Since this is the last column of my newspaper career, please excuse me if I drop a few names, which in my opinion is better than rehashing old games.
I began my sportswriting career at the old Courier-Express where Phil Ranallo and Charley Barton were my first mentors. It was Charley who gave me my initial tutoring in hockey, AHL style.
Ten years later I received a phone call discreetly directed to me in the Courier sports department.
"This is going to be short and I don't want you to mention my name," said the caller. "This is Paul Neville. We need a football writer and I want you. If you're interested we'll get together quietly tomorrow night."
I was interested. Our meeting place was a popular drinking spot on Main Street near his home in Snyder. By our second meeting I was sold on The Buffalo Evening News as well as its fatherly editor.
"We can't pay you much more than you're getting now," he said, "but I know you work nights and joining us will improve your social life."
At The News, Neville's way of covering the Bills on the road or the Sabres in the playoffs was to send two or three writers and often a photographer. Whether the game was in Cleveland or San Francisco, he wanted big-time coverage and he got it.
On one of the first days with my new paper I was returning from lunch when I met the boss halfway up the stairs. "Where are you going?" he asked.
I told him, "Back to work."
"When I was a young reporter," he replied, "I never showed up after lunch. No one ever found a good story sitting on his butt at the office." I followed his suggestion.
My associates on the road through the years changed, but they were an infantry of good companions: Steve Weller, my wittiest pal ever, Dick Johnston, Jim Peters, Jim Kelley, Mike Dodd, Vic Carucci, Donn Esmonde before he went straight as a local columnist, Mark Gaughan, Allen Wilson, Jerry Sullivan, and that most versatile and underrated of sportswriters, Milt Northrop.
Some other names come to mind:
Best friend in the business outside of Western New York: Will McDonough of the Boston Globe, who sat down in his living room to watch ESPN's late show one night and never woke up. So sad.
Best friend in the NFL: Ernie Accorsi, GM of three teams -- the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants.
Biggest regret: Not using my last NFL Hall of Fame vote to push harder for Art Modell. Yes, as the exasperated owner he took the Browns to Baltimore. But he did so only after being stonewalled by the city fathers who would do nothing to modernize a terrible stadium even though he gave them nothing but winners in all the years he owned the team.
Most memorable Bill: The one and only -- Chester Carlton "Cookie" Gilchrist.
Most memorable Sabre: Too many to mention wait! The little guy who scored 50 goals, would take on any opposing player in the house and stood up to Billy Smith of the Islanders, the meanest goalie ever, even as he put up with having his ankles slashed until they resembled giant raspberries -- Danny Gare.
Two ladies to whom I owe great thanks: Margaret Sullivan, The News' first woman editor who thought it was a good idea to extend my career, and Lisa Wilson, the first black woman sports editor in the U.S.
Late in his career I became friends with Red Smith, the epitome of great sportswriting. When he was finished writing at the end of a game, Red used to close his computer, put on his coat, smile at his friends and tell them, "I had nothing to say and I said it."
I'm beginning to feel that way. My time has come.