Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Legend Passes - Remembering Greg Greenday

I grew up a sports-crazed kid in Delaware County, where my grandfathers taught me all there was to know about the Phillies and Eagles and my dad talked about watching games at The Palestra in the heyday of the Big Five.  It was a heady time to grow up, with every one of our teams in the hunt for the playoffs nearly every year of my childhood. 

Some of the greatest sports voices of a generation were on the air then.  Bill Campbell, Whitey, Harry Kalas and Merrill Reese's rich voices were the narrators of the great sports moments of my childhood, both broadcast live and mimicked from the backyard.

And the newspapers!  I remember days when I had four papers to read, from the urbane Bulletin to the gritty Daily News to the local flavor of the Daily Times.  It was the height of the sports columnist in Philadelphia as well, with names like Frank Dolson, Bill Lyon and Bill Conlin adding color to the players I idolized.

But in Delaware County, one guy was a legend above the rest.  Greg Greenday was a local boy from St. James who lived in Brookhaven. Seemingly every day, he was filling in the detail from a Big Five game or the NFC East or setting the line for the epic high school football battles of my teenage years.

Greenday took me places I could never go, inside the Villanova locker room or to Amen corner at Augusta.  He taught me, by example, that writing was a ticket that could take a kid from Delaware County just about anywhere he wanted to go.

Sadly, last weekend Greg Greenday's journey ended after 61 years.

When I was working at Widener and coaching at Cabrini, I got to know Greg as more of a person than a mythic figure.  I found that the beautifully written game stories and columns came not just from immense talent, but also from a caring person with a diligent research ethic and vast memory that is so rare in journalism today.

Greg was one of the best questioners I ever saw work.  He would pause after an answer, make his notes, think for a moment, carefully considering how to approach the next point.  Greg was able to ask gently probing questions after losses that gave readers (and young coaches) insights into the game that would have been missed by most. He also brought great humor to an interview, laughing and joking, comfortable among men being boys. 

We were always happy when we saw him at the table for a game. We knew we would get a great story the next day, sure.  But we also knew he would have something positive to say, along with a funny inside story for us from somewhere he had been that week.  He had a perfect sense of the moment, always able to put you at ease or to let you go when you had nothing more to say.

There were a lot of great things written about Greg Greenday this week.  One thing that I think did not come through clearly enough is what a great writer he was.  He wrote with elegance and poetry, with a style that let you know he loved every minute of what he was doing.  But there was no self importance to the work.  He had a reverence for the games and the people he covered and he did every thing possible to let you know that.  He could cover the Eagles, sure, who couldn't?  But Greg made BOWLING interesting enough for me to read his weekly column in the 80s.

When he left the Daily Times a few years ago, I tried to explain to Greg how important his writing had been to me as a young person.  I stammered something about him making me want to be a writer.  He brushed it off, saying that it was nothing, he was just having fun doing his job. 

I am sure there were dozens of other kids like me, Greg.  Thanks for writing sports like no one else did.


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