Saturday was an interesting day as I woke up with a “je ne sais quoi” moment. Truly it was a feeling that cannot be easily described with words and as I mulled over what this happening was it hit me…Les Levine passed away 3 years ago on this day. Indeed, Les’s spirit lives in my heart, soul, and many of my actions so it was fitting that I remembered this sad day. His tombstone mentions he was a “beloved Husband, Father, Grandfather and Brother” but to me he was even much more: a confidant, mentor, teacher, friend and truly a brother.
I first met Les when I came back to Cleveland in 1990 to be a part of the Buzzard, 100.7 WMMS. Our sister station 1420 WHK carried Cleveland State games and I was asked by “Top Men” if I would take part in a free throw shooting contest at 1/2 time of a Vikings game. I never made it as a trip to the emergency room preempted me showing off my hoops prowess. When I returned to the station a few days later Les was visiting with CSU brain trust of the station (Art Greenberg and Phil Levine), and he was generally concerned about my health. By the way Les was the voice of the Vikings and bled green and white. Let it be known that we had never met before this chance meeting, and he was a legit gent taking the time to check on a stranger. Not long after that I was asked to join Les on the broadcasts as he was employed by another station and our higher ups needed to have “one of their people involved.” Les could have put the freeze on me but instead welcomed me with open arms and helped me grow not only as an analyst/color guy but as a professional. He took me under his wings and went out of the way to introduce me to coaches and players alike from CSU and their opponents.
It was great fun and games except for two instances and the first puts a huge smile on my face.
– We would drive to some of the opposing gyms and Buffalo was no exception. One thing we did learn is that we should take the team bus to the land of the Bulls, especially in the winter. It was fine driving to the UB canvas but alas, driving home on I90 in the winter was a nightmare. Our producer/engineer Darryl Scott joined us and about a 1/2 hour out of Buffalo a blizzard came roaring off of Lake Erie. As it started, I could hear Les saying “all is good, I’ll just follow the taillights of that semi ahead of us. Well after some time and yes it was truly a “white out” Les nervously said “I’m still following that truck, but I have no idea if I am on the road or not and I just cannot do this any longer”. Before this Les had been cracking jokes and telling stories. He slowed down as safely as possible, Darryl jumped in the driver’s seat quickly so we would not lose the truck and yes, we made it back to The Land safely, in about triple the time.
– This next one is scary and makes me SMH when it comes to human beings. We were courtside as always at the CSU Convocation Center (Wolstein Center) and I felt Les was a little off. Not professionally but I knew something was up. Before the game started, he said to me “I need to tell you something and I understand if you depart the arena immediately. He asked me to look around and what was my perception of what was going on. I did notice quite a few perfectly dressed and coiffed guys and gals in our area but felt they came right from work to watch CSU. I was wrong. They were FBI agents and CPD plain clothes officers in attendance. Why? Earlier in the day Les had received death threats and the kind of correspondence scripted with newspaper and magazine cut outs saying, “I will kill you tonight JEW” and heinous verbiage like “JEWS die tonight.” Thankfully, the threat was only that but Les stayed put as did I and the Law Enforcement present was vigilant.
We stayed close and the friendship was made stronger when 1420 WHK became an all sports station. Les was the host of afternoon drive and his “How come quickies” along with cult like callers made everyone’s day and the workday much more tolerable.
WHK, just like time, moved on. Les and I remained close and talked 4-5 times a week. I was honored to join him when he started his TV show and the friendship kept growing.
When my wife, #DonnaStrong was battling cancer, Les would call weekly to check on her and in return I was “there” for him when his Wife was battling cancer.
I knew something was up in the Fall before Les was called Home when I, along with Andy Baskin, saw Les having trouble navigating the stairs in the Press Box at Cleveland Browns Stadium. We asked if Les needed help and he said it was just his bum knee acting up. A few days later he called and told me he was in the beginning stages of Parkinson, but it was under control. I cried as I know this is a tough battle but also knew if anyone could beat it Les was the guy. Was I naïve, stupid? Nah, I was just being hopeful. I was wrong.
There is no doubt Les lives on in so many hearts and souls of those who listened to him and knew him. He is missed but lives on through us and his stories. If you were to say, “Great story Munch”, I would have to reply “TODAY?”
Read more of my musings and thoughts at www.neosportsinsiders.com. #MunchOnSports is powered by Ganley Chevrolet of Aurora and the Ken Ganley Automotive Group.
Please take care of each other and it’s your world, pay attention. Always enjoy every sandwich and for now ADIOS AMIGO, long may you run.
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