Back in the day, one of my favorite guys in the sports collectibles industry was Hugh McAloon of Krause Publications. He was the publisher of Sports Collector’s Digest for about 25 years and he was a guy I really looked up to. We both had journalism backgrounds, a passion for the hobby, and we were both rural guys in a world of city people.
At the Cleveland National in 2001, Hugh walked over to our booth. It was my first National while working at Pacific Trading Cards. He always had a big smile and the former college football player extended his hand for a GI Joe Kung Fu Grip handshake.
Then, he asked a question that changed my life. Okay, it didn’t really change my life, but it did lead to the absolute coolest piece of autographed memorabilia that I own.
“A few of us are having dinner with Joe Montana tonight,” he said. “Do you guys want to join us?”
I was with Pacific PR guy Mike Monson, and we just sort of looked at each other and kind of laughed.
“Are you kidding?” Mike said. “Of course we would like to come. That would be amazing!”
Montana was one of the autograph guests at the National that year. I had always been a fan of his. I was a quarterback in high school in the early 1980s, and I loved watching him play at Notre Dame. I threw more interceptions than touchdowns, so clearly I didn’t watch him as closely as I should have, but I loved his poise and his mental focus. He had that Roger Staubach-like ability to win any game in the final minute.
My eyes were still spinning sevens and lemons and I was finding it hard to focus, but I asked Hugh if I could bring something for him to sign.
“Sure,” he said.
I asked him what he thought, and he told me that there was a vendor on the floor selling NFL footballs specifically for people wanting to get autographs. He said he was going over there, and if I couldn’t leave the booth, he would pick one up for me if I gave him the cash.
No problem. My night just went from watching ESPN in my hotel room to having dinner with Joe Montana and getting an NFL football signed. I couldn’t believe it. Every day that I worked directly in the sports card business was literally a dream come true. That’s all I ever wanted to do since I got my first pack of cards as a six-year-old kid. But this was next level.
One Round Table in a Huge Room
When dinner time arrived, the set up was kind of weird. We were in a big, carpeted room. Maybe it was a ballroom or a conference room or some kind of giant meeting room. There was only one big, round table in the middle of the room. The rest of the room was empty. I didn’t really care. I would have sat on a picnic table in the median strip of a freeway if I got to have dinner with Joe Montana.
There were about a dozen of us at the table. We all knew each other, and Joe Montana couldn’t have been nicer. It must be a bit of a whip for him to do something like this. I’m sure the routine is have dinner with 10 or 11 guys, act polite but remain guarded, answer all the questions about the pass to Dwight Clark against the Cowboys, about who was the toughest corner to play against, who was the best pass rusher he played against, or who hit him hardest. Sign some stuff, and get out of there.
I figured I would try to talk to him about something he rarely talked about, so I tried to break the ice. I told him I am from Ottawa, and that my favorite CFL quarterback was Tom Clements. He was the Notre Dame quarterback before Montana, and he has had tremendous success in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
Montana told me that Clements was there when he was in his freshman year, and talked about how smart he was he was as a quarterback and that he wasn’t surprised he had a great career and became a coach. I thought it was interesting that the guy who Tom Brady grew up admiring and considered the GOAT would speak so highly of Clements. While his NFL career with Kansas City was very short and not so sweet, he was a legend in the CFL with Grey Cup victories in 1976 and 1984.
A lot of the chat that night ended up being focused on his career at Notre Dame and about college football. I am not sure if that was a change of pace for him, but he seemed more animated and a little less vanilla than we were expecting. He told us his favorite quarterback as a kid was Terry Hanratty of the Steelers. One of the reasons he chose to go to Notre Dame is that Hanratty had played there.
Bruce Chappalear, our retail sales guy at Pacific and another absolute great guy whom I loved working with, entertained us all with a story about how Lake Erie used to be so polluted that it actually caught fire in Cleveland in 1969. Bruce is a hard core Browns fan, and if you knew him from his days in the hobby, you can picture him in the Dawg Pound. He shared the story of meeting Terry Bradshaw at one of the Nationals in the past, and Bradshaw told him “you guys in Cleveland are nuts. I was getting carried off the field there one game on a stretcher and they were throwing snowballs with batteries in them.”
Bruce deadpanned back to him. “The ones I threw at you didn’t have batteries.” He had us all in stitches.
Then, Mike Monson unknowingly dropped a bomb. And if you were at the National in the Pacific era, you surely would have met Mike. He was always working the Pacific stamping machine, where we would emboss cards to make them special commemorative cards to that particular National.
‘You Just Ruined My Favorite Movie…’
Mike was the ultimate gentle giant. He was about 6’5”, and the kindest, nicest guy I have ever known. I remember another hobby veteran and good friend, Baron Bedesky, saying to me that if you burned Mike’s house down, he would be worried about you burning your thumb on the lighter. Mike drove a big, beige Volvo wagon, and he always had heavy metal music cranking out. At one of the nationals, he was talking about music with some of the Beckett guys, and he displayed some serious metal head knowledge. Al Muir cracked up everyone when he said to Mike, “I always figured you were like a Kenny G guy, or that you would be Teshing out in your car.”
Mike had absolutely no John Tesh in his CD collection. Though every Friday afternoon for a while we played Kraftwerk at our end of the Pacific building.
But back to the bomb. After doing some math and connecting the years, Mike said, very excitedly, “You must have been at Notre Dame when Rudy was there!”
Joe Montana put his knife and fork down and gave Mike a look that could have burned through his soul.
“That guy was a joke,” Montana said. “The movie was NOTHING like what really went on at that time. I was the quarterback then and I wouldn’t let them use my name for that movie.”
We all sat there, jaws open, stunned. Joe Montana, meanwhile, continued his very raw and very real rant about the movie. When he was finished, we all just sat there, stunned. Mike’s bottom lip was quivering, and finally spoke.
“You just ruined my favorite movie of all time,” Mike said. The entire table – even Joe Montana – erupted in laughter. Mike was devastated, but his delivery of that line and the way he said it was the funniest moment I have ever witnessed in a celebrity athlete encounter.