Those of us in local sports broadcasting have lost a very good man.
On a day when Eric Brown left us for a much better place than he's been for most of the past year, he probably would've given us his familiar little under-his-breath chuckle and a shake of his head as the national (and to a lesser extent, local) media breathlessly tried to break down "what it means" that LeBron James opted out of his contract. Then Eric would've followed up all that speculation, hype and need to get any type of answer first with an, "Aww, man..."
When Eric started working at WBBM Radio, there wasn't 24-hour sports talk. "SportsCenter" was just arriving on the scene, but no internet or websites or blogs or Twitter. I later joined him there when "Sportsline" on Saturday and Sunday mornings was appointment listening for a lot of local sports fans, in the footsteps of the ground-breaking "SportsWriters" a notch down the dial.
But Eric always adapted to the times. He may not have liked the ever-building hype and competition the business brought, but he rolled with it. In that sense, `BBM, with its ":15's and :45's" sprinkled among the hard news, traffic and weather was perfect for him. We both took our share of reminders from the bosses that our sportscasts better be over with no later than :17:30 or :47:30 so we can hit traffic and weather on the 8's. Just like everyone else there. And when that happened, "E.B." would chuckle under his breath, shake his head, and say, "Mannnn..." We both believed this was a sports town more than a traffic-and-weather town, but, hey, if you wanted to work at this place, it's what you gotta do.
As the years have passed, and locker rooms have become more crowded but somehow less competitive, there's enough back-stabbing, whispered commentary about each other among our colleagues. Unfortunately, as much as I try to avoid it, I'm sometimes sucked into it. I never heard Eric once allow himself to stoop to that level about anyone else, even privately. The worst criticism I ever heard about him is something I admittedly share with him: our questions in interviewing players are sometimes a bit long-winded. But I always noticed he would use the answers to those questions in his reports from events or the sportscasts he'd anchor. He'd target what he wanted an answer for and put it to use in his work without relying the responses his interview subjects gave others.
It was always good seeing my fellow "dinosaur" when our paths would cross at practices or games. "E.B.!," I'd say.
"Hey, man, what's goin' on?" he'd answer, before small talk followed.
Now I regret not being able to follow up and keep the conversations going longer once we got out of the locker rooms over the past several years. And blaming the need for immediacy in our business isn't a good enough reason.
Eric always did what he had to do in radio, and if he didn't care for it, the objection was brief and he moved on. He was conscientious, hard-working, reliable, and got his stuff right. His dedication to his work was probably part of the reason he passed over some of the normal check-ups all of us should do when we get to a certain age. Besides all his wonderful qualities, it's probably a lesson he leaves behind for all of us.
Just like he did in his work environment, once he learned what the task, the huge challenge, was, there were no complaints I ever heard from him during the huge fight he encountered, one where the hurdles never seemed to diminish. His calm tone the times those of us were around him or talked to him on the phone the past several months never seemed one of resignation, but courageously focusing on whatever that next hurdle was. And watching the teams he covered in his hometown, and talking about it with his friends, family, and colleagues helped him get through this long, tough, process.
He always spoke about getting back on the air during the course of this battle, and he was holding on to that goal. Some cancer patients do things with knowledge of the risks that contribute to their eventual condition. But it's unfair to say anyone deserves to go through what this horrible disease puts its victims through. It hits close to home for me and every one of us, and makes us hope for the day science helps us finally figure it out. I'd use stronger, vulgar words about cancer, but thinking about it, I never once heard E.B. cuss. And I wonder if he even did once privately through the mess he was going through.
Eric Brown was a kind, gentle, respectful man and friend who lived his life in a way in which he didn't deserve the hand he was dealt. The same can be said for his true soul mate, Barbara, for what she went through in this ordeal.
Eric probably knew he wasn't winning, but he never let anyone know that. It was always a "what's next?" attitude, not giving in, with the end game being able to get back on the air, and off it by :17:30 or :47:30.
Now, a lot of us would love to have even a few extra seconds to hear you, and to be with you, my friend. We'll miss you on the air. We'll miss you on the beat. But we'll miss you most for the person you were.