One of the benefits of working in our business is getting to meet/interview some of the greatest figures in sports. There are very few I have been in awe of, save for the likes of Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. However, I was in awe of Larry Felser, one of the giants of sports journalism and a legend in Buffalo sports media. Felser passed away on Wednesday at the age of 80 but left an indelible mark on generations of sports fans in Western New York.
I was a big fan of Larry's before I had the honor and privilege of working alongside him. I read his column regularly when I was a student at Buffalo State in the early 1980's. I couldn't wait for it to be "one of those opinionated days". Larry was extremely tough and critical when need be but was always fair, which earned him the respect of those he covered, as well as his colleagues and his loyal readers.
It was back in 1993 that I finally got the chance to work with Larry, hosting his Monday Evening Quarterback show on WBEN. I was a bit intimidated at first because I was working with a legend but Larry immediately made me feel like an equal, which was never the case.
Those shows were an invaluable learning experience for me since Larry was a walking, talking Buffalo sports history book. Whether it was on the air during the show itself or in the commercial breaks, I would constantly pick Larry's brain in an attempt to soak up as much knowledge about Buffalo sports as humanly possible. There were many nights when I wished I didn't have to ask questions and get the callers on the show because I just wanted to sit back and enjoy listening to his many opinions and stories.
He knew EVERYBODY! I was captivated as he would tell stories about having dinner with Vince Lombardi. He could pick up the phone and talk to anyone in the NFL, from the Commissioner to the game's legendary owners to the top General Managers. If I wanted to find out what the Bills were thinking, who better to ask than Larry? Ralph Wilson used to call him for opinions and advice.
Up until the time he retired in 2001, Larry was one of just a handful of writers who had covered every single Super Bowl. If I wanted to know where Johnny Unitas ranked among the all time great quarterbacks, all I had to do was call Larry. If I needed to find out just how great Jim Brown was, all I did was ask Larry since he saw Brown play.
When it came to learning about the history of the Bills, Sabres and Braves there was no need to read any history books, I just spoke to Larry. His recall of events was second to none which made his story telling so memorable.
As great a journalist as Larry was, he was an even better person. A devoted husband, father and grandfather. He'd always take so much pleasure talking to me about his family, ranging from his life with his wonderful wife Beverly to the latest stories about his grandkids. Larry was incredibly approachable and always had time for anyone who wanted to talk to him.
I think I speak for a number of media members in Buffalo when I say that Larry had a profound impact on me from both a career and personal standpoint. While incredibly saddened by Larry's passing, I can take solace from the fact that I was able to thoroughly enjoy his work as a sports fan and I will cherish the great fortune I had, getting to know him and work with him over the years.