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Bob Ryan Retires: Saying Goodbye to a Sports Legend

On February 6, 2005, I sat in Jacksonville, Fla. on one of those padded benches inside an IHOP with two of my brothers, waiting for a table to open up.

It was the morning of Super Bowl XXXIX, and the Patriots would take on – and beat – the Eagles later that day. We were all amped up of course, there to watch our team hopefully raise the Lombardi Trophy for the third time in four years.

The entire IHOP, and Jacksonville as a whole, was littered with Eagles fans, though. The ratio had to be 9:1 in the city, and that might only be a slight exaggeration. Everywhere we want we had Eagles fans chanting at us and singing their “fight song,” which we ruthlessly made fun of because really…what sort of professional franchise in America has a fight song? This isn’t college, you know?

Yet, even with the fight song stuff, we still had to be careful. Eagles fans are notoriously nasty, and there were just so many of them. I was young at the time, was on the trip with two of my brothers and my dad, and none of us thought it would be the best-case scenario if we got into a brawl with a grown man and ended up in a seedy jail cell instead of inside the stadium. The furthest we went, basically, was to wear our Patriots jerseys and high-five the few other Patriots fans we’d run in to.

But while we waited for our table inside the IHOP, we saw another man come walking towards our area. He wasn’t wearing a jersey for either team, and instead was dressed in a shirt and tie and looked decidedly out of place in an area that was being ruled by fans who had started drinking already, even though it was 9 a.m. The three of us instantly recognized the guy – it was Bob Ryan, the Boston Globe columnist who was there covering the game for the newspaper.

As it turned out, Ryan wasn’t walking towards us per say, but was just walking past our bench. He walked directly in front of us, and one of my brothers said loudly enough that there was no way Ryan didn’t hear it, “Hey BOB! Where can we get a Globe around here?”

No response.

We were all pretty confused. Here we were, the only Patriots fans in a crowded restaurant, and the most famous columnist of the hometown team’s most famous newspaper walks directly in front of usm and doesn’t even look at us when we ask him a fairly honest question?

The three of us concluded that Bob Ryan was sort of a jerk. None of us had ever met him prior to that, and our one interaction with him was just downright strange. It turned funny for us, as we imitated the moment back and forth, laughing, and we figured at the very least we had a little story to tell our friends back home.

A few minutes later, as we’re just starting to grow impatient with the fact that we’d been waiting at IHOP for the better part of half an hour, we see Bob, striding towards us again from the left, this time with a paper in hand.

He walked right up to us, stopped, dropped a USA Today on one of our laps and said, “This is the best I can boys, sorry.”

And that was it.

We were floored. Bob Ryan had heard us, wasn’t ignoring us and was actively trying to help us out. Whether he paid for the paper or picked it up off a table or what, we didn’t know, but he had gone out and sought out a USA Today and then returned to our section – where he wasn’t waiting for a table – and given it to us.

Turns out we were wrong about Bob Ryan being a jerk that day. From then on, there was never anything negative said about Bob Ryan inside my house. We tell the story all the time, not just because Bob was some celebrity who took the time to do something for us, but because Bob was some celebrity who took the time to do something for us, but also gave us a snapshot into the way that he was.

It was so…him. Different, quirky, and probably not at all weird in his own mind. As a guy who has done things his way for a long time, that was his way of responding to us, the best way that he knew how.

And Bob’s way showed itself again on Monday night, as he covered his last Boston Red Sox game as a Globe reporter. He sat in the press box for the final time at Fenway, as he slowly nears his retirement from the business once the Olympics finishes up.

He’s leaving because Bob’s way is no longer the way of the world. There is Twitter and live-blogging and Facebook and podcasts. It’s no longer about going to the game and writing a column that only comes out in print. Instead, there are 500 things written about every game all over the internet, and that doesn’t include the things written during the game that help keep people updated

It’s all just kind of too much for him. He has a Twitter, but he doesn’t enjoy it so much. On Monday, the news broke that it would be his final day in the press box via a live blog on I don’t know if that’s fitting or if it’s irony, but it’s the reason that Bob Ryan is going to be taking his talents elsewhere before very long.

Ryan is 66 years old. It’s probably about time for him to go anyway. I could have waited for the Olympics to end to write this column, but I don’t care about the Olympics. I care about the Red Sox, and so has Ryan for as long as I’ve been alive. He’s cared about the Celtics too, and he’s written about them in a way that is unparalleled around the country.

He’s been as good as it gets in the world of sportswriting, and his quirky, almost uncomfortable demeanor on TV shows like ESPN’s Around The Horn is something that I’ll miss.

Outspoken as ever – remember the Joumana Kidd stuff? – he’s someone who has told it like it is for a long, long time. That’s not the norm anymore, but that never stopped him from taking the kid gloves off whenever it was necessary and not taking any prisoners.

Yet, he was only doing what he thought was right in his profession. It’s the same reason he’s stepping down and the same reason that became such a polarizing personality in the business in the first place – he was talented, and he was doing his job the way the only way that he knew how. Without beating around the bush, without tip-toeing. Just to the point.

And it’s the same reason he didn’t respond initially when we asked him for a Globe that day in Jacksonville. It would have been a waste of words. He heard the question, and he had a response. He didn’t need to tell us “Hold on, I’ll go check.”

He just did it. We were so caught off guard at the time that I’m pretty sure none of us thanked him that day, but maybe he’ll read this one day and realize that we all thought it was a pretty cool gesture.

Thanks for the paper, Bob.

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