Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thinking Of Larry O'Rourke

The first time TigerBlog was in a minivan, he's pretty sure, was back when the Department of Athletics' motor pool included one.

TB can't remember exactly which kind it was, though he does know it was maroon.

It was definitely a boxy vehicle, and yet TigerBlog sort of liked driving it. It was certainly comfortable enough.

When TigerBlog Jr. and Little Miss TigerBlog were little, TB got himself a Toyota Sienna, a minivan of his own. Eventually, TB put 155,000 miles on it before he traded it in.

As an aside, when he got his new car, TB asked what would happen to the minivan, and he was told that it would be sold to a taxi company in the Caribbean. So, who knows, maybe it's still going strong, shuttling people from cruise ships to beaches in St. Bart's or St. Thomas or Tortola.

As another aside, when he traded the Sienna in, he accidentally left the tape of WFAN's intro to the Mike and the Mad Dog show the day after Princeton beat UCLA in 1996, complete with Tom McCarthy's calls of Gabe Lewullis' winning basket and of Toby Bailey's last-chance airball mixed together with clips of Gene Hackman from "Hoosiers" and the music from the cartoon "Underdog." Last aside - TigerBlog went to college with a woman who looked just like Sweet Polly Purebread.

Anyway, TigerBlog liked the minivan because of its spaciousness, which over the course of 155,000 miles morphed into more of a junkyard, jammed with stuff everywhere.

As for the University's maroon one, TigerBlog drove it all over the Northeast going to games for football, men's basketball and men's lacrosse.

He'd be by himself sometimes, but usually he was giving a ride to any number of people, especially McCarthy when he was still the Princeton radio voice, Ed Benkin when he would do radio Mark Eckel when he'd cover games for the Trenton Times.

Every now and then, others would ask for a ride, and TB would usually say yes.

For some reason, the ride back from Dartmouth after basketball one year when the minivan included TB, Benkin, Eckel and guest stars Larry O'Rourke of the Trentonian and Joe Calabrese of the Star-Ledger has always stood out to TB. Maybe it's because of the fact that it was a bit out of the ordinary.

Whatever the reason, TigerBlog clearly remembers it, the long ride back, with Calabrese and O'Rourke in a never-ending conversation.

Calabrese would tell a story about something that happened years earlier and call out to TB, the driver, saying "you remember so-and-so or so-and-so" or "you know how those guys are," when TigerBlog had never heard of any of them.

And O'Rourke? He didn't run out of subjects either, all the way back to Princeton, in the wee hours of the morning.

The minivan probably rolled into the Jadwin parking lot after 3 a.m. or so. TB is pretty sure Calabrese and O'Rourke kept chatting the entire time.

Calabrese was a long-time newspaper guy who passed away several years ago. The Joe Calabrese Memorial Trophy goes to the MVP of the men's basketball game between Seton Hall and Rutgers each year.

Calabrese covered a handful of Princeton games every year, and it was always great to see him and hang out for awhile, even if his stories didn't always make sense to TB.

And O'Rourke? He was a few years younger than TB, something that was confirmed for TB when he read O'Rourke's obituary last week.

Larry died of ALS - Lou Gehrig's Disease - a disease that O'Rourke fought hard, by all accounts.

TigerBlog hadn't seen Larry since he was diagnosed, or actually a few years before that. Still, TB got chills when he heard the news of O'Rourke's death, at the young age of 46.

The relationship between athletic communications staff members and the reporters who cover their teams is different now than it was when Calabrese and O'Rourke would come to Jadwin Gym or head out on the road. For starters, there are so many fewer reporters now. For another, athletic communications is its own media outlet now, which changed the dynamic.

TB remembers the 1990s largely for the relationships he had with the reporters who covered the team, and he has so many great stories from those days, stories that always bring back a smile and make him laugh.

When he thought back to Larry O'Rourke, he thought about a funny guy, a happy guy, a people person who loved to talk, talk, talk. Everyone TB spoke to about O'Rourke last week said the same thing about him.

TB can't remember a time he saw O'Rourke that he wasn't laughing and smiling, and he can't remember a negative thing Larry ever said about anyone. It's likely TB heard Larry vent and rip into someone at some point, but last week, thinking back to his time with Larry, none of that stood out.

TB was hesitant to write about the death of a sportswriter one day after writing about the death of Clarence Clemons, but he felt it was something he had an obligation to do.

Larry O'Rourke died way too young, from a hideous killer.

TigerBlog knew him when he was healthy, when he was happy, when he was doing what he loved to do.

And so when TB thinks back to Larry, he'll think back to those times, such as the long ride back from Dartmouth in the minivan, a night when TB had no idea that two of his friends who were traveling with him would be taken so soon.

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