am thankful to Johnny's family, his dad especially...and to some of my old high school buddies (Kenny, Fritz, Campy, Pete) that I've been able to hear so much more about Adult Johnny.

But I'd like to tell you all a little bit about the Johnny Salamone I knew. Because I have a feeling you know him too.

If you know a guy who never lost at anything, you know Johnny. In our little suburban world, Johnny ruled the street hockey court, the Wiffle ball field and, later on, the poker games. And he never let you forget about it, either. "Suckers!" he'd shout when he bluffed everyone to win a hand.

Johnny's college friends from Oglethorpe appreciated that last line. Made me feel better than me and my high school buddies weren't the only suckers out there. Also, years later, we rented the ice at South Mountain Arena in West Orange for some 2 a.m. ice hockey. I had no idea that Johnny could even skate, but rest assured he made us all look like fools that night, weaving around us like traffic cones. Suckers again.

If you played soccer and know a guy who wasn't particularly good at the nifty little skills, like juggling a ball, but was always one of the first players chosen once the real game started ... you know Johnny.

Truth be told, Johnny was a blade. He was the kind of player, when you went in for a ball, even if you came away with it, you got dinged in the process. He took no responsibility for his elbows and knees. Not a dirty blade, but a blade. You wanted him on your team. You didn't want to play against him.

If you know one guy who was not the least bit afraid of things like "tryouts" and "cuts," then you know Johnny. When we were freshmen, about 75 of us tried out for 20 spots on the baseball team at West Essex. Most of us were petrified, trying to show a coach in two days we could hit and field. Johnny? He nicknamed himself "The Cobra" and used the tryouts as a chance to brush up on his imitation of then-Pirates star Dave Parker's batting stance. Oh yeah, there was never any doubt he'd make the team.

Years later, most of my teammates remember even more than those freshman tryouts the way Johnny used to do spot-on impersonations of JV Coach Tony Ortiz, complete with rubber Spock ears. Johnny's gift is that he could do the impersonation right in front of Coach Ortiz and all anyone could do was laugh.

If you know a guy who could hurt you physically and make you laugh about it at the same time, you know Johnny. The game he invented in our high school cafeteria was called "Fresh Bait." Basically, it meant if you put a hand flat on the table, it was "fresh bait" and anyone who could reach you had the right to hammer it with their fist. When your hand was pulverized by Johnny, he'd just say, "You know the rules."

Just thinking of this game makes my hand throb. The truth is, at times, this game would set me off. But what was I supposed to do when 15-20 kids were laughing at me? All I could do was laugh at myself.

If you know a guy who called you by your last name, but your parents by their first names, you know Johnny. "Bradley, Bradley, Bradley, what are Mary and Jerry going to think about you getting a D?"

If there's someone out there who was your first "ride," you know Johnny. Better yet, if you know a guy who could take the least-cool car of all, an old family station wagon, nickname it "The Jet" because of its loud engine and turn it into something cool, then you really know Johnny.

Have to add that The Rolling Stones "Some Girls" was usually blasting from the tape deck.

Most of all, if there's someone out there who taught you how to laugh at yourself, then you know Johnny.

Not only do you know him. But you're never going to forget him.

Since this is a soccer column, I would like to share one story of Johnny from the field. A junior varsity game, can't remember where, but I'd been taking every free kick for our team, with no success to speak of. Finally, late in the game, a foul is whistled, another free kick, Johnny brushes me aside, says, "This one's mine, Bradley."

"Go ahead, Johnny," I said.

I knew what was about to happen. Seriously.

From about 25-30 yards out, Johnny nailed a ball into the upper corner. He didn't celebrate. He looked at me and said, "See how you're supposed to do it, Bradley?"

Then he smiled.

Go ahead, Johnny.

Hope to see a lot of you on Sept. 21st at Green Brook Country Club. It means the world to Johnny's dad and his entire family for people to show up and reminisce.