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Felser showed what it meant to be a pro

I always thought Larry Felser retired too soon. That’s probably because he made writing a daily column, especially when it came to the Bills and football, look so easy. He could do it in his sleep he was so talented. I thought he could have gone on forever. When Vic Carucci and I traveled with him covering the Bills throughout the 1980s, Larry’s column – usually right on point – would be filed and he would be back in his hotel room enjoying dinner and Sunday Night Football while Vic and I were still struggling over our lead paragraphs.

But as much as he loved covering football and the Bills, there were other things to do – many books to read and write, grandchildren to visit and gardens to weed.

When I first came to Buffalo, Larry and I hit it off because we shared the same love of football and college sports.

I doubt if I would have had the chance to cover the Bills if it weren’t for Larry’s endorsement with the editors at The News. I remember my first tour around the league, covering owners meetings, playoff games and Super Bowls. People knew who I was and were welcoming. I strongly suspect it was because of Larry putting in the good word in advance. He was always generous in sharing his knowledge, his contacts and his love of the game, especially if he viewed you as a prospect. I know that Vic Carucci and Mark Gaughan and the late Jim Kelley would second the motion.

There were so many laughs and so many meals shared traveling with the Bills. Larry did his advance scouting on road restaurants as diligently as any football scout. I remember Saturday night meals at the Tadich in San Francisco, Berns Steakhouse in Tampa, any of those great places in New Orleans, Casa Di Boffe in San Diego and Legal Seafoods in Boston. We hit them all and Larry delighted that Warren Buffett was paying the freight.

When it came to expense accounts, Larry always included an item for “valet service – pressing.” I’d say, “Larry, anybody who has seen us rumpled sportswriters would know that our clothing had not seen a hot iron in weeks.” He was the exception, of course. He took pride in dressing and acting like a professional. He was proud of being a sports journalist, a Buffalonian, a Western New Yorker, a Canisius High and Canisius College alumnus and husband, father and grandpa.

Early in my years at the News, a sports department colleague threw his own retirement party, live band and all, at the Park Lane. Our host, who had had a few too many, was complimenting Larry as the three of us waited to enter the dining room.

“Larry,” he slurred. “There’s one thing I always admired about you …” he began.

Larry looked away modestly, waiting for the rest of the sentence. It never came. Our host had nodded off to sleep in mid-sentence. It was one of the many laughs we shared over and over again through the year.

Even though they feuded over the years, Larry and Ralph Wilson were friends. They used to meet for breakfast when Ralph was in town at his condominium in Williamsville, within walking distance of the Felser home on Cayuga Road. Larry was a confidant of some of sports’ most powerful people – Pete Rozelle, Al Davis, George Steinbrenner, Vince Lombardi – as well as top management at The Buffalo News. His endorsement or recommendation were valuable in getting hired or promoted.

The last time I saw Larry he did not look well. He was struggling with health problems but he approached me with that familiar smile on his face and that “Hiya, Cuz” greeting of his. That picture is frozen in my memory along with hundreds of others.

He was a unique and gifted man. Buffalo should be as proud of him as he was of being a Buffalonian.