To a Friend

John Cimasko pays tribute to a fellow Colts fan and a friend. It's a great reminder of how the power of sports can help form bonds between people who might not have otherwise shared more than a simple greeting from time to time.

It just isn't the same anymore; something has changed; something is missing, someone is missing.

Albert is gone.

I no longer see him as I take the shortcut through the warehouse on my way to the yard where the trucks sit, ready to roll every morning at 6 a.m. No more animated conversations about Peyton and Marvin; no more "This is our year" waves to each other as he rides by on his forklift; no more sad, "wait 'till next year" looks when no words are wanted or needed that early in the morning after another devastating playoff loss. No more...

I started this job back in 1990, and as you may recall, or perhaps you have desperately tried to forget, our football team was not very good. Actually, they were horrible, with the good times few and far between. It didn't take long for my reputation to grow as an unconditionally loyal fan of this city's football team. And I paid the price for that loyalty.

As the team struggled each Sunday, I would catch quite a bit of grief from my co-workers, ridiculing me for my loyalty and enthusiasm, listening to the mean spirited jokes, hearing about how the Chicago Bears were really Indy's team, how the Colts should just keep on moving down the road to another city. I tried to take it all in stride. Heck, I was used to it after all these years of brutal football. But it did bother me, getting under my skin every Monday morning. This was supposed to be their city, their hometown, their fans, win or lose. It sure didn't seem that way. But there was that one guy on the forklift who always wore his Colt's hat.

I don't recall our first conversation but I do know that it was about the Colts. Albert was this good natured, hard working, helpful forklift driver. I knew that I could always count on him to help me out if I needed something changed on my truck in the morning; a far cry from most of the other guys who would magically disappear if I needed a hand. That told me a lot about the type of person he was. Or maybe with everyone else running when they saw me coming it told me about the type of person I was! Let's just call it a wash!

The Colts were our common bond, and that bond became stronger through the years. We would talk most every Monday morning during the season. I looked forward to it.

A few months ago I noticed that Albert hadn't been at work for awhile. Word came down that he was sick; real sick. No one was sure when he was coming back, if he was coming back. I gave him a call, and at that point he was in and out of the hospital. I told him that I'd like to visit if that was okay once he was home. He thought that would be fine.

A couple of weeks went by and something inside of me told me to give him a call and get down to the Southside to see him. We set it up for that Sunday. Before I left the house, I took a minute to look in the hallway closet. I wasn't sure what I was looking for but I came across something that I thought Albert would appreciate. A few years ago Jim Irsay sent me a Colts hat that he autographed celebrating the 5-year anniversary of my radio show on WIBC. I kept it in the closet, never wearing it. I took it with me, thinking that this would be something special to give to my sick friend.

Albert did not look good. He was wearing down, in pain, trying his best to hang on. He was a fighter, but this was a tough one. We spent some of that Sunday afternoon together, talking about his health, the Colts, Pacers, work. He seemed to like the hat. It was just something simple that I knew he would appreciate.

Two weeks later Albert was gone; he had lost his battle. I was off of work that week and didn't hear about it until I got back. I didn't have the opportunity to pay my respects and I felt badly about that.

I called his home that evening and spoke with his widow, just wanting her to know that he and his family were in my thoughts and prayers. She told me that Albert really liked the hat a lot. He liked it so much that he was laid to rest wearing it. Wow! I had no words at that moment.

"Wait 'till next year". How empty those words seem at the moment...


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