Jan. 4, 2001
normally the day Jack Fleming provides us with his
Internet commentary on West Virginia University
athletics, his personal experiences as a broadcaster, or
whatever is on his mind.
Because of the holiday we pushed this latest
effort back to today.
I'm finishing what he started.
I talked to Jack briefly Wednesday morning and we
discussed different ideas for today's column.
He had Florida State coach Bobby Bowden on his mind.
Jack recalled how they once conducted their interviews
in the bowl end of the stadium at old Mountaineer Field.
They would climb up the stairs and sit on the wooden
bleachers near the top -- away from the commotion on the
Jack remembered Bobby's first year coaching in
1970 following the departure of Jim
Carlen. During one particular game, Bowden's punter kicked
one from inside the Duke 35 that sailed out of the end
"When I saw that punt go flying halfway up into the
stands I'm thinking, 'We're in trouble with Bowden
coaching us,'" Fleming recalled Wednesday morning. "Boy
how I was wrong!"
That morning he also planned to write about his first
and only football recruiting trip. Rick Trickett, a member of
Frank Cignetti's staff from 1976-79 who recently
rejoined the Mountaineer staff for his second tour of
duty, asked Jack to help him land a prep prospect from
That player wound up being Dave Johnson, a four-year WVU
letterman who is now an assistant coach at Marshall.
Jack always had a story in his hip pocket and I was always eager
for him to fish one out.
Over the course of the last three years, our
twice-weekly telephone conversations often drifted away
from the business at hand toward a distant West Virginia
game or an interesting event that happened in his life.
Like the time he got into a shouting match with Red
Auerbach during a regular season Chicago Bulls-Boston
Auerbach was really giving the officials the business
that night and Fleming, never shy of critiquing the
zebras on air, finally had enough. In a voice loud
enough to be heard at both ends of the bench, Fleming
complained that the officials were letting Auerbach get away with murder.
Fleming's stance earned him a legion of fans in Chicago
as well as Milwaukee, where WIND's strong signal reached
on cold winter nights.
"I still get notes from people from Milwaukee over
that," Jack once marveled.
Fleming also enjoyed his days working in Pittsburgh --
particularly his role describing the magnificent
Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970s.
Quarterback Terry Bradshaw was one of his favorites. He
recalled the time he needed to talk to Bradshaw for his
pre-game radio show, but could never quite pin down the
superstar. Fleming finally cornered the elusive
quarterback near owner Art Rooney's office.
"OK, let's talk in Mr. Rooney's office," Bradshaw said.
Amazingly, Bradshaw sat in Rooney's chair, put his feet
up on the desk and lit one of his cigars.
"Unbelievable," said Fleming.
Jack spoke highly of defensive back Donnie Shell,
and was pleased to run into him at the Steelers final home
game at Three Rivers Stadium in mid-December. Jack
battled the cold weather that day to see many of his old
friends, perhaps realizing that all of those hellos he
said that day were also good-byes.
Yet as much as Jack loved the Steelers, broadcasting
their games from 1958 to 1993, his real passion was the
West Virginia Mountaineers. It was something he made no
Jack was a big fan of coach Gale Catlett and treasured
their friendship -- which blossomed and grew over the
years. He always marveled at how Catlett could
rejuvenate himself after each basketball season.
Jack also loved to talk about his favorite West Virginia
players -- Jerry West, Bruce Bosely, Fred Wyant, Sam
Huff, and Hot Rod Hundley just to name a few.
He always referred to Hundley as "Hots."
When Jack lived in Chicago in the early 1970s, Hundley
often called Fleming as soon has he got in to town to meet up
for a night out. During that time, Hundley
was always working on Fleming to improve his wardrobe.
"He would talk me into these ridiculous outfits,"
Fleming grinned. "And I bought them."
By his own admission, Jack wasn't a great athlete. His
father persuaded him to go out for the football team at
Morgantown High but his athletic career was abrupt.
Later in the 1950s when he became an established
broadcaster, Fleming was once asked to play tennis with
basketball coach Fred Schaus, athletic director Red
Brown and the school's physical education dean, Ray
Fleming was paired with Schaus and the two proved no
match for their athletic counterparts. Each time Jack
missed a volley or his shot landed well outside the
line, Schaus, a fierce competitor, grimaced and barked,
"Concentrate Fleming, Concentrate!"
I could always draw a laugh out of Jack when I would
tell him to "concentrate!"
At any rate (Jack's favorite transitional device), he
developed a love for sports through broadcasting and
writing. To this day many don't know what a fabulous
writer Jack was and his knack for always finding the
right adjective to describe the moment at hand.
His scene-setters for football and basketball games will
never be duplicated.
"… So light up your pumpkins, put on your scariest
Halloween masks and keep that radio close by as the
hills resound with the sounds of gold and blue football; the West Virginia University Mountaineers are on the
That was his setup for West Virginia's Halloween meeting
against No. 2-ranked Penn State in 1986. How could you
not listen to the game after hearing that?
One of the
things Jack truly enjoyed was receiving mail from West
Virginia fans all over the country. He was absolutely
amazed by the e-mails that came in, many detailing his
prominent place in their lives.
"Make sure they have a place to list where they are
writing from," were always his instructions.
Jack never really got accustomed to the Internet and
e-mail, instead writing out his columns long-hand on
legal pads before dictating them to me on the telephone.
Those dictation sessions were more like news reports or radio voiceovers,
Fleming actually using inflection as if he were reading
it to an audience of thousands.
I enjoyed every single one of them. He was always interested to learn more about this
new thing called the Internet, testing his teenaged daughter's
patience to the limit.
Invariably, our conversations almost always wound up
with a few words about our families. Jack was intrigued
with my brother's military background, himself having
served in the Air Corps during World War II as a navigator on a B-17 bomber.
Jack also never failed to ask about my
five-month-old daughter, Sydney; he often provided words
of encouragement for this new daddy.
Those are the things that came to my mind when I learned
Jack Fleming had passed away Wednesday afternoon.
And those are the things I take from him.
Jack, I'm going to miss you.
-- John Antonik