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The empty seat

You know we would have been talking today, Schoney.

Bengals-Cardinals Sunday and you were coming to town.

It can't happen. But I'm making the call anyway.

I would have called you, but you probably would have got me first. Probably around 9 a.m., because you were always up early out there in Arizona scanning all the NFL news fit to print, all the stuff we couldn't have printed in a million years, passing on a tip and a kind word.

9 a.m.

That's about what time I found out you were gone.

A surreal, made-no-sense day back in October. Found out that some car hit you on a Tuesday night on the street in Tempe and let you die while it roared away.

9 a.m.

Found out Lenny Pasquarelli, your dear friend and fellow NFL senior writer at had filed the unbelievable.

A column on Steve Schoenfeld's death.

No way, Schoney. Hell, we had just talked Monday morning.

About 9 a.m.

You were calling from Kansas City hours after Bengals running back Corey Dillon broke Walter Payton's single-game rushing record.

As always, you were a pro. You were just checking if you could use some stuff I had written about the Cincinnati-Denver game for your week-in-review column.

Sure. I was working on about three hours sleep, so I mumbled something about being sorry for not getting back to you sooner.

As always, you said it was no problem. Besides, you were rushed because you had to get back to Phoenix because you were pretty certain Vince Tobin was getting fired as the Cardinals head coach in a few hours and you were all over that.

If I was thinking, I could have said something about Arizona's Dec. 3 game in Cincinnati being the "Interim Coach Bowl."

Just as well. It was early, it was a lousy joke, and we were both distracted chasing the stories of the year for the teams we cover.

We'd talk again. We almost always did. If you knew Steve Schoenfeld and worked with Steve Schoenfeld, that meant he was totally committed to you. That's how you lived. You were a 78 record spinning in a 33 world. You were always fast forward, snapping the clicker and taking us along.

Oh yeah, we would have talked today.


You were looking forward to working in Paul Brown Stadium. Scribes love going to a new stadium. They always mark it off for the next bull session. When we're trying to remember which stadiums we need to say we've been in them all.

I would have checked to see what time you were coming in. We would have reminisced about the last time they met. Remember? The '97 opener and we would have remembered how you called it right. You said the Cards probably couldn't recover the rest of the season after blowing a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter.

Maybe we would have hooked up Saturday night. You definitely would have given me a crisp scouting report on the Cardinals.

I know that. You were one of the guys that made covering the NFL fun. You were one of the guys that made it a craft instead of a task compared to the huge, sniping, stab-you-in-the-back egos that seem to cover baseball.

Sure, you were immersed in your work. We may have been the only two pathetic souls in the league worried about nickel corners on the first day of free agency.

But you cared about the


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good things in life just as much. A good meal with good friends. A long phone call to the wife. An encouraging word to a colleague.

You took the time to know I worked for the school paper at Syracuse and always made me feel at a home with a Jim Boeheim comment or two.

Remember the scouting combine in Indianapolis last year?

No, no. Not that lunch we shoved in at Steak and Shake sitting at the counter and looking for some scouts while we fretted who would take Virginia running back Thomas Jones in the draft.

Cardinals or Bengals?

No, not that. This is when I needed to find Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham. For 24 hours, Gunther Cunningham was the center of my universe. The day before in Kansas City, Cunningham had recruited Dillon, at the time a restricted free agent.

But after standing in enough lobbies to apply for a hotel security job, I couldn't have found Cunningham if he was wearing an orange jump suit.

In the middle of my angst, the cell phone rang.

It was you, Schoney.

"Hurry up," you said urgently. But then, you were always urgent.

"Gunther Cunningham," you said. "Omni lobby right now. But hurry. He's about to leave."

Thanks, Schoney. I got him. Got my story for the day. I hope somewhere along the way I helped you out like that. And if I didn't, hell, I thought I'd have plenty of chances.


You'll be there because I asked Jack Brennan and Inky Studley to put your name card next to me Sunday.

I'll be in Seat 16, you'll be in Seat 15. It's not much. But the next time they're talking, you can tell them you covered one at Paul Brown.

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