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Don Paul: Marty Glickman and me

After college and before finally pursuing my TV career, I spent some time doing decidedly non-meteorological work.

The best though poorest paying period was my couple of years as an accomplished flunky at the adult radio station, WNEW-AM in New York.

Among my cherished experiences was the chance to be a minor functionary for the father of modern sports play-by-play broadcasting, Marty Glickman. Marty was the longtime voice of the New York Football Giants. That’s only a tiny segment of his career and background, but that’s the part in which I got to participate.

If you don't know Glickman's story, you should. In 1936, he was set to run in a relay in the Summer Olympics in Germany. He didn’t get the chance. Hitler and anti-semitism, along with a disgracefully compromised U.S. Olympics Committee, snuffed that out chance for Marty and his partner. They couldn’t stop Jesse Owens from running due to his already established and accomplished fame. That would be too obvious a fix even for the Nazis. But the lesser known Jewish athletes? The fix turned out to be in.

Glickman never allowed that aching disappointment to dampen his other great gift; that of being a superb broadcast storyteller and a true giant in the field of broadcasting. The story of his life was the subject of an HBO documentary. Here’s a trailer

The number of broadcasters who count Glickman as a mentor or inspiration is legion. Even former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly hired him to help him improve his broadcast skills when he was doing a show at WGRZ.

All this is to give you context of what a privilege it was to get to know Marty for a couple of years, and reflect on an act of kindness I’m sure he never gave a second thought.

Early in my time at WNEW, Marty and I were chatting about the Giants. I was still in awe of his approachability, warmth and gentle demeanor when he said something like, “Hey young man … how would you like to help out in the booth at home games?” What he wanted me to do was to hand him the correct cue cards to introduce commercials. There were local WNEW spots and NY Giants Football Network spots, and they required the right introduction or money would be lost, just as the case is for Bills’ broadcasts.

“The booth” was an open box hanging from the upper deck at old Yankee Stadium, next to noisy coaches from the visiting team. During 1971, the Giants were at one of their true low points, but I didn’t care one whit. I was going to be there for these iconic broadcasts, and get to watch our great broadcast team and my stinky but beloved Giants. Our color man was College and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff. Wow! You have no idea what a big deal he was back then; he even had his own CBS Reports documentary hosted by Walter Cronkite, “The Violent World of Sam Huff.”

At that time, the Giants had a new star running back, Michigan’s Ron Johnson. He was the first Giant to have a 1,000-yard season. I think for a scary treat, Marty told me he wanted me to spot Johnson for him in the first quarter of a game. I didn’t last the first offensive series. After 2 or 3 running plays, I was in a panic. I had no confidence in my yardage count. I had no “4 Yard Guarantee.” Let’s just say you have to know football better than I did to do that sort of thing. Marty saw my alarm, smiled, and told me to just pick up a black phone, at the other end of which was a Giants spotter who simply spit out the numbers for me and our crew. My short, sweaty nightmare was over.

Despite the Giants’ losing ways that year, the fans revered Marty. After a loss, you’d see quite a few of them milling on the field, waving and shouting up to the booth: “It’s YOOR FAWLT, MAHTY!” Marty loved it, and always returned the waves.

On the last game of the 1971 season, the Eagles were pummeling the Giants. They had made the awful Fran Tarkenton trade at the start of the season and the team was in an “Abandon All  Hope Ye Who Enter Here” mode. That was the only game in which it was truly frigid in that wind-whipped open booth. We had propane heaters. I huddled next to one, with my blue polyester bell bottoms right next to the heater grill, both halves. Sam never remembered my name in those two seasons. He just called me “pardner.” The only way in and out of that booth was to climb a steel ladder. After the game, I was climbing up the ladder to exit, just ahead of Huff. I heard him say, “Hey pardner. Your pants melted!” I looked down and that polyester on my cuff which was next to the heater had turned to some kind synthesized slag.

My WNEW finale came when I allowed my idolatry of Marty to get the best of me. I read a blurb in one of the New York papers that the station had not yet signed a new deal with Glickman. When I saw Marty in the hallway, I asked him about it. He told me that for some reason they weren’t returning calls. A couple of days later, he jumped ship, went over to WOR and signed to do the Jets games. This caused such an uproar, WNEW had to hire Marv Albert to replace him.

The guy who didn’t return Marty’s calls was a new program director who didn’t quite get the “Big W” musical heritage. He thought it was a good idea to mix Bobby Vinton and Tony Orlando with our mainstays, Frank, Ella, Mel, and Basie. Ratings had been edging down, and I’d heard my position as a low-level promotional writer was on the block along with some other slots. When this program director heard I was griping about losing Marty because the he didn’t return his calls, I got my second heave ho of the year, sped up by about a month. That broke my heart, admittedly.

If that PD is still alive today, I’d like to picture him out there in Podunk mixing Kenny G and Miles Davis on the playlist.

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