I wrote this piece three years ago upon learning of the death of my friend and mentor, Jack Falla, who claimed to teach sportswriting but actually taught about life. Jack passed away from a sudden heart attack on September 14, 2008. I’ve yet to meet anyone with the same incredible combination of humility, wit, incisive awareness of the human condition and grounded sense of reality. If there is an afterlife, he’s the first guy I want to have a whiskey with up there.
I’m just one of countless former students who lost a terrific mentor and a great friend when Jack Falla passed away this weekend. That’s pretty impressive for a man who joked, “I don’t want to meet anyone I don’t already know.”
Anyone can correct your grammar on a sportswriting assignment, but Jack Falla brought something different to teaching at Boston University’s College of Communication. He taught professionalism in the age of the slacker, integrity in the age of the B.S. artist, and what he called “ultimate reality” in a world where few even accept reality.
When he wasn’t building his backyard rink, the fabled “Bacon Street Omni”, he was building his pipeline of students past and present, establishing a foothold in all corners of the sports industry. His name has opened hundreds of doors, and it will continue to open them for years to come.
Jack e-mailed me several times on behalf of his best students to see if the Boston Celtics could give them their break, and early in my career Jack made a few inquiries on my behalf as well.
Jack’s 8 a.m. Sports Journalism class is famous for weeding out the pretenders from the contenders. He’d have it no other way, and it surely scared off students who wouldn’t pass muster with him anyway. Jack’s reputation is simple: he was among the toughest professors you’d ever haveâ€“and he was also the best. His anecdotes from his days in the industry were insightful and revealing, and he leaned on his disciples to bring back recent lessons from the field.
I was honored to speak to his class a few times about working in the business, and while I was incredibly nervous and very unpolished the first time I did it, Jack had my back. It had been ten years since I’d been his student, but there was always something to learn from him and he was always good for an assist. In this case, when I was stammering and talking in circles in front of bleary-eyed 20-year olds, Jack dished me questions, tape-to-tape, that I could one-time for an entertaining war story (score!) to keep the class engaged. He then critiqued my performance and I was 1,000 times better when he brought me back the next semester.
It was also comforting that he was still telling the same jokes and everything was still a sports analogy. Specifically, I remember on more than one occasion last year, Jack joked to me over lunch that he was “looking at the game clock rather than the shot clock” these days.
I e-mailed Jack just last week looking for another star student to fill an internship with me at the Celtics, but had yet to hear back before hearing of his passing this weekend. I’d also asked him if he’d be building the rink again this year.
Jack Falla won’t build another rink, but something tells me he’ll be handing out assists for years to come. Thanks for everything.
– September 16, 2008