Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Man Of The Hour

The man of the hour stood inside the glass-encased squash court that has taken up temporary residence where basketballs usually bounce, right there in the center of the main floor of the Daskalakis Athletic Center at Drexel University.

He wore a dark suit with a yellow tie, one adorned with crossed squash racquets, one that left TigerBlog wondering where someone would get such a tie in the first place.

As he sat and listened to what was being said, TigerBlog couldn't help but think of how different this man looks in a suit and not the attire TB usually sees him in - white tennis shorts, a Princeton shirt of some sort and a jacket.

TB isn't talking about any tennis shorts. He's talking about the kind that they used to wear at Wimbledon and Forest Hills back in the early 1970s.

In fact, now that he thinks about it, TB wonders where someone would get those shorts these days as well.

This was a more formal occasion, though, and for the man of the hour, only a suit and tie would do.

And so that's what Bob Callahan wore to his U.S. Squash Hall of Fame induction ceremony, even though TB had offered him $20 to wear the Princeton women's hockey jersey that was on the office chair when Callahan came into the office earlier in the day.

In fact, Callahan could have worn whatever he wanted, since this really wasn't about any kind of showy dress.

No, this was about what was underneath, what was in the heart - Bob Callahan's and everyone who was there last night.

Some applause is polite. Some applause is mandatory. Some applause is overcompensated.

When they clapped for Bob Callahan, it was for one reason only. Everyone there loves the guy.

Trinity head coach Paul Assaiante introduced Callahan and called him "the classiest person I know." He also spoke about Callahan's legendary sportsmanship, how he treats victory and defeat the same. He called Callahan his friend multiple times and twice called him his "brother from another mother."

Going back to February, Callahan's Princeton team defeated Assaiante's Bantams to win the national championship. This wasn't just any championship, though. This one ended Trinity's 13-year run at the top.

Assaiante joked that he was wearing his 13th championship ring because Bob Callahan had prevented him from earning a 14th.

And then Callahan walked up to the microphone and gave the punchline: "I told my team that nobody beats us 14 years in a row."

After that, Callahan mentioned how supportive his rival had been back in the spring, when, as he said, "I had a few medical issues."

Yes, a few medical issues. As in brain surgery to remove a tumor. As in treatment that is continuing now.

Not that you could ever tell that anything was up by talking to him or watching him.

Callahan's attitude through his "medical issues" has been amazing. It's been ridiculous, really, that a person who faces what he faces has managed to do so with such understated determination and such matter-of-factness.

When TB asked Callahan how his radiation treatments were going back in the spring, he responded with one word: "Nice." Then he elaborated. "Everyone there is so nice." And then he smiled, just like he always does.

As he gave his speech last night, he thanked all of the people who came out to see him, and really the DAC, as they call it, had been transformed into a room of Orange and Black in Callahan's honor, complete with the entire current Princeton men's and women's teams.

His speech was a reflection of his personality - humble, a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, funny, heartfelt, soft-spoken.

When it was over, there was a standing ovation for him, and there wasn't one person in the room who didn't want the moment to last forever.

The ceremony started with a brief video, and the first picture is one that TB loves every time he sees it.

The picture is in black and white, and it goes back to when Callahan and Gail Ramsay, Princeton's women's coach, knew each other when they were young. In his speech, Callahan referenced the picture and how he first played against Gail when she was 10.

Gail was there last night of course. She was sort of the unofficial greeter and coordinator for the Princeton contingent, and she was all over the room, camera at the ready.

As TB watched her, he couldn't help but think that she was sort of, in an odd way, Callahan's mother, dragging her reluctant son into the spotlight that he had so deservedly earned and yet was genuinely wondering what all the fuss was about. Even during his speech, he said that he understood why the others in the Hall of Fame were there and it was only when he realized that he had dirt on everyone else in the squash world that he figured out why they put him in as well.

In fact, he's in because you can't have a squash Hall of Fame that doesn't include Bob Callahan, for all of his accomplishments as a player and coach, for all of his contributions in promoting the sport and helping it evolve, for all the people he touched.

Last night was his night.

As he was watching Gail,  Bob's mother for the evening, do what she was doing, TB was struck once again by just how much love exists between the two.

It was like that with basically everyone there who has ever met Callahan.

TB is cynical. TB isn't easily moved. TB doesn't usually get emotional.

Last night, he clapped long and hard for Bob Callahan, and like anyone else there, he too wanted to give him a big hug, to make the moment last.

If you know Bob Callahan, you can't help but love him.

He's just that kind of person.