CINCINNATI - It never entered my mind it would be the last time I would see him alive.
And why should it? When I visited with Neil Armstrong in his driveway four weeks ago, he was hale and hearty and here's the remarkable part; glad to see me. That will forever confound me. A kid from Price Hill on a first name basis with....well....Neil Armstrong.
The late Joe Nuxhall said it so well years ago: "The measure of a man is how he treats those who can do nothing for him." What was I to Neil? What could I do for him? Perhaps it stemmed from the fact I never mentioned his "occupation."
Then again maybe it was that Paul Brown first introduced us. As if the coaches' imprimatur imbued me with some measure of respectability. To me another measure of a man is those he is close to. An informal inventory of Neil's buddies and neighbors, including P.B. is revealing: Charles Mechem, John Barrett, Bob Lindner, Jr., the late Jack Twyman. And they are just those I know of.
Consequential men all. But not a braggart among them.
In fact, it was at Jack's memorial service that hundreds of people, who might have been inclined to buy into the suggestion that Neil was somewhat curmudgeonly, found him quite the opposite. Grief stricken at the loss of a friend but at the same time light hearted and even humorous in his portrayal of their good times together.
Now it is Neil who is being eulogized. Rob Portman will be among those who will address a Friday memorial at the Camargo Club. Others, consequential all but without a hint of hubris will undoubtedly also offer tributes.
Oh, as for what brought me to Neil's driveway that Thursday morning? It was to give him a copy of Paul Brown's legendary pre-training camp address. The one he delivered every year the night before his team began practice. In it warned generations of players about potential pitfalls related to professional football.
P.B. wove his friend into the conversation: "I'd like to suggest that you not get suckered into signing a contract with anybody to make speeches. There's no good reason for you to pay anybody a percentage of what you get just because they supposedly get you speeches. Tough part of that is that one guy gets them all and the rest of you don't. It's harmful to our club. I told you this a year ago. We had a guy who was asking for more money for a guy as a speaker than they were getting for Neil Armstrong or the governor. This is ridiculous. I don't respect the predators or the parasites who try to live off somebody else's efforts."
Such was Brown's regard for Neil. (The governor went unnamed).