The gratitude visits me every day. Every single one. Usually on the drive down to our beachfront studios at the Clevelander Hotel, where I cohost "The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz" on ESPN Radio. It might be the most coveted piece of national sports radio real estate in the country.
I don't take it for granted. Oh no, not one bit. Because I can't and don't take it for granted. Because without him, I can't and don't arrive at this place every morning where I allegedly go to "work" with my friends. I get to do what I love because of my dad. Because of him, I still get to feel like a kid. Because of him, I get to laugh for a living.
This job is truly a blessing. I don't merely do this thing I love, this thing I miss during my vacations, this sports-opinion business that would be my hobby and escape if it weren't, you know, my career. I also get to be at home every afternoon for my wife and kids because of him. I get to be at the side of my teenage twin girls, coaching one in lacrosse because of him. I get to be there for the other's dance recitals because of him. I get to be there for the growth, for the important things because of him. I get to really work on my golf game, too.
How do you repay all the debt when you'll never get back to even? How do you thank the person who believed in you when others didn't? How do you thank the person who supported you financially well past the time he should have and emotionally in ways more valuable than that?
How the hell do you thank that person? I couldn't find an answer, so I called him and just asked: How do I thank you?
And you know what he said? That I already do. Every day. That I thank him whenever he can see me on TV or hear me on the radio, closing the gap between New York and Miami, and just like that, sports are bringing a father and son back together again and again.
That's the repayment on the investment, the thank you: getting to watch his son be happy.
Thirty-five years ago, my older brother and I argued sports with my dad at dinner, finding our voice. All-time starting fives in NBA history. Best quarterbacks ever. Best golfers, tennis players, Mets, Yankees, Jets, Islanders.
No matter where life drifts today, sports find a way to connect us again. Now the grandchildren are involved in these conversations (maybe that's why he finally figured out group texting), and they infuriate him with their analytics and their being prisoners of the moment.
And -- stop me if you recognize this in the rotten apple that fell from this tree -- his opinions never, ever change very much.
Oscar Robertson is still the best basketball player of all time, you dope. Jordan? LeBron? He wants nothing of it. Cuts me off. Barks back. Big O, triple-double for a season. Maybe Bill Russell. Maybe. It's like arguing with a mirror. The Masters remains a religious experience in my household simply because of his love for golf and THAT tournament. Dwight Evans has the best arm ever. Pedro is the only pitcher allowed in the same sentence as Sandy Koufax.
I'm the voice of the everyman on our radio show, and depending on your perspective, you can either thank him or despise him for helping me master the art of the hot take. He is responsible for my love of sports and sports radio.
There had to be some small thing I could do to share this magical platform. And then it hit me. And now you are reading it. I'm doing exactly what he would have done had sports radio been a big deal when he was growing up. Why not share some of this with him? His son has a pretty nice platform at the worldwide leader in sports. Why not give him the metaphorical mic and let him have the stage?
I sat down with him for an interview so I could share a little bit of the man and the personality who shaped so much of who I am. I didn't tell him why I was doing it. I pretended it was an important ESPN survey of knowledgeable sports experts.
Me: OK, Pops, give me your all-time NBA team.
Dad: Power forward: Bill Russell. Greatest winner of all time. Eleven championships in 13 years. Back-to-back NCAA championships. '56 gold medal. Greatest winner of all time.
Me: You said that already.
Dad: When you win 11 in 13, it deserves to be said twice.
Me (only in my head): Holy bleep. I'm him.
Me: Keep going.
Dad: Point guard: Oscar. Two guard: MJ. Small forward: LeBron. Kareem in the middle.
Me: You have two centers and not a lot of 3-pointers.
Dad: Are you trying to tell me the Warriors would beat that team?
Me: There would be some matchup problems.
Dad (cuts me off): Yeah, for them.
Me: Let's move on. Top five quarterbacks of all time.
Dad: I've made some changes since we last discussed.
Me: We discussed it a month ago.
Me (in my head): Holy bleep. I'm him.
Me: Great. Can't wait.
Dad: No. 5, Johnny U.
Me: Dad, he never threw for more than 3,500 yards in a season.
Dad: (Silent death stare)
Me: Keep going.
Dad: No. 4 Peyton Manning. No. 3 Roger Staubach.
Me (in my head): I want to challenge him so badly, but what's the point? I'm going to argue with him in a Father's Day gift to him, infuriate him and get an instant death stare?
Dad: No. 2 Tom Brady. No. 1 Joe Montana, Joe Cool.
Me: What was the change?
Dad: Brady ahead of Staubach.
Me: Can you envision a day when Staubach is out of the top five?
Dad: (Silent death stare)
Me: Why isn't Aaron Rodgers on there?
Dad: Because he needs another ring.
Me: Dad, you like him.
Dad: I'd like another ring.
Me (in my head): Holy bleep. I'm him. Also, he's right.
Me: Last one.
Dad: And by the way, Jim Brown, greatest running back of all time. Incomparable. No one else is even close. Gale Sayers was great and is still a distant second.
Me: I didn't ask you that. It's not part of the survey.
Dad: I was just telling you.
Me: You've told me that a million times.
Dad: Just reminding you.
Me: I know why Le Batard hates me.
Dad: What else?
Me: All-time baseball team.
Dad: For the record, I've only included players that I've actually seen play.
Me: Thanks for clearing that up.
Dad: Carew. One of the best pure hitters of all time -- average and steals. Jackie Robinson. Today, tomorrow and 100 years from now, Michael Jack Schmidt and The Wizard. Right field: Henry Aaron. The Home Run King.
Me (quickly and kind of scared): That would be Bonds.
Dad: (Silent death stare) Left field: Ted Williams. Greatest hitter of all time. Center field: Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid. Greatest baseball player to ever live. DH: Papi. Don't even think about saying the words Mitchell Report.
Me (in my head): I was going to mention the Mitchell Report. How did he know that?
Me: And your pitching staff?
Dad: Maddux, Warren Spahn, Pedro and the guy I'd want on the mound with my life on the line, Sandy.
Me (in my head): Holy bleep, I'm him. That's why I'm always naming guys by their nickname. He's the reason.
Me: This was fun. Maybe we'll do some more in the future.
Dad: Tell Le Batard I said you are right about Durant.
Me: You just did, and he won't care.
Dad: He thinks championships are supposed to be easy?
Me: Doesn't matter what he thinks. My point is, he doesn't care what you think.
Me: He doesn't really care what anyone thinks.
Dad: Who the hell does he think is?
Me: He thinks he's you. Did you have fun?
Dad: Yes. They have surveys like this often?
Me: It wasn't a survey. I did it for another reason, but I can't tell you about it yet.
Dad: What is it?
Me: I just said I can't tell you about it yet.
Dad: You gonna talk about it on the show?
Me: Good God, no.
Dad: I'm confused.
Quick story: It was 1980. Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Islanders and Flyers. The famous Nystrom and Tonelli game. It was the hottest ticket in town with the Islanders on the verge of winning the first of four straight Stanley Cups. Dad loved the Islanders, but he could get only two tickets. And when my brother and I realized that one of us was going to get left behind, we started to brawl like only brothers can. You know what Dad did? He drove us 40 minutes to the Nassau Coliseum. He dropped us off. And then my Dad, lifelong Islanders fan, listened to one of the greatest games in Islanders history on the radio in the parking lot. Why? We asked him afterward. "Because this way made me happier," he said. I didn't really understand it then, but I do now. I guess he passed that down, too.
Robert Benjamin Weiner, Stugotz Sr., Dad -- Thank you for giving me this opportunity, this life and everything you had. Tell Mom to give you a break for a day. Enjoy the final round at Shinnecock. Happy Father's Day. And I love you.