The late, great Betty White always sort of reminded me of my grandmother — my beloved Nana Betty. Not only did they have the same first name, Nan lived until about a month before her 92nd birthday (and Nan’s older sister, my great aunt Molly, lived to three weeks before her 100th, just like Betty) and, like the esteemed actress and comedian, Nan was the queen of the one-liners and her relatively long life simply wasn’t long enough for her.
“I have to get better,” Nan told me as she lay dying from COPD. “I have a formal party to go to next month and I already have my dress picked out.”
And, also like the amazing Ms. White (photo), because she had such a zest for life and was always in good health until a couple of mild heart attacks in her 80s, we thought Nan was a shoo-in to make it to 100 years old.
Sadly, neither one made it that far. Even Aunt Molly, who was the oldest of the six siblings and who ended up outliving all of them, fell almost exactly as short of the century mark as did the former “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Golden Girls” and “Hot in Cleveland” star.
While today’s social media age mainly honors heavily filtered beauty, it’s been a nice change of pace seeing a geriatric woman who started out as beautiful on the outside inspire so many people — including yours truly — because of her inner beauty that made people smile, laugh and want to support the causes that were near and dear to her heart.
To that end, Jannah and I made a donation to a local animal shelter on what would have been Betty’s 100th birthday — Jan. 17.
Is it just a coincidence that Nan was born on June 17? Maybe, but I think not.
On Losing My Favorite NFL Coach
Most people who are my sons’ ages only know the late, great John Madden (who died a few days before White, at age 85) because he leant his name to the first hugely popular football (or any major sport) video game.
But for me, as a sports-crazy kid growing up in Lawn Guyland, New Yawk, who never forgave my original favorite NFL team — the Giants — for trading away my favorite player (a little-known wide receiver named Homer Jones) after the 1969 season, I was on the lookout for another NFL team to root for and Madden had just completed his first season as the Oakland Raiders head coach.
But, the reason I chose the Raiders as my team wasn’t just because they went 12-1-1 in 1969 under Madden, it was because they had my second-favorite player — and the wide receiver who gave me the most hope that I could someday play in the NFL — the great Fred Biletnikoff, who was my NFL role model, with his relatively small size, great hands and lack of breakaway speed.
Whether intentionally or not, the Raiders became the bad boys of the newly merged NFL under Madden, known as much for cheap-shot defensive backs who tackled with elbows and forearm shivers as they were for being a consistently great team on both sides of the football.
Unfortunately, Madden’s last season as a coach — 1978 — was the same year that New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley was paralyzed on a clean hit delivered by one of the dirtiest of the Raiders, safety Jack Tatum.
That also was the last year I rooted for Oakland. I still loved the NFL, I just was a fan of the entire league, rather than of any particular team, until I moved to the Tampa Bay area in ‘93.
But, Big John finished his 10-year coaching career (all with Oakland) having never had a losing season and his .750 career regular-season winning percentage is still a record for coaches with at least 100 NFL games coached.
Yes, I loved John’s “Boom” Hall of Fame TV sportscasting career and his Miller Lite commercials, but for me, he’s the coach who taught me that you don’t always have to root for your home team to be a fan.
I miss you, big guy.
Bob Saget, Too
Although I wasn’t much of a fan of his TV shows “Full House” or “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” I was a fan of the late Bob Saget’s super-raunchy standup comedy, including his appearances on many celebrity roasts.
But, the fact Saget was only a couple of years older than me and died so close to my birthday (in an Orlando hotel room, no less), plus the amazing tributes about him from not only his former castmates but so many other celebs made me realize yet again that it’s not only about what you accomplish in your career or your life, but the legacy you leave behind.