Forgotten Sundays: A Son’s Story of Life, Loss and Love from the Sidelines of the NFL
by Gerry Sandusky
Running Press, 2014
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 of the National Football League team. In both sports-related personas, Gerry is known as a highly competent professional.
When Gerry was at the JHU-Barnes & Noble’s bookshop on 33rd Street in Baltimore, recently, 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.
His dad, John, died in a nursing home in Florida, at age 80, in 2006. He had been ravished for the last five years of his life by the Alzheimer disease 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 used as a backdrop. Gerry’s dad, John, played and/or coached in the NFL for forty-three seasons.
Sandusky’s dad, John, 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. Gerry filled roles for the team, such as the ball boy. This meant he made sure that if a football went out of bounds during a game on his side of the field, he had to have another one ready to give to the referee.
During this period, Gerry, saw a lot of his father. This included witnessing many of the highs and lows of his coaching career. The worst of these was his sacking as head coach when he was in Baltimore by general manager, Joe Thomas. Trust me, nobody in Baltimore liked Joe Thomas. Most wanted to run him out of town on a rail or worse! 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 fortunate to be there that day.
Parts of Gerry’s book even made me cry. It brought back memories of my relationship with my late father, Richard “Dick” Hughes. He was a boss on the Baltimore docks for the Alcoa Steamship Company. I worked with him for nearly five years, as member of the ILA union in Locust Point, and, and like Gerry, I got a chance to see up close what made my father tick.
Gerry tells other personal stories. 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. But what’s clear from Gerry’s telling of his family history is that airing sensitive subjects wasn’t a strong suit for any of the parties. 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.
Some of Gerry’s book is by necessity focused on the convicted sex pervert and ex-assistant coach at Penn State University, the notorious—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, Gerry became an instant pariah. He 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, how they did it is an inspiring tale!
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 a beer once in a while, singing in the church choir and belting out Irish tunes, such as “Dandy 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. (1) So, I will end this review of this wonderful tome by quoting a line from the book that stands out for me.
Gerry 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!”
Bill Hughes is the author of “Baltimore Iconoclast.” It can be found at: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000076922/Baltimore-Iconoclast.aspx