A sweet writer named Nails, a sterling string of sports stars

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By Bob Uphues

WEDNESDAY JOURNAL had the great fortune early on to have a sportswriter who had one of the great sports journalism names of all timeā€"Nails Florio.

I remember the first time I was scheduled to meet with Nails, just after I was named the JOURNAL's first bona fide sports editors in December of 1991. Nails? He had to be some gruff former boxer who was not going to like a new guy coming in and fundamentally changing the way sports had been reported for years and years in the paper.

Under the new system, Nails' role was going to be limited to column writing. Previously, he was the Fenwick beat reporter and had written miles of copy. I braced for an unpleasant encounter.

He was about the sweetest guy I ever met.

Soft-spoken, small, friendly, Nails Florio was a WEDNESDAY JOURNAL treasure who wrote columns for me on a regular basis until I left the paper in 1999. He loved writing about obscure Chicago baseball players with local tiesā€"Marv Staehle, Zeke Bonura. He reveled in the glory days of Austin High and Fenwick football, when the Prep Bowl was king.

His writing style was of a different era, when a first baseman was an "initial sacker" and when football stars were "grid icons." He sought out the good in both person and story and typed it up on his manual typewriter. Never missed a deadline. Retyping his columns into the computer was never a chore.

I was the sports editor, among other things, until August of 1997. I am never short of amazed at the talented athletes I was able to cover during that time. I remember sitting in the old Fenwick gym watching Antoine Walker (Boston Celtics) and Donovan McNabb (Philadeplhia Eagles) play together against the Friars as members of the Mount Carmel basketball team.

A couple of years later, I watched a basketball supersectional game that pitted Fenwick's Corey Maggette (L.A. Clippers) against a Thornton High team featuring Melvin Ely (Charlotte Bobcats) and Antwaan Randle-El (Pittsburgh Steelers).

In football, I got to witness the great Fenwick team of 1995, which lost in overtime to Maine South in the Class 5A state semifinals after a penalty called back the apparent winning score for Fenwick moments earlier. Marques Sullivan, offensive lineman on that team, later played for the Buffalo Bills and was on the roster of last year's Super Bowl champion New England Patriots for a few weeks.

Over the years, I got to know and cover some legendary (and not so legendary) coaches, who endured my Sunday night calls for many years. It was my honor to have talked often with Jack Kaiser, Barb Liles, Doug Hunt, Norm Parker, John Quinn, Al Allen, Sarah McCabe, Jim Kesslering, Pete Quinn, Dave Perry, Dave Hogan and so many others over the years. I'm also glad I got to know, if only briefly, Gary Olson, who I misunderstood and grew to admire. And, of course, Sandy Abbinanti and Mike Curtin, the athletic directors at both OPRF and Fenwick, who always kept the line open through good times and not-so-good ones.

I couldn't have asked for any more.

ā€¢ Bob Uphues is currently assistant publisher and managing editor of our Riverside-Brookfield newspaper, The Landmark.

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