It was late in the evening, on Jan. 28, 2014, when my cell phone rang. My editor, Nick Gantaifis, was calling, and since it was a Tuesday night, I figured he might be checking about a deadline question on an article I had written for the Wayne Today.
“Hey, Nick,” I said, like I always do when he calls.
“Did you hear about Goldy?” Nick said, forgetting to even say hello.
“No,” I asked, figuring my pal Jon Goldstein, was up to something crazy at Wayne Hills.
And then the next two words resonated in a way that left my entire body numb.
Goldy had just finished coaching a JV basketball game for the Wayne Hills Patriots high school team when he began to feel ill. The game was at Fair Lawn High School and within seconds, the Fair Lawn trainers were at Goldy’s side, administering aid. Minutes later, an ambulance had arrived.
At just 41 years of age, almost everyone who remembers that day figured Goldy would be just fine, that maybe this was just a health scare.
But hours later, he was gone.
Within five minutes of Nick’s call two years ago today, my phone rang again.
It was Chris Olsen, Wayne Hills’ long-time head football coach and Goldy’s best friend. Chris had retired to North Carolina, a few months earlier, but in this world of instant communication, it didn’t take long for the word to get around.
A few days later, hundreds of friends and family would gather at Temple Beth Tikvah to say good bye. Olsen and his entire family would be on hand, and Chris gave the perfect account of how Goldy had arrived on the scene at Wayne Hills some 21 years earlier.
“I invited him to come to a game,” Olsen said to the large crowd on Jan. 31, 2014. “So it’s game day and I’m getting ready. I turn around, and Jon is standing next to me. He says ‘I’m here’. I said, good, now get back a little, please. (As the crowd began to laugh out loud).
“For the next 19 years, he never left my side. He was there through the good times and during a lot of times when things weren’t so good for me. When my wife (Sue) became ill, he never left my side. I’ve seen this guy help kids at school who may have needed lunch money. My father once said that you’ll have a lot of acquaintances, but not a lot of friends. Well, Goldy was my friend. He was my best friend.”
Fast forward to today, and in speaking with Wayne Hills’ current football coach, Wayne Demikoff, who was a long-time assistant at Hills and was a close pal of Goldy, he made the perfect analogy.
“How much would Goldy have loved seeing Greg (Olsen) playing in the Super Bowl?” said Demikoff, as the Carolina Panthers prepare for Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, with Greg, the middle son of Chris and Sue, being an integral part of the Panthers’ success this season.
Great question, I thought. And leave it to Demikoff to think of that right away.
And while we’re at it, how much would Goldy love to see the success of this year’s Wayne Hills boys’ basketball team? The Patriots are 11-1, and the top seed in the upcoming Passaic County Tournament, under head coach Kevin Grimes, who was also very close to Goldy.
Somewhere, in a place where Goldy is holding center court, talking baseball statistics, fantasy football and hearts he broke from female admirers, Jon Goldstein will be getting ready to watch Super Bowl 50. He’d known Greg Olsen since the now 30-year-old NFL All-Pro was a little kid, and will be smiling that mischievous grin as No. 88 lines up at tight end.