Ray Bridges will remember forever an Indianapolis Colts game shared with Deryl Chew.
Bridges’ wife was a bit under the weather before the Colts hosted the New York Giants on Aug. 16th at Lucas Oil Stadium, so he mentioned the extra ticket to fans on Facebook. Chew, who had given up his seats to his son and daughter-in-law, expressed an interest.
Because it was a preseason game, conversations were more about life than football. Bridges is known in Colts fan circles as “Tuba Guy” for carrying a euphonium into games. He’s been doing that for more than two decades. Chew showed Bridges cell-phone pictures of his collectibles and they chatted about their families.
A curious Chew eventually asked Bridges his age, to which Bridges said, “Fifty-three, but I’m going for at least 100 since I come from a family where mid-90s is not uncommon.”
Chew advised he couldn’t say that. A number of his family members had died young, including a brother at 59.
Bridges can still recall what Chew said next.
“I’ve lived a really good life,” Chew said. “I have a great family. I’ve done well for myself and done a lot of things. I’ve got no complaints. I’m not saying anything will happen, but if anything would happen, I’ve done well and I’m happy.”
A week later, Chew experienced chest pains as he was walking with his son, Jordan, to Lucas Oil Stadium for the New Orleans Saints preseason game. Deryl had heart issues in the past, including two stents implanted in 2009.
“Even with the way his heart was hurting that day,” Jordan said, “he did not want to turn around and go home. I always thought I was the biggest Colts fan, but I don’t know that I would have continued on. I’m glad that he did.”
It was Deryl’s final game. And it meant everything because he was with his son.
Deryl’s heart quit beating eight days later in the early morning hours of Aug. 31. Jordan, 27, heard the screams from his mother, Earlene, and rushed to his parents’ bedroom in the rural Greenfield home. He tried CPR for about 10 minutes until paramedics arrived. Deryl Chew, like his brother, passed away at 59.
“I think about the irony of our conversation,” Bridges said Tuesday night.
Deryl’s message has stuck with him.
“Just be happy with what you have in life and what you have done,” Bridges said. “And be ready.”
Facebook friends mourn the loss
News quickly spread on Facebook, where Deryl enjoyed interacting with friends on Colts pages. Many posted pictures of Chew’s banner that hangs at Lucas Oil Stadium, him wearing his hardhat and No. 44 Dallas Clark jersey, raising both index fingers with the words next to him: “blue since: 1984.”
“When it all went down Sunday, the outpouring from everybody on Facebook was incredible,” said Jordan’s wife, Cathy. “It was like 400 notifications on his page. People were talking about how Deryl touched them and it always came back to how he was always such a happy guy, a jokester. He had such a quick wit. He made people happy. He made people smile.”
In Harriman, N.Y., Saul Bruh logged onto Facebook that Sunday morning and immediately saw a picture of Chew’s stadium banner with the added words, “Deryl Chew, R.I.P.”
“I’m not a blood relative,” Bruh said last week, “but I’m just heartbroken.”
Bruh and Chew met on Facebook. The Colts were their bond. Bruh, 56, has been cheering for the Horseshoe helmets since 1968.
When Bruh and his son, Robert, came to Indianapolis for the 2013 regular-season finale on Dec. 29, Deryl and Earlene picked them up at the airport. The Bruhs were given a tour of Downtown, dropped off at their hotel, then they all met up at the Indianapolis Colts Grille.
“Who goes out of their way to do something like that for someone they don’t know,” Bruh said.
Deryl Chew, that’s who.
Saul and Robert had such a great time, they wanted to return the next week for the Colts’ wild-card playoff game against Kansas City. They drove back and met with Deryl and Earlene before and after the game.
As the Bruhs were about to depart, Deryl said to Saul, “I’ve got something for you,” and gave his friend a gift bag. When Saul arrived home, he looked inside and found a Super Bowl XLI blanket, drinking glasses, pictures of Peyton Manning, a Sports Illustrated with quarterback Andrew Luck on the cover and a copy of the book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.
A police officer for 21 years and investigator for five years before that, Bruh has witnessed life’s harsh realities up close. He was blown away by Hoosier hospitality. He planned to stay with Deryl and Earlene when he returned to Indy for the New England and Washington games this season.
“The world lost a good person,” Bruh said. “It really pisses me off. I was looking forward to seeing him in November.”
When Bruh makes it back, he will pay respects to his friend at that stadium banner, the public acknowledgement of a Colts life well-lived.
“When you say true blue, that was him,” he said.
Colts connect father and son
Deryl was an affectionate man, “a hugger,” Jordan said. While the son has his father’s quick wit, he isn’t so quick to hug or show affection like his dad.
“He always told me how proud he was of me, but I never told him how proud I was of him,” Jordan said with regret.
But that Chiefs playoff game on Jan. 4, when the Colts rallied from 28 points down to a stirring 45-44 victory, brought Deryl and Jordan closer than ever before.
Jordan clings to a memorable moment, when Luck scooped up a fumble and dove to the end zone for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“They were kicking the crap out of us,” Jordan said of the 38-10 deficit in the third quarter. “But when Andrew Luck picked that ball up that bounced off the center’s head and dove in, I remember putting my arms around my dad and just holding him as tight as I could. It was really awesome.
“And he called me out on it, too.”
“What have you done with my son?” Deryl asked amid the euphoria.
In the days after Deryl’s death, Jordan reflected on so many Colts memories with his father. It goes beyond all the games. Jordan was 6 and missing his two front teeth when his dad took him to a “Hanging With The Horseshoes” TV show. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh had Jordan throw a football back and forth to “Captain Comeback” four times during a commercial break. Then there was the time during Super Bowl XLVI when father and son were walking on Georgia Street and Deryl spotted retired Colts running back Marshall Faulk. Deryl yelled, “Marshall!” A block of fans whirled around to see what the commotion was about.
Deryl’s home office “Man Cave” is a shrine to sports with mostly Colts stuff. Signed footballs are neatly displayed inside shelves, several with Peyton Manning including one from the quarterback’s rookie year in 1998, as well as balls signed by so many others, Reggie Wayne, Clark, Faulk. You name it, he had the signature. The fan who collected so much also had a Colts replica Super Bowl XLI ring, Colts license plates, game ticket stubs and a Tony Dungy Pittsburgh Steelers jersey signed by the former Colts head coach.
“There’s so much history here,” Jordan said, while giving a tour.
The garage housed Deryl’s pride and joy, the first car he ever owned, a 1974 Ford Gran Torino Elite. He wrecked it when he was 19. A telephone pole went through the windshield. Deryl had it restored, and the color repainted royal Colts blue. A Colts pillow is in the back seat.
“He was so proud of this car,” Jordan said.
Deryl’s favorite Colts player from the past was Clark. On the current roster, it was defensive end Cory Redding.
“He liked what (coach) Chuck Pagano and (general manager) Ryan Grigson stand for,” Jordan said. “The player he talked about the most was Cory Redding. He loved his passion and his energy.”
Redding was touched when told of Deryl’s admiration.
“It means a lot to me to hear that I impact folks’ lives that I don’t even know,” Redding said last week. “As a man of faith and what I do, representing my family, I always try to stay on my Ps and Qs because you never know who is watching, the lives that you can impact from just good deeds and things that you say. How you act around other folks can go a long way. That makes me feel good to hear that about this gentlemen and what he thought about me as a person and as a player.”
Redding paused, then added, “That comes from the heart.”
Deryl’s final premonition
Family and friends are preparing for a Celebration of Life service and party at 1 p.m., Sunday, at the Eastside Community Life Center, 10612 Washington St. Fans are encouraged to wear their jerseys and share stories about Deryl. Jordan will be wearing the No. 87 Wayne jersey his father bought him.
“It’s celebrating the legacy he left behind, not mourning a death,” Jordan said. “It shouldn’t be about that. Wear anything Colts.”
As fate would have it, the usual NFL kickoff time doesn’t conflict with the Colts, who play Monday night at home against Philadelphia.
Jordan admits that game will be as emotional as anything he experiences during this life transition. It will be his first without his dad.
“He lived every day happily,” Jordan said. “People like to say that, but this guy truly did. He did everything he ever truly wanted to. Most of the time, it involved his family and the Colts.
“That’s why I’m going to struggle going back to these games because I’ve been to every one with him.”
He will head first to Deryl’s banner, what made his father as well as family and friends so proud. It’s located on the terrace level’s West side, just beyond the Papa Johns pizza concession stand, hanging next to the blue sign for sections 637, 636, 537, 536. Deryl is on the North side of the banner.
“I’ll start there and try to get all my crying out of the way before the game starts,” Jordan said.
Deryl used to drive Jordan crazy with an insistence to arrive at games 90 minutes early so they could hang out with Colts fans.
“I’ll be going there early to spend time with him,” Jordan said.
As family and friends remember Deryl, it’s clear he had premonitions that his life might soon end. It goes beyond the conversation with Bridges.
Six months ago, when Deryl was helping Jordan move in, he walked his son to his office and said, “If you ever need it, my will is right here.” He pointed to it in a drawer. On the day after Deryl died, Jordan saw the will sitting on top of his father’s computer.
On Saturday morning the day before he departed, Deryl was sitting in his living room looking out the front window at about 7 o’clock. Jordan came in after a workout in the garage. Jordan’s miniature pinscher Shelby jumped into Deryl’s lap and started giving him kisses.
As Jordan sat in a chair across the small room and chugged an energy drink, he looked at his father. Shelby eventually curled around Deryl’s neck. Jordan didn’t usually have in-depth conversations with his father. But this morning, Deryl definitely had something to say.
“You know, I’ve lived a great life,” Deryl said. “I have no regrets. I have a great family.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.