8-6-03, 4 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Alex Sulfsted got goose bumps one day here last week, and not because he had just re-joined his hometown team.
Born in Lebanon, Ohio, bred at Mariemont High School, schooled at Miami of Ohio, Sulfsted is without question the NFL's only active player possessing a six-pack of Who-Dey beer.
But being a prop in the Bengals' new era as a third-year guard-tackle and trying to make coach Marvin Lewis' first roster as a backup isn't what gave Sulfsted chills.
Ron Ferrell, the Chief of Police in Mason, Ohio, did.
The Chief did it with the simplest and kindest of gestures. A card with a note, and a copy of a newspaper article from a generation ago. Short. Sweet. An off-tackle smash to the heart.
Ron Ferrell? Sulfsted had no idea who this Chief of Police was. In fact, his business card with the shield that dropped out of the envelope had Sulfsted a little bit nervous. What have I done in Mason lately? Who is. . .Ron Ferrell?
Then he read the article plucked from the Aug. 15, 1979 "Western Star," and found out Ron Ferrell took him in his arms and saved his life.
"This is a day I'll never forget," the Chief scratched on the card. "Best of luck."
Alex Sulfsted, a week shy of 20 months old, was found choking to death in a garage at the house of a babysitter. Lebanon police sergeant Ron Campbell, Warren County coroner Ralph Young, and Lebanon Police Chief Ron Ferrell, who performed mouth-to-mouth, teamed up to bring him back from what Ferrell thought had been another tragedy.
"Goosebumps," says Sulfsted, 24 years to the week he and Ron Ferrell locked lips and lives for just five minutes or so. "I remember my mother telling me about it, but I don't remember the incident. I didn't know the details. Who, or where I was. I never saw the article. I mean, here's a guy who's one of the reasons I'm here today."
When Ferrell saw the story last week in his "Cincinnati Enquirer," that the Bengals had claimed Sulfsted off waivers from Washington, the old memories stirred. He wasn't sure he should write a note. He didn't want to dredge up any bad memories for him or his family. But he also wanted to let Sulfsted know how much the day meant in his life.
At 32, Ferrell had just been promoted to chief at Lebanon. He had paid his dues as a highway patrolman and his heart had been broken by just too many bad moments like this one. One kid is too many, and he had a little girl himself. But by this time in his career, Ferrell had seen maybe half a dozen children who weren't as bad off as Alex who didn't make it.
"You see so much bad in this job," Ferrell says. "You do the best you can and it's not enough. That's why when you have a day like that with Alex, when it comes out good, you never forget it."
There were all the elements of any success story, be it football, politics, gardening, or the cop on the beat. Skill. Determination. Luck. Because when the call came just before lunchtime, it wasn't good.
First of all, it was just luck that Ferrell was riding with Campbell. He would take turns riding with his officers, but it usually wasn't planned, and on this run Ferrell happened to be in Campbell's squad car on the way to get some lunch.
When they arrived, Alex was on a table in the garage as Ferrell desperately searched for life. He was being given CPR, but Ferrell grimly noted the dark blue circle around his mouth.
"The life squad was on the way, but it looked liked he hadn't been able to breath well for seven to eight minutes," Ferrell said. "We made one of those quick decisions. We took him in the car. I had him in my arms and while Ron was driving, I blew into his mouth. That's why we were lucky there were two of us. We passed the life squad on the way and they turned around because we were going to Doc Young's."
Young's office on Broadway was about a mile away. Ferrell figures they made it in about four minutes and Young was waiting at the front door. Ferrell handed Alex to Young, and moments later in the back room, half a hot dog popped out of his mouth.
"It's amazing," Sulfsted says. "I didn't know that they took me in a car. I knew it was Dr. Young. I didn't mind at all hearing about it. It's a good story. Look how it ended up."
A great ending. They don't write them like this in sports, or anywhere else. The chief and the baby have both come home.
For Ferrell, it was just a guy doing a job, and he went on with life and career. He became the chief in Dublin, Ohio. Then he went to work for the Ohio attorney general. Ron Campbell passed from cancer. Then about six years ago, Ferrell returned to his hometown of Mason as the chief. Not long ago, Doc Young passed.
The calendar flew, but Ferrell always paused once in awhile to keep an eye and ear out for the little boy in the garage. For a while, he was worried about the after effects since Alex had been without air so long. But the bits and pieces of news Ferrell would hear from everyone's invisible network of distant relatives and friends was always good.
Alex was growing big and smart and had become quite a football player. Then someone told him he went to play for Miami of Ohio, and he started following him in the papers if there was a story, which was big for Ferrell since his allegiance is with the University of Cincinnati (undergrad and post-grad) and Ohio State (a doctorate).
Sulfsted moved on, too, unaware of his fan. Drafted by the Chiefs in the sixth round in 2001, picked up by the Bengals for a month later that year, then on to Washington. Now, like Ferrell, he has come home.
"I've been a season-ticket holder for the last 10 years or so and I'm just real excited about Marvin Lewis," Ferrell says. "They've been taxing me and we've had one guy drop out of the group. Maybe I've drunk the Kool-Aid, but I really feel they're going to turn it around with Coach Lewis. I'm just so happy for Alex. I think he's the kind of guy they're looking for and he can help them."
After Sulfsted got Ferrell's note, he went out to eat Friday night with his cousin and her husband. It turns out she is married to Ryan Tanner, a Mason police officer, and they got to talking about that day 24 Augusts ago.
"That's weird, too," Sulfsted says with a shake of his head. "A lot of my family is in law enforcement. My uncle and his kids. I've always had a lot of respect for cops."
Ferrell is 55 now and the grandfather of three. He doesn't think of that call every day, but he thinks about it often enough that he keeps an eye on the hot dogs and his grand kids. He thinks about it enough that he knows it was a special day, whether the kid ended up playing for the Bengals or working in a factory, or whatever. He thinks about it enough that he put the clipping in his files to remind him when it comes out right.
"And this guy was out there all the time, following me, and I didn't even know about it," Sulfsted says. "That's the amazing thing. When I get some time, I'd like to do something. Maybe send him some tickets."
No need. And, besides, that's not why Ferrell dropped the note.
"Tell him I don't want a thing," Ferrell says. "Just wish him the best and I hope that he makes it, and that we'll be going down to watch him play."
No moral to the story. No trumpets or a made-for-TV movie. Just a nice ending for two guys, the football fan and the football player, who went on with their lives, linked forever by five minutes.