George Steinbrenner

Bob Paul - thanks for the memories

Bob Paul's years as press chief at the U.S. Olympic Committee came well before my time covering the movement. Even so, when I started on the beat in 1998, he made a point of introducing himself. If I ever needed to know anything about the early years of the USOC, he said, be sure to call. If he didn't know the answer, he said, maybe he could help point me in the right direction.

Bob died last Friday. He was 93.

Over the last several months, the American Olympic scene has lost the likes of George Steinbrenner, Bud Greenspan, Dorothy Franey Langkop and, now, C. Robert Paul.

It's worth taking a moment or two, here at what is still the start of this new century, to think back on the incredible span of Olympic history that got us to where we are now, and to some of the people who delivered the USOC to where it is today -- indeed, got it to Colorado Springs from New York, from Olympic House on Park Avenue.

Bob Paul is one them, one of the few who was there at the beginning of the modern USOC.

When I was a (much) younger writer, it was not uncommon for editors to be at their desks smoking big fat cigars. Bob was one of those kind of guys.

Mike Moran, who succeeded Bob as the USOC's spokesman, has written a fantastic tribute to Bob. It's here, and you can almost smell the cigar smoke.

Reading Mike's piece, you'll also laugh out, affectionately, at the stories of how Bob would sleep in his office. Or how, when he would go home, it wasn't to some place in or around Manhattan -- he commuted to Philly.

Or how, when he moved west to Colorado, he still never drove, his wife dropping him off at the office before 7 in the morning in a huge Pontiac Bonneville they had picked up somewhere, then coming back most evenings to pick him up.

Bob was, as I would learn, an amazing story-teller.

Did you know, for instance, that the 1920 Antwerp Olympic gold medal featherweight freestyle match was not only between two Americans but, indeed, an all-Ivy League final? Bob Paul knew. It was among the first stories he told me:

Charles Ackerly, former captain of the Cornell University team, defeated Sam Gerson, the former captain of the Penn team, for the gold medal.

The amazing thing, when you think about it, is not that Bob knew such stories. Of course he did. He was steeped in Olympic and Ivy League lore. To call him "old-school" would be gentle.

The truly amazing thing is that such a man not only could but would leave the East for Colorado Springs to help build up the USOC.

Of course he and the others -- Col. F. Don Miller, Baaron Pittenger, Jerry Lace, to name three of the 10 who set out in what might as well have been a covered wagon --  had a mandate. Nonetheless, to do what they did takes vision and a special courage. It took belief in something a lot bigger than the Ivy League.

Here's how desperate it was for some in that original group of 10. The office manager, James McHugh, one of those who made the trip out from New York, wore a watch on his left arm that was still set to New York time. On his right wrist he wore another watch set to Colorado Springs time. McHugh lasted a year on Mountain time before retreating to the sanctuary and comfort of Nathan's Famous and Broadway.

Bob Paul, though, persevered. He learned to love the West. After he formally retired from the USOC in 1990, he became its informal archivist, historian and a special assistant to the executive director.

So thanks, Bob, wherever you may be now, however it is this gets to you. The Olympic scene is a lot better because you and the others took an enormous leap of faith.