Real people inspire us all. That’s why I wrote a story about Colts fan Deryl Chew.
It wasn’t until after I met with Deryl’s son, Jordan, that I realized how much of a connection I had with the man who died too soon. I wrote Wednesday’s tribute to honor a man who had cheered for the Colts since 1984, a man with his picture on a Lucas Oil Stadium banner, a man who always had faith in me and held me in the highest regard.
When news spread on Aug. 31 that Deryl had died at the age of 59 of heart failure, like so many others I was saddened. As much as I try to connect with fans, you remember some and you don’t others. I remembered Deryl as a Facebook friend who loved the Colts. We interacted more than I recalled, until I went back and looked.
He had invited me to come visit Colts fans camping out during training camp at Anderson University. He thought it would be an ideal opportunity to sell my book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Unfortunately, I got tied up and didn’t make it. When I checked back the next week, he advised he didn’t think anyone would still be camping.
In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t remember Deryl was the man who had invited me until I went back and looked at our emails. That was extremely thoughtful of him.
It was with some trepidation that I reached out to people on Facebook to inquire about doing a story on Deryl. You don’t want to intrude on others’ grief. It has to be the right situation, with people comfortable about sharing their stories.
Jordan assured me it would be OK. But I was still wondering how this would work out as I drove to Greenfield last Friday to meet Deryl’s son at a Cracker Barrel for breakfast. Jordan and his wife, Cathy, couldn’t have been more kind. And within minutes, we were all at ease.
At some point, with me carrying on, cracking jokes, teasing our waitress, and just trying to make this an upbeat experience, Jordan and Cathy observed how much my personality reminded them of Deryl. He had a quick wit, liked to laugh and joke around.
“You remind me a lot of Deryl,” Cathy said, and Jordan agreed.
What meant even more to me was when Jordan said, “This is the first time I’ve laughed since my dad left.”
The more they shared stories, the stronger a connection I felt to Deryl. Jordan told me about how his father proposed to his mother, Earlene. It was over the phone, back when Deryl was working at a Ford plant in Chicago. He simply said, “How do you feel about a long-term commitment?”
I basically took the same tact with my wife, Dee, when I made the observation on the phone, “This is going to go the distance, isn’t it?” And she agreed.
Jordan reminded me that I had met his father last year, when Deryl came to the November Christmas Gift & Hobby Show to buy some books. One of them was for his son. Another for Saul Bruh, the New Yorker quoted in the story.
Jordan eventually shared with me how much his father enjoyed my work, how Deryl told him during the middle of a Colts game to get on his phone right then and there and follow me on Twitter.
“My dad was just as jacked up to get that book signed by you as he was to get Tony Dungy signing the book,” Jordan said. “Phillip B. Wilson, you’ve got to follow the guy on Twitter. He knows his stuff. That’s what he always told me.
“My dad would not want anybody else to write a story about him. It would have been you. If that was his dying wish, it would have been, I swear.”
From that moment on, I couldn’t have been more inspired.
As most know, it’s been an emotional month for me, leaving The Indianapolis Star after two decades, trying to build something new for Scout.com and all the while questioning myself, if this was something fans would support. You inevitably doubt yourself when your employer takes things away and doesn’t let you write as much as you would like. But fans like Deryl reminded I can still share stories that resonate, that I’m not just a guy who can push “record” on a video camera.
“The things people are saying in your story will help with the grief,” Jordan said. “It’s something I’ll be able to look back on and read. It’s a positive light on my dad that’s shining. That’s always going to help. It will never go away.”
So of course I accepted the invitation to go back to Deryl’s home. His collectibles are more impressive than I could have described in a story. Again, I was reminded of a common connection through a love of sports.
Aside from the many signed Colts footballs, Deryl had a large framed picture with Pete Rose’s signature. I grew up a huge Cincinnati Reds fan, of the Big Red Machine, Rose, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, all of them.
There was a sign for A.J. Foyt. I grew up rooting for the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and in covering that race 20 times, I’ve come to know him on a more personal level through our continual chats in Gasoline Alley. I shared with Jordan what I always tell A.J., “May hasn’t started until you swear at me.”
When I saw the signed Pittsburgh Steelers jersey of former Colts coach Tony Dungy as well as a football signed by Steelers Hall of Famer “Mean” Joe Greene, well, that blew me away.
The Steelers were my team growing up. The Steel Curtain. And I’ll never forget meeting Greene in January of 2006, then finishing our chat with “Thanks, Mean Joe,” just like that kid in the old Coke commercial.
Dungy was always great with me, too, from the first time we met. I was assigned a story on chatting with him as he unpacked during his first day at the office. When he pulled out an old Iron City Beer can with a picture of the Super Bowl champion Steelers on it, I recognized it and started naming some of the players, even the obscure ones, like Robin Cole and Mike Wagner.
“You do know the Steelers, don’t you?” Dungy had said.
When writing my Colts book, Dungy was happy to help. He gave me his home number, and after our first chat told me to call back if I needed anything else. When I did, he gave another great interview.
I debated on sharing all of this in a blog, wondering if it was too much. Perhaps for some, it is. But then I thought of Deryl, what he would say, and I know he would have appreciated letting people know the backstory to his story.
My blog has become a premium item on the site because I have to generate subscribers. But I didn’t do Deryl’s story or this blog for that reason. It was a heartwarming story about real fan, and a friend. That’s why it’s free.
I hope and trust in the next two years fans will reach out to me to share their stories so I can do the same. I believe we all have a story to tell, yet too often they aren’t shared and forgotten. If I accomplish nothing else in the next two years, it’s my goal to share as many of these stories as possible while covering the Colts and Pacers.
I’m indebted to Deryl, his family and friends for reminding me of my daily inspiration. Thank you, all.Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.