If you grew up reading the sports pages in Mesa or Tucson as either a fan of Arizona State or the University of Arizona, you almost certainly know the name Bob Moran.
Coach, as he was known to all, was as intertwined in the rivalry between the two schools as anyone could be without actually taking the field. A couple of times a year, and always before the ASU-UA game, Sparky and Wilbur – mascots for their respective schools – met for a sarsaparilla in a diner in Toltec to discuss the fortunes of their teams. The observations were all Coach’s.
It’s not an exaggeration to say he was a local institution.
Coach covered every ASU-UA football game for a 28-year span and could be seen walking along the back of the end zones before these and almost every other college football game he covered. “The better to enjoy the atmosphere,” he would say.
This was one of many things I learned from Coach when we worked together at the Mesa Tribune for five years in the late 1980s. When I was working for the Associated Press during Arizona State’s Rose Bowl run in 1996, I often found myself standing on the field and soaking in the atmosphere.
It was Coach who pointed out Grady Benton’s all-too-immaculate uniform before his Mesa Jackrabbits played the Mountain View Toros in the 1990 state football semifinal. We were on the sideline – me on assignment, him just for the fun of it all – in front of crowds three deep on the track at Westwood High.
And it was Coach who kept my writing career going a week later. Sitting in the Arizona State press box, 21 years old, and bogged down with writer’s block on deadline. I’d been asked to write a sidebar – a side story on a key aspect of the game – and couldn’t come up with a thing. My writing career was barely a year old.
So I wrote about what Coach and I had talked about before – the tradition of Mesa High, what it meant for the school to win its first football title in 21 years, etc. It was not at all the angle anyone wanted, as I learned later as the article was repeatedly panned.
With one exception. The next day there was a note written on the back of a pink message slip. “Don’t be afraid to try something different,” the note said. It was from Coach. And I kept it on the file cabinets in my house for the next 10 years, weathered and torn from the passage of time.
If not for that note, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. There would be no blog. And I wouldn’t still be a writer.
Coach passed away on Tuesday after a four-year battle with stomach cancer. Sparky and Wilbur met one final time in Toltec yesterday, with the help of East Valley Tribune columnist Scott Bordow.
Coach, you will be missed. God bless.