I was 14 and had been following boxing for perhaps three years. I had never met a professional athlete before and was extremely nervous.
"Go on, go up to him," my father said, lightly pushing me on my shoulders. Like a mule who has made up his mind to stand his ground, I planted my feet.
"Don't be afraid," said my dad. "It's okay. Go!"
I took a deep breath and walked up to the fighter whom I idolized. He had just finished his workout and was now signing autographs. A white towel was draped over his shoulders. It was July. The midday desert heat of Las Vegas was intense, yet my sweat was from the nervousness of meeting my idol.
I nervously handed him my pad and he signed it, asking me my name as he did.
Then he put his arm around my shoulders and asked where I was from. When I told him Long Island, he said excitedly, "I live on Long Island, too! Maybe you'll come and watch me train when we get back home." My mouth and my eyes opened wide with disbelief. I wanted to say something, but found myself speechless. He shook my hand and said, "It was nice meeting you, Randy." As we shook hands, what seemed to be a million other kids descended upon him and thrust pads at him. I pulled back. I was stunned. He gave me an autograph. He talked to me. He put his arm around me. He shook my hand. I looked at the autograph.
"To Randy," he wrote. "Thank you. Sincerely, Floyd Patterson."
Thank you. He was thanking me for asking him for his autograph.
Two nights later, he was knocked out in the first round for the second time by Charles "Sonny" Liston. Unlike the first loss to Liston, Patterson did not escape the arena wearing a disguise. This time, he handled the loss well. Me? I remember getting a bit teary-eyed.
During my teenage years, which ended in 1969, I had four sports idols. One was Floyd. Then baseball legend Sandy Koufax was added to my list. Two more boxers followed--Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. But Floyd was, and always will be, my first sports idol.
The years went by and I grew more and more interested in boxing. Twenty years later, I was asked by the PRISM television network to announce a fight card for them. I would do blow-by-blow. Floyd Patterson would do color commentary. I was ecstatic.
Patterson was as nice to me then as he had been two decades earlier. I watched as youngsters--and oldtimers, as well--approached him for his autograph. He turned nobody away and thanked each of them as he handed them the autograph.
After the show, he gave me his phone number in New Paltz, New York. Over the years I stayed in touch with him. Five years later, I was named Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. Floyd was among the many calls I received congratulating me on the appointment.
During my seven years as commissioner, I saw Floyd on many occasions. Several times he came to the downtown NYSAC Manhattan office for a morning, day-of-the-fight weigh-in. He knew he could just walk into my private office if he wanted to, but always politely asked my secretary, Michele, if I was available, first. He thanked her as she showed the champ in.
In the first week of June, 1995, I heard through the political grapevine that New York's newly-appointed Governor, George Pataki, was going to remove me as Chairman and replace me with Floyd Patterson. Talk about mixed emotions.
I called Floyd at home and discussed it with him.
"I wanted to call you Randy, but kept holding back in fear you'd be mad at me," said Floyd.
"Mad at you! Floyd, I'm not mad at you. I'm happy for you," I told him. "You're going to make a great Chairman and Commissioner. You are one of the finest men in boxing. You exemplify everything that's right with this sport." I told him if there was ever anything I could do to help him with his job, he should not hesitate to pick up the phone. He thanked me for being so understanding.
Now, not quite 34 months after being sworn in as the 15th Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission since its inception in 1920, Floyd Patterson has resigned because of an inability to properly do his job.
I feel bad for Floyd, much worse than I felt when he lost either fight to Liston. I feel bad for what was done to him for the past three years. Politicians used him. They used his great name. They used his goodness. They used his integrity. They used it all to make themselves look good.
Then, they stood by--like a bunch of ruthless cornermen waiting to count their share of the purse as their pug is hammered from corner to corner--as a skilled, sharp attorney picked Floyd apart on the witness stand in court March 20 as he represented the New York State Athletic Commission. His corner should have thrown in the towel. They should have stepped in and stopped the carnage early. Floyd should have been spared of the agony of what his political "friends" allowed this incredibly decent and sensitive man to go through.
Gov. Pataki has now said he's considering making Floyd an "Honorary Chairman" of the commission, with no decision-making responsibilities and no pressure. Wonderful! He should have thought about that three years ago!
Floyd Patterson was my first sports idol. He is my friend. I hope he thinks the same of me. I and my wife, Roni, will always be there if Floyd and Janet need us for anything.
It was 35 years ago I first met Floyd Patterson and saw the goodness in this quiet, unassuming man who has done nothing but give love and help to those who ask for it.
Now, it's my turn.
Floyd, from the bottom of my heart, Thank you.
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