ROLFEMAN REMINISCES: AIR TIME ON 18, AND COLLABORATING WITH 'THE ENEMY' (2020-04-23)
The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson aired on NBC for nearly three decades, ending with Johnny's farewell in 1992.
In the Valley, our local NBC affiliate was WETM-TV 18.
Frequently during the local sports seasons, courtesy of TV-18 Sports Director Terry Day, I somehow graced the boob-tube several minutes before Ed McMahon welcomed the Tonight Show audience with his famous "Here's Johnny."
Whether it was a Sayre football game, Waverly boys' basketball tilt or Athens girls' roundball clash, Terry Day was usually there. Sometimes multiple highlight stops in the Valley, which meant even more candid camera "film at 11" time.
He was like my shadow.
"I can't put a number on how many times you graced the airways of 18 Sports, but I feel confident in saying that if you and I were at the same game, which was very, very often, you got a few seconds of airtime," says Day to this very day.
The Evening Times and Terry Day/18 Sports had a symbiotic relationship. We shared scores. We shared highlights. We shared tales, stories and tips.
About quarter-past 11 we'd connect — via phone — and exchange scores from the night's sports slate. Terry, preparing for his sportscast, typically had the scoop on Elmira / Corning metro beat and others outside our coverage zone. We at the Times had the tally on Northern Tier League and Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
While Terry's tenure at WETM didn't quite match my 22-year sports stint at The Evening Times, he was a nightly fixture for about 16 years. That, my friends — same job at the same TV station for that long — is quite rare in the world of television sports directors.
He had some interesting assistants, too. We had the honor of working and associating with Dave Yates, not once but a second tour of duty at 18 Sports, along with personalities Josh Mora, Mark Alan, the charming Robin Adams, and of course Dave Potter, a great guy whose only major flaw was that he was an Oklahoma Sooner fan.
Terry wasn't my only comrade-in-arms.
While we were so-called "enemy" newspapers, there were great friendships with the crew at the Daily Review: Bob "Bakes" Baker, the Review's longtime sports editor; Andy Berdy; Ed Boardman; Roger Wooster; Tim Birney (yes, the guy who also worked at The Times and launched this online sports site) and Pete Hardenstine, who eventually moved on to become the Rocket man at the Wyalusing Rocket.
The reason we were such good friends was simple: we shared similar passion for our jobs, which happened to be tied to sports.
Some of these "enemy" comrades were invited to — and attended — my wedding reception.
There were even road trips.
In December 1985, I teamed with Bob Baker, Roger Wooster and others on a trip to Detroit, via Canada. Roger's Syracuse University connections had landed us tickets to the Cherry Bowl: Syracuse vs. Maryland, Saturday, Dec. 21 in the Pontiac Silverdome.
The Terps shelled the Orange, 35-18.
It just happened to be a marquee sports weekend in Detroit. The Red Wings were hosting the rival Blackhawks that Saturday night. The next day, the mighty Chicago Bears — with Jim McMahon, Walter Payton, William "The Fridge" Perry and company — were in town to take on the Lions. It would eventually prove to be the Bears' Super Shuffle Season.
Please note, for this trip, we stayed in Windsor, Ontario, on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. Better wings, and better beer, I guess.
What made this adventure thoroughly memorable was our ill-fated hurried attempt to get back across the Ambassador Bridge — linking Canada and America — in time to scalp the scalpers for great seats for the hockey game.
Little did we know there had been an uptick in murders in Detroit. Apparently, everyone at customs was on homicide high alert. And, on edge.
While in line to cross back into the good ol’ USA, Bakes momentarily took his foot off the break and we rolled ever so slowly, apparently too close to the gate. Out from the booth came the official. Several others joined in. I swear I saw guns-drawn.
We were ordered to move to a designated place, park the car, get out and immediately report to customs for what proved to be an intense interrogation. We explained our case, and everything went well until they came to me, whose driver's license was in my wallet, which dummy me had left at the motel.
I had no "proof" of who I was.
Raked through Interpole and I'd imagine every other intelligence agency at that time, customs officials had a tough time understanding why in hell I went to school in Athens, Pennsylvania, had a Sayre, Pennsylvania address and was wearing a Towanda (Pennsylvania) Black Knight baseball jacket (purchased at a bargain price from Knight Coach Bill Sexton).
Finally, they believed my crazy story, I guess, because we were cleared to leave. We made it to Joe Louis Arena just in time to scoop up decent scalper seats. And the Blackhawks won 6-3, much to the delight of thousands of Chicago fans in town for the weekend.