Old-Timers’ Day – 2013

June 26, 2013 – My favorite day of the regular season is Old-Timers’ Day.

There’s no greater celebration of a team’s heritage than Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium. And, for me, the opportunity to spend time with former greats who I’ve written stories about and gotten to know has made the experience even more special each season.

This year’s festivities took place on Sunday, June 23. On a hot afternoon in the Bronx, I interviewed Yogi Berra, Don Larsen, David Cone, David Wells, Bernie Williams, Bucky Dent, Joe Pepitone and Rickey Henderson for a special section on Mariano Rivera, which will be published in the 2014 New York Yankees Official Yearbook.

While I was busy talking to those players, the rest of our editorial team was conducting interviews with other members of the Yankees family about Rivera and for our next alumni section, which will be published in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Among the great quotes I gathered on Rivera, one stood out. Williams, who was teammates with the legendary closer for 12 seasons, put Rivera’s career in perspective better than anyone I’ve talked to this season.

“Being the best closer in baseball for all of these years, Mariano has been able to shut down two generations of Major League baseball players,” Williams said. “He’s been that good for nearly 20 years. That in and of itself is remarkable. The fact that he’s been able to be so consistent with basically one pitch is equally as impressive. He’s the greatest closer in the history of the game.”

Our editors weren’t the only people working hard on Old-Timers’ Day. Yankees photographers Ariele Goldman Hecht, James Petrozzello, Matt Ziegler and Lou Rocco captured an impressive array of images, many of which will be published in our annual Old-Timers’ Day photo essay. In my opinion, this year’s collection of photos, which will be published in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine, is the best one we’ve ever put together.

Below are a few of my favorite photos from the feature. Starting at the top, the images are of Paul O’Neill, Rivera, Goose Gossage, Henderson and Andy Pettitte (in the first photo); Ron Guidry (in the second photos) and David Cone and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez (in the third photo).

–Alfred Santasiere III




Exclusive Story on Hideki Matsui – in July Issue of Yankees Magazine

June 21, 2013 – On June 14, I spent the afternoon with Hideki Matsui in New York City.

During my time with the Japanese slugger, I interviewed him for a feature story that will appear in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine.

That edition will be on sale throughout the month of July, which includes a very special day. On July 28, the Yankees will be honoring Matsui, who played for the team from 2003 through 2009, in a pre-game ceremony. The team will also be distributing Hideki Matsui bobbleheads to the first 18,000 fans in attendance, and there will be a commemorative cover on every copy of Yankees Magazine sold at the Stadium on the 28th.

My afternoon with Matsui began at Restaurant Nippon, which is New York’s City’s first Japanese restaurant to serve raw sushi.

Matsui, his long-time translator Roger Kahlon, Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello, Joe Flannino of the team’s security detail and I were seated in a private room in the restaurant. Minutes after we arrived, Matsui ordered an enormous platter of raw sushi that included eel, shrimp and tuna.

“If you went to a restaurant in Japan, this is what it would be like,” Matsui said through Kahlon during the first course of our meal. “This is as authentic of a Japanese restaurant as there can be.”

Then, Matsui paid me a compliment that I don’t think I deserved.

“You’re pretty good at eating with chopsticks,” Matsui said. “I remember taking Joe Torre to a Japanese restaurant. He couldn’t get any food into his mouth with chopsticks. I thought he was going to ask the waiter for a fork.”

Our second course included soba noodle bowls. Restaurant Nippon grows it’s own soba noodles — which are buckwheat noodles — on a farm in Canada. The noodle bowl that Matsui ordered included salmon and salmon roe, and the one I feasted on included shrimp. Without question, it was one of the best meals I’ve had.

During the interview, which took place over lunch, Matsui discussed how his life has changed since his recent retirement from the game.

Matsui is still one of the most famous people in Japan, but he is no longer under the media spotlight, which for several years shined brighter on him than it did on just about any other athlete in the world.

When Matsui signed with the Yankees in 2003, 400 Japanese journalists were at the press conference and about 100 members of Japan’s press corps followed his every move in pinstripes. clubhouse

“I’ve been able to live a more normal life these days,” Matsui said. “It’s quite a welcome change. That was a great time in my life, but I’m able to spend quality time with my family now, whether it’s at home or in public. Things are a lot more relaxed.”

Matsui also talked to me about some of his finest moments in pinstripes including the 2009 World Series. Matsui took home MVP honors in that Fall Classic after batting .615 with three home runs and eight RBI. Of course, his performance in Game 6 was one for the ages. In that deciding game, Matsui drove in six runs, two of which came on a longball off Pedro Martinez.

“I was behind in the count right away,” Matsui said about that second inning at-bat. “Then, I fouled off about eight pitches, and that helped me with my timing. After that, [Pedro] threw me a fastball in the middle of the plate, and I was able to hit it hard.”

At the end of the interview, I asked Matsui about his upcoming day of honor, during which he will sign a one-day minor league contract with the Yankees to allow for a proper send-off.

“When I made the decision to come to the United States, it wasn’t so I could play in the majors,” Matsui said. “It was so that I could play for the Yankees. To have the opportunity to retire as a Yankee, there’s no greater honor than that.”

After the meal, we headed to Yankee Stadium. When we got to the upper deck of the empty ballpark, Petrozzello took the photo that will grace the commemorative cover as well as the image that will appear in the opening spread of the career retrospective story on the former outfielder.

You’ll have to wait a few more days to see the cover photo. But, for now, enjoy the beautiful portrait below, which will be part of my exclusive story on Matsui.

–Alfred Santasiere III


Hideki Matsui 2

Special Commemorative Old-Timers’ Day Cover

June 2, 2013 — For the first time, we will be publishing a commemorative Old-Timers’Day cover — as part of the June Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Old-Timers’ Day will take place this season on June 23. The game program that will be sold at Yankee Stadium that afternoon will be identical to the June Issue of Yankees Magazine with the exception of the cover. The special Old-Timers’ Day cover (see below) features a candid image that Yankees chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht snapped of Yogi Berra and Mariano during last year’s Old-Timers’ Day festivities.

Could there be anyone more fitting than the two guys who grace this commemorative cover? Berra and Rivera are two of the greatest baseball players of all-time. One of them has been a staple at Old-Timers’ Day for decades and the other is writing the final chapter in a one-in-a-million career.

–Alfred Santasiere III


June Issue of Yankees Magazine – ON SALE, JUNE 3

June 2, 2013 – The June Issue of Yankees Magazine will be on sale Monday, June 3 at Yankee Stadium.

Of course, you can purchase a subscription to the print version of Yankees Magazine by visiting http://www.yankees.com/publications or by calling (800) GO-YANKS. The digital version of the magazine is available through http://www.yankees.com/publications.

The cover of the June Issue features an exclusive photograph of Ichiro Suzuki, which Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello took in spring training. The cover image is a rare portrait of Ichiro, in which the superstar outfielder is not wearing sunglasses. Instead, Ichiro’s signature sunglasses are placed on this hat. As you can see from the image below, this cover embodies the quiet class that Ichiro exudes every time he takes the field.

The cover story, which was written by executive editor Ken Derry, is just as exclusive as the cover image. Derry sat down with Ichiro for about a half hour and truly captured the essence of who Ichiro is — on and off the field.

The June Issue also features stories on Vernon Wells and Austin Romine, which were scribed by contributing writer Mark Feinsand and managing editor Nathan Maciborski, respectively.

I wrote two stories, which appear in this edition. The first is on former Yankees skipper Joe Torre. For that feature, I spent a day with Torre in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York (see blog entry below). It was one of the most memorable days of my career, and the story is one of the favorites I’ve ever written.

I also wrote a feature about a remarkable recognition that one of my Yankees colleagues received. On May 22, Yankees senior VP of Marketing, Deborah A. Tymon was one of five individuals presented with the Outstanding Civilian Service Award by the United States Army (see photo below). The award is the third-highest public service honor the Army can bestow on a civilian.

Since beginning her Yankees career in 1985, Tymon has consistently gone out of her way to support and raise awareness for members of the military and for their families.

Tymon, whose father was severely injured in World War II, was involved in the creation of Military Appreciation Day, which is now a Yankee Stadium tradition. Tymon has also worked closely with the Wounded Warrior Foundation since the non-for-profit organization was founded in 2003. She has spearheaded the donation of thousands of Yankees tickets to injured soldiers each season, and she has created several pre-game ceremonies each year to honor wounded warriors.

Additionally, Tymon has sent out thousands of care packages each year to soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her efforts certainly don’t end there, but you’ll have to read my story in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine to learn about all the other ways Tymon has made a difference.

I was privileged enough to be Tymon’s guest on the day the Yankees executive was recognized in Washington, D.C. The day included a tour of the Pentagon; a meeting with the 38th chief of staff of the United States Army, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, in his Pentagon office (see photo below); lunch with a group of soldiers; a private tour of the Tomb of the Unknowns and a private dinner at Odierno’s quarters.

Tymon was presented with the award at an hour-long ceremony known as Twilight Tattoo, held at Fort Myer Army base. Twilight Tattoo included music from several Army bands and the re-enactment of military battles dating back to the Civil War (see photos below).

Tymon’s work is inspiring, and I hope every Yankees fan that picks up a copy of the June Issue of Yankees Magazine reads about her life-long commitment to supporting the military.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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Exclusive Q&A with Mariano Rivera and Cal Ripken Jr.

June 2, 2013 – On May 20, I conducted an exclusive interview Mariano Rivera and Cal Ripken Jr. in Baltimore, and the Q&A feature will be published in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine and in the 2013 edition of Yankees Magazine en Español.

The 40-minute conversation between the two baseball legends and I took place in the visiting dugout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards (see photo below).

The interview had special meaning to me, because I’ve had the honor of working with both Ripken and Rivera during my career, and they are two of the very best people I’ve ever been around.

I was a member of the Baltimore Orioles media relations department in 2001, which was Ripken’s final season in the game. I had the privilege of being around the Hall of Fame shortstop/third baseman before and after every game he played in Baltimore — from the moment he announced that 2001would be his last season through the final time he wore the Orioles uniform.

As a member of the Yankees front office, I have worked with Rivera since 2003, and it’s been especially meaningful to cover the closer in 2013, which is his final season in the game.

In the interview, which focused the final chapters of Rivera and Ripken’s respective careers, I asked the icons to describe the emotions they felt as they prepared to announce their retirements. I was compelled to ask the question because I walked with Ripken (in 2001) and Rivera (in spring training earlier this year) to the press conferences in which they announced that there was an end date for their careers. Both of those experiences were memorable, and in both cases, it was clear to me that the players had mixed emotions.

“My emotions were fine as I walked in to the room,” Rivera began. “I knew what I wanted to say. But when I turned around and saw the whole team, the owner and members of the front office, that shook me. That almost got me but I was able to stay composed and do what I needed to do. I’m at peace with my decision, and when you’re at peace with what you’re going to do, everything runs smoothly.”

“I felt all kinds of emotions at that moment,” Ripken said. “Mariano did a nice job of explaining the meaning of being around a group of guys, and that’s ultimately what you’re saying goodbye to. It’s not necessarily about stopping your playing career as much as it is about leaving an atmosphere that you love being in. I was at peace with my decision, as well, because I had a full career. But it was letting go of being part of a team that was pulling at me. You could cry, you could laugh, or you could jump up and pump your fist in the air. All of those things were right on the edge for me.”

After a brief pause, Ripken addressed Rivera.

“There were certain moments that pulled at me during my last season,” Ripken said. “I’m sure you’re going to have them as the days wind down, if you haven’t felt it already. But, you can always change your mind and keep playing.”

I also asked the legendary ballplayers what it means to have played for one team during their entire careers.

“Well, it becomes your identity,” Ripken said. “I can take that one step further, I’m from Maryland, so I grew up watching the Orioles and loving the Orioles. Then the Orioles drafted me, and I worked hard to make it to the majors. Then I decided to stay here for my entire career. Every player wants what Mariano and I have — stability with one team, identity with one team and happiness with one team. I have a special bond with the people of Baltimore, and that’s the ultimate. Other players get criticized for moving around, but management makes many of those decisions. If you ask every player if they would prefer to play for one team, they would all say yes.”

“It’s special,” Rivera added. “It’s a privilege. As Cal said, you have to work hard enough to make it. Then you have to be consistent, and the team has to want you to stay. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to do my job all these years and that the Yankees have always wanted me to be here. I’m honored to wear the Yankees uniform.”

At the end of the interview, Ripken and Rivera shared their thoughts about each other.

“Cal is the ultimate,” Rivera said. “I’ve always had the highest respect for the way he represented the Baltimore Orioles. I’ve always tried to emulate players like Cal, who never showed anyone up. That’s class and pride personified. Cal did that for the Baltimore Orioles. I couldn’t be more proud to know him.”

“You can see that Mariano has respect for the game and that he loves the game,” Ripken added. “Through his actions, he shows it every day. There are a lot of kids who want to be big league players but don’t have enough talent to make it. In a way, guys like Mariano and I are representing all of them with our behaviors, and you want to act accordingly and respect and honor the game. Mariano respects the game, and the way he acts makes people gravitate toward him. He leads more so by example than with his words. I couldn’t have more respect than I do for Mariano. He’s the perfect role model for kids who want to be closers, because he doesn’t jump around and pump his fist when he records the final out of a game. Every young player should aspire to be like Mariano.”

Again, this entire interview — with the last two players whose careers were celebrated throughout the country during their final seasons — will be published in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine and in the 2013 edition of Yankees Magazine en Español.

–Alfred Santasiere III


5 Minutes with Justice Sonia Sotomayor

May 15, 2013 — Although the publication date is still a few months away, we are already working diligently to make the second annual Yankees Magazine en Español even better than the first one.

On April 30, I conducted an interview with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which will appear in both Yankees Magazine en Español and in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine (both of which will come out on September 2).

The interview with Sotomayor, who was born and raised in the Bronx, took place in the Justice’s chambers. For me, it was an honor to conduct a one-on-one interview with Sotomayor, and it was an even great thrill to spend a half hour with her in the highest court in the land.

From the minute the interview began with the lifelong Yankees fan, I was taken aback by Sotomayor’s sincerity and intelligence.

A few questions into the interview, I asked Sotomayor how serving as an assistant district attorney in New York City during the early 1980s affected her views on the world.

“It made me realize that people do horribly bad things,” Sotomayor said. “You can’t be a police officer, law enforcement agent or judge without being exposed to the worst things people are capable of doing. People commit horrific crimes not just against strangers, but also against their relatives, and that can make you lose faith in people. This kind of work can make you suspicious about the goodness in people, and knowledge of that possibility is important. But if you look at the defendant who has committed the horrible crime as the model of a human being, you’re forgetting the police officer who is spending his or her life protecting you. I’d much rather focus on the police officer and those good human traits than on the bad.”

A few minutes later, Sotomayor spoke to me about the moment in which President Obama informed her that she was his nominee for the Supreme Court.

“At about 8:10 at night, my cellphone rang,” Sotomayor said. “I picked it up, and the voice on the other side said, ‘This is the White House switchboard operator. Please hold for the president.’ My heart began to beat very loudly. I still didn’t want to believe he would pick me because if he were calling me to offer me condolences, I was going to be very disappointed. I was holding my breath with my heart pounding. Thankfully, he got on the phone with me quickly, and said, ‘Judge, I am calling because I’ve decided to make you my nominee to the United States Supreme Court.’ I immediately began to cry. I had to put my hand over my heart to keep it from beating out of my chest. I said to him, ‘Mr. President, I’m crying.’ It was the most overwhelming moment of my life.”

Near the end of this interview, which I consider to be one of the very best I’ve conducted in my life, I asked the Justice a few questions about her favorite baseball team.

I was especially moved by Sotomayor’s answer to a question about the ceremonial first pitch she threw at Yankee Stadium in 2009 (see photo below).

“I took my brother with me that day, and at the end of the game, he said, ‘If you ever owed me anything, today you’ve paid me off,’” Sotomayor said. “The Yankees have a history in which people take enormous pride, and I felt as if I was sort of a spec in that history when I was on the mound. That was deeply moving, and I felt as if I had lived yet another fantasy.”

–Alfred Santasiere III


Special Day In Denver For Mariano Rivera

May 8, 2013 – Next season’s New York Yankees Official Yearbook will include a lengthy section on the legendary career of Mariano Rivera. Within the 30-page (or more) portion of the publication, there will be a piece on the closer’s farewell tour.

Opposing teams in each town that Rivera and the Yankees play in this season are planning to honor him in pre-game ceremonies.

One of those ceremonies took place in Denver on May 8, as the Colorado Rockies paid tribute to Rivera and presented him with a check for his foundation.

Additionally, as Rivera makes his final stop in major league cities this season, he is planning to spend time with small groups of people who he believes deserve to be recognized for their contributions to the game.

Before the on-field festivities in Colorado, Rivera hosted a meet-and-greet with about 10 people, most of whom work for the Rockies. At Rivera’s request, Rockies PR personnel identified the individuals who made up the small gathering, and they included long-time members of the grounds crew as well as other members front office employees.

When Rivera walked into the small press conference room at Coors Field, he immediately demonstrated how gracious he is.

“I want to make sure that I took the time to thank each and every one of you for what you’ve done for your organization and for the game of baseball,” Rivera said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of the Yankees or a fan of me. I don’t want to take for granted the things you do behind the scenes, because the players wouldn’t be able to be on the field every day.”

After Rivera answered questions about how he remains calm in pressure-packed situations and how he learned to throw his famous cutter, he was hit with a question that caused him to pause.

“You define about a 25-year time period in baseball,” said Jim Saccomano, who is the longtime VP of public relations for the Denver Broncos and possibly the most dedicated Yankees I’ve ever come across. “Fans measure the game by you. Is it possible for a guy like you to understand just how important you are?

“Well, that’s a hard question to answer, because I never thought about myself in that way,” Rivera said. “I’m just a simple man who goes out and tries to do the job for my organization. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to play for the Yankees. Where I came from in Panama, we couldn’t even afford baseballs or baseball bats. I have never forgotten where I came from. I guess that makes me a humble person.”

A big part of my story on the Coors Field meet-and-greet will be about Saccomano, who I interviewed a few hours before the game at his Denver home.

I spoke to Saccomano again after the meet-and-greet, and he shared his excitement about the event with me.

“Nothing is exactly as you expect,” said Saccomano, who has attended about 200 Yankees games in 16 cities since the middle of the 2003 season. “This was better than I expected it to be. For me, it was a career moment, and I was deeply honored to be included.”

After visiting with Saccomano, I caught up with Rivera, and I asked him if any questions stood out to him during the meet-and-greet.

“The question about what I thought about myself was interesting,” Rivera said. “It’s something I never dreamed I would be asked. I enjoyed the question because it made me think about the good things I’ve bee a part of with the Yankees.”

My fellow editors and I will be on several more road trips this summer, chronicling all the stops along Rivera’s final tour. In my opinion, those stories, along with my feature on Rivera’s special day in Denver, will help to make the tribute to Rivera in the 2014 New York Yankees Yearbook a special keepsake.

–Alfred Santasiere III


5 Minutes with… Peyton Manning

May 7, 2013 – While in Denver to cover the May 8 pre-game ceremony in which the Colorado Rockies will be honoring Mariano Rivera, I interviewed legendary quarterback Peyton Manning.

I spoke to Manning this morning at the Denver Broncos training facility for a “5 Minutes with…” Q&A feature, which will be published in the August Issue of Yankees Magazine. Our discussion about Manning’s famous family was interesting, and the quarterback’s comments about his approach to the game were riveting.

At the beginning of the interview, I asked Manning if he would share the best advise he ever got from his father, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning.

“If you want to be successful at something, you have to have a good work ethic,” Manning said. “My dad was a hard worker, and he was ahead of his time in terms of weight lifting and offseason conditioning. He instilled that in me, and it has definitely helped. That’s why I’m still playing the game at whatever age I am these days.”

I also asked Manning a question that has intrigued me for years. When he and his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, discuss football, what are the specific topics of conversation? In other words, what do they really talk about regarding football?

“When we play common opponents, we share the ways we have attacked those teams,” the four-time NFL MVP said. “It always helps to talk about to someone who actually played against them as opposed to what you see on film. It’s nice to be able to have those conversations with my brother. We usually talk on Sunday nights about the games we just played, and then we talk again on Thursday about the next week’s game. We certainly enjoy talking about football.”

After a lengthy discussion about Manning’s career, I asked Manning what advise he would offer Derek Jeter, as the Yankees shortstop attempts to come back from the most serious injury of his career. Manning, who missed the entire 2011 football season because of a neck injury and returned to his All-Pro form last season, offered an emphatic answer.

“Derek doesn’t need any advise from me, but I’m pulling for him,” said Manning, who led the Indianapolis Colts to a championship during the 2006 season, while also taking home the Super Bowl MVP Award. “We’ve been friends for a while, and he was supportive of me when I was injured. I know he will be out there and playing at a high level as soon as he’s healthy. I’m looking forward to seeing that, because it’s not the same when No. 2 isn’t on the field.”

–Alfred Santasiere III


Torre Story

May 3, 2013 – Last September, I spent a day with former Yankees manager Joe Torre in his hometown of Brooklyn for a very special feature, which will be published in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine.

On the morning of Sept. 25 — which is the anniversary of Torre’s major league debut — he picked Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello and I up at Yankee Stadium, and we drove to the house the skipper grew up in.

After we arrived at the red-brick house on Avenue T in Brooklyn, we spent about an hour with Torre’s two sisters — one of whom still lives there. The three siblings spoke candidly about their abusive father and about the violence they witnessed in the very room we were in.

“My dad caused a lot of fear in our home,” Torre said. “A lot of times, I didn’t know what was going on because I was so young, but I was still affected by it. Fear is a terrible emotion, and it caused me to be a nervous kid even when I wasn’t at home.”

Torre also reminisced about his mother, who passed away several years ago.

“My mom was always there for us,” Torre said. “She was always home, and she was our security blanket. Because of my mom, there was a lot of love in our home.”

After our mid-morning conversation, Torre, Petrozzello and I walked to Marine Park, which is located one block from the house. Torre learned to play baseball on the fields there, and his return brought back great memories.

“We were always in this park,” said Torre as he leaned against the medal backstop of one of the many diamonds that are still there. “Baseball was the only thing I ever thought about.”

After our walk in the park, we joined Torre’s sisters at a local deli for lunch. During the meal, Torre discussed one of the turning points in his life, which came shortly after the Yankees hired him in 1995.

“[Torre’s wife] Ali asked me if I would go to a four-day self-help seminar that was being held at the Holiday Inn in Cincinnati,” Torre said. “I just said yes because she was pregnant, and I wasn’t going to say no to her at that time. The point of the program was for people to discuss any issues they needed help with, and frankly, I didn’t even go in there knowing what I was going to talk about.

“I didn’t realize how invasive the conversations were going to be,” Torre continued. “But without even thinking, I wound up talking about the fears I had as a kid because of my dad. I had already been named the manager of the Yankees, and I was sitting there with a group of strangers, crying my eyes out. It was great for me because I finally realized that I wasn’t born with so many insecurities.”

Torre’s life off the field changed for the better after that. Of course, leading the Yankees to four championships made his work life pretty enjoyable, as well.

We ended Torre’s homecoming visit with a stop at the Brooklyn Bridge. As Torre posed for the opening spread photo, which was taken about half way across the New York landmark bridge, Torre peered out toward the borough he grew up in.

“Regardless of where life takes me, this will always be home,” Torre said. “I had some tough times here as a kid, but there’s no place in the world where I feel more comfortable.”

For more on Torre’s inspirational life, check out this story in the June Issue of Yankees Magazine.

–Alfred Santasiere III



5 Minutes with… Joe Montana

May 3, 2013 – The July Issue of Yankees Magazine will feature a special “5 Minutes with…” Q&A interview.

On April 26, I conducted a lengthy interview with Joe Montana and Yankees chief photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht captured several unique portraits of the legendary quarterback for the piece. The interview and subsequent photo shoot took place at The New York Palace hotel during Montana’s recent New York getaway.

I asked Montana about being a part of the group of elite quarterbacks from Western Pennsylvania, which includes Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly.

“It’s a great group to be a part of,” Montana said. “I didn’t think I was going to be playing football for a living because basketball was what I felt I had the best chance at. But it’s funny how things changed, and to end up being included with those guys is a great honor.”

A few minutes later, Montana, who was one of seven freshman quarterbacks on the University of Notre Dame’s 1974 roster, discussed his first season in South Bend.

“I was very persistent, and I knew that if I kept working hard, I would catch on,” Montana said. “I really had to stay after it because I didn’t do well at first. I was overwhelmed by the ridiculous size of the football team. Some of the other quarterbacks got moved to other positions, but the coaches knew I couldn’t play anywhere else because I was too skinny.”

When we began to discuss Montana’s professional career, the long-time San Francisco 49er spoke to me about the closing moments of Super Bowl XXIII, in which he orchestrated a game-winning drive.

“I had been screaming at the top of my lungs in the huddle, and I didn’t eat a lot that day,” said Montana, who won four Super Bowls and was named the MVP in three of those games. “I was probably a little famished by the end of the game. About half way through the drive, I dropped back, and everything looked fuzzy for me. I didn’t want to throw an interception, so I just threw the ball out of bounds. The next thing I knew, I was hyperventilating. I guess the excitement of the moment, along with all of those other factors, just got to me. When I look back on it now, it’s funny.”

Finally, I asked the Hall of Fame quarterback for his thoughts on two Yankees legends — Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

“The biggest thing in sports is being consistent,” Montana said. “When you start to get successful, you have to remain consistent for a long time to become one of the great players in history. When I think about Mariano and Derek, the first thing that comes to my mind is how consistent they’ve been. I’ve always been amazed by Derek because he goes out there game in and game out and plays at such a high level every day. What he’s been able to do is mind-boggling to me.”

After the interview, I gave Montana a baseball that I had previously asked Rivera to sign for him. On the baseball, the greatest closer of all-time included a classy note (see photo below), and Montana beamed with pride when he read it.

–Alfred Santasiere III




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