Gerry Sandusky scores winning touchdown with 'Forgotten Sundays' - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Gerry Sandusky scores winning touchdown with ‘Forgotten Sundays’

Gerry Sandusky’s book, “Forgotten Sundays: A Son’s Story of Life, Loss, and Love from the Sidelines of the NFL,” is one darn good read. Baltimoreans know Gerry primarily from his sports’ commentator post at WBAL-TV. Lately, he’s branched out to do the play-by-play accounts on radio for the Baltimore Ravens, a National Football League team. In both sports-related personas, Gerry is known as a highly-competent professional.

When Gerry was at the Barnes & Noble’s bookshop in Baltimore, on June 15, 2014, discussing and signing his book, I got the distinct impression that this guy really knows his NFL stuff, like a genuine insider. I also had a chance to see his softer side, especially when he recalled his evolving relationship over the years with his late father, John Sandusky.  He died in a nursing home in Florida, age 80, in 2006. John had been ravished for the last five years of his life by the terrible disease of Alzheimer.

Gerry’s tome is essentially a father-son story, but it is much more – think family, work, church and life. There’s plenty of football in this book, but it’s mostly utilized as a backdrop. Gerry’s dad, John, played and/or coached in the NFL for forty-three seasons. He started his playing career with the legendary Cleveland Browns. They won three NFL titles in the 50s, under the great coach/manager Paul Brown. John coached in the NFL for thirty-five  of those 43 years as an assistant, except for one year, 1972, when he served as the head coach for the Baltimore Colts.

If you know anything about pro football, then you know that “Sunday,” game day, is the day of the week that really counts. On many of those Sundays, Gerry was with his dad at the ball park; whether it was in Philadelphia, Baltimore and/or Miami. He filled roles for the team, such as the “ball boy.” This meant he made sure that if a football during a game went out of bounds on his side of the field, that he had to have another one ready to give to the referee.

Gerry, during this period, saw a lot of his dad. This included witnessing many of the highs and lows of his coaching career, the worst of which was his sacking as head coach when he was in Baltimore by a dork head of a  general manager, Joe Thomas. Trust me, nobody in Baltimore liked Thomas. Most wanted to run him out of town on a rail or worse.

Memorial StadiumParts of Gerry’s book even made me cry. It brought back memories of my relationship with my father, Richard “Dick” Hughes, long dead now. He was a boss on the Baltimore docks for the Alcoa Steamship Company. I worked with him for five years on the piers in Locust Point and got a chance to see up close what made him tick.

Getting back to Gerry – when his older brother Joe died, it was a very hard blow to the family. It caused a rift between his parents, which never truly healed.

What’s clear from Gerry’s telling of the family history is airing sensitive subjects wasn’t a strong suit for any of the players. John could easily fly off the handle, like my dad, on almost any subject, especially religion. The default conduct in the Sandusky home, as in many households of that day, was just to muddle along, keeping the strong emotions covered and deeply buried.

I remember 1959, John’s first year with the Colts as an assistant coach. It ended well. Baltimore won the championship, beating the New York Giants, Dec. 27th, 31-16, in the title game at fabled Memorial Stadium on 33rd St. I was there that day as was my cousin, Herman Krueger. Some thug stabbed Herman for no good reason. Fortunately, a pretty tough longshoreman, he survived.

John Unitas, Baltimore Colts Legend

John Unitas, Baltimore Colts Legend

Some of Gerry’s book is by necessity focused on the convicted sex pervert and ex-assistant coach at Penn State University, Jerry Sandusky. No relation to Gerry at all. The pain this similarity in names has caused Gerry and his family borders on a horror story.  After the scandal broke, he became an “instant pariah.” Gerry reserves a whole chapter, “The Meaning of a Name,” for how he and his young family found the fortitude to stand up to this controversy. Indeed, it’s an inspiring tale how they did it.

There is so much more in this book to take in. Coach John, all 300 pounds of him, came originally out of South Philly and then the University of Villanova. He liked his beer once in a while, singing in the church choir and belting out Irish tunes, such as “Danny Boy!” Hell, that’s enough to make him a huge favorite of mine.

In conclusion, let me confess, I was and always will be a diehard Baltimore Colts’ fan.  So, I will end this review of Gerry’s wonderful tome by quoting a line of his that stands out for me.

He wrote: “I only saw or heard my father cry three times in my my life, when my brother died, when my mother died, and when John Unitas died!”

About the author

Bill Hughes

Bill Hughes is an attorney, author, actor and photographer. His latest book is “Byline Baltimore.” It can be found at: Contact the author.

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