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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Remembering "The Faa" five years later

Here's the column I wrote five years ago, right after the passing of my dear friend, Ed "The Faa" Ford. It's amazing he's gone five years already:

It was October of 2009 when I received word that Ed Ford, better known simply throughout Hudson County athletic circles _ and beyond _ as “The Faa” was not doing well. His host of health problems, most importantly congestive heart failure and diabetes, were catching up to him. He was in critical condition in the Jersey City Medical Center and his chances for recovery did not look good.
Doctors put Faa in an induced coma to prevent him from pulling out the tubes that were keeping him alive. I was convinced on a Friday afternoon in October that I was going to the Medical Center to bid farewell to my long-time friend.
That was around 3:30 p.m. or so.
About three hours later that night, I received three phone calls from respected sportswriters and colleagues, all asking me if the Faa had passed on. Apparently, a Rutgers University basketball coach posted on Twitter that the Faa was gone. “RIP, Ed ‘The Faa’ Ford,” was all the Twitter comment read. I thought it was a little strange that word that the Faa had passed could have leaked out that fast, especially after I was just there.
One particular sports columnist, Steve Politi of the Newark Star-Ledger, was actually writing the Faa’s obituary, when I told him to hold off for a second until we could confirm it.
So I called Jersey City police detective Mike McNally, a long-time friend of the Faa, if he had heard anything. McNally, preparing to go to a wedding, actually drove up to the Medical Center to check on his buddy. He called me back to tell me that it wasn’t true, that Faa was still with us.
On the following Tuesday, I went up to see how the Faa was doing. Sure enough, he was sitting up without any tubes, talking like he always did.
In this case, like Mark Twain once wrote, “the rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”
When Faa saw me, he uttered these words, “I always knew I’d write your [bleeping] obituary before you wrote mine.”
Unfortunately, that’s not the case, because Tuesday afternoon, I got a text message from the wonderful woman who helped to care for the Faa in his time of need and in the middle of his major health crises over the last two years, Anne Marie Costello, who simply wrote, “Faa’s gone.”
Edward “The Faa” Ford, who had an absolutely remarkable life in sports and business, who called thousands of people his friend and was able to touch so many for so long with his undying generosity and care, was now indeed dead. He was a few days shy of his 66th birthday.
It’s almost too incredible for words to think all that Faa did without a true formal education. He didn’t own a high school diploma. He was a grade school dropout.
But he was able to carve out a life that most people simply dream about. He was first a respected baseball coach, leading St. Mary of Jersey City to its lone NJSIAA state championship in 1973. He was a respected basketball referee, officiating many of the top high school and college games in the area, including a handful of HCIAA championship games. He was a business owner, owning a part of three different Jersey City taverns, including Dohoney’s on West Side Avenue, a place he owned for over 25 years.
For 30 years, he was a sports columnist for two papers, first the Hudson Dispatch and later the Jersey Journal, helping both sports sections flourish. Readers all over Hudson County flocked to newsstands to see what outrageous thing would next appear in his “Faa’s Corner” in either paper. He was clearly the most popular sports columnist in this area for three decades _ and did so never collecting a dime and having no ability whatsoever to type.
He was a full-time major league baseball scout, working for the California Angels, the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, helping so many local aspiring baseball players get a chance to play pro baseball.
And he was later the assistant director of recreation in Jersey City, helping to form a youth baseball program that has helped develop hundreds of youngsters in the sport he loved the most. It was working with the youngsters that made the Faa the happiest. He truly felt that was his biggest calling.
It’s truly the most amazing career for anyone I’ve ever known without a formal education. What makes it even more astounding is that he never truly understood how incredible his life was. He was just being the Faa. That’s what he did the best.
He was so beloved that words can never describe it. I got the call that he had passed away Tuesday afternoon and as I drove to the Caven Point Athletic Complex where he died _ albeit fittingly _ I received eight cell phone calls on my way there. He wasn’t gone an hour, yet there were eight people calling me, one from North Carolina, another from Easton, Pa.
I guess it’s because for the last 35 years, I was fortunate to call the Faa my friend.
Someone asked how I would best describe my relationship with Ed Ford. I honestly couldn’t answer it.
Because our relationship covered the full gamut of emotions. It went from cantankerous, confrontational, adversarial and angry to loving, caring and considerate. It was first coach-to-player, then sportswriter-to-sportswriter, first as colleagues, then as rivals. It was boss-to-employee (yes, I bartended at Dohoney’s for a stretch when I was out of work), but it was always, first and foremost, friend-to-friend.
He was a father-figure and a brother-figure all rolled into one. I knew that if I ever needed anything, he was right there for me, even if I did appear on his “tombstone” more often than anyone other than Bob Hurley and Mike Hogan.
Faa had a “tombstone” that he kept with people he considered dead to him. I appeared on that tombstone about 50 or so times over the last 25 years. But I somehow always managed to have my name erased, only to have it put back on for some ungodly reason.
One thing was certain: We were attached at the hip for the last quarter century. People always associated the two of us together. No matter where I was, what event I was covering, everyone would come up to me and ask, “How’s the Faa?” I got asked that question about 30 times at the recent Final Four in Houston.
I guess because the Faa and I were cut from the same cloth. We were two Jersey City guys who were not afraid to speak their minds and offer their opinions.
So since Tuesday, I’ve received countless phone calls, e-mails, text messages, all offering their memories of the Faa.
“The English language can’t come up with one word to describe him the right way,” said Bob Hurley, a friend of the Faa for the last 45 years. Faa even served as the best man when Bob and Chris Hurley were married 41 years ago.
“There was a lot more friendship than there were bad times,” said Hurley, who was not on the best of terms with Faa when he passed. “There was never a middle of the road with him. But if you needed something, he was there. Even if he had nothing, he was there. His friendship can’t be measured by the confusing times. We had a lot of really good times, loyal times. The impact he had on people was amazing. He had such a wide circle of friends. There is no replacement. They don’t make them like him anymore. I feel bad for the kids of Jersey City, because there’s no one to help them anymore.”
“He bought me my first spikes and my first new glove,” said Willie Banks, who took the Faa’s guidance and made a triumphant return to the major leagues. “It really feels like I lost a parent. I feel the same way I did when I lost my Mom. It hurts that much. I remember all the times he took me to the baseball field at 5, maybe 6 a.m. to work with me, asking me if I wanted to be good or great. He created my work ethic and I work with kids today because of him. He truly was the cornerstone of my career.”
“He was absolutely a rare breed,” said Rashon Burno, the former St. Anthony basketball player who is now an assistant coach at Towson University. “He was always my voice of reason, telling me what’s wrong and what’s right. He seriously cared about your well being and that’s very rare. He was a huge asset to me.”
“The Faa was a classic,” said Mike O’Koren, who the Faa helped to go to the University of North Carolina before a career playing and coaching in the NBA. “He was such a positive influence on all of us. He was a great guy and always there for me. He really would give you the shirt off his back. We all lost an institution.”
“He wore so many hats,” said Ken Markowski, one of the Faa’s first baseball players at St. Anthony who had a Hall of Fame basketball career at St. Peter’s. “He was a confidant, a father figure, a brother figure. He did so much for me. He was the best and it’s incredible what he meant to me and everyone.”
“How do you describe what he was?” said North Bergen legendary football coach Vince Ascolese. “In terms of all my relationships, I could always count on Eddie Ford being on my side all the time. He had so much charisma. He’s going to be missed.”
“There couldn’t be a nicer person I’ve ever known,” said Joe Borowski, who the Faa signed to his first pro baseball contract with the White Sox before Borowski went on to have a long career in the big leagues. “He would do anything to help you and never ask for anything in return. No matter where I went, I would bring up his name and everyone had a Faa story, either funny or serious. I don’t know if there was anyone involved in Hudson County sports who wasn’t affected by him.”
“I always thought Eddie was very smart,” said University of Connecticut assistant basketball coach George Blaney, who as the head coach at Hudson Catholic, gave Faa his first coaching job as freshman coach. “He had a great knack of evaluating people and understanding talent. He understood what it took to win and I admired that. He had a great ability in talent evaluation and I think that’s what made him a great scout. There was also a childish way about him and he reveled in the bizarre and funny things. What strikes me most about Eddie is that when you met him, you remembered him. Everyone has an Eddie Ford story.”
Personally, I have thousands. There was never a question of his loyalty to me as a friend, even through all the tough times and countless arguments. He was my friend and he’s gone. We’ll gather together to bid farewell to the Faa this weekend. But he’ll never truly be totally gone.
The fitting thing would be somewhere down the road to rename the Caven Point Athletic Complex, truly his home for the last 15 years, as the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Complex. Here’s to hoping that someone picks up that torch and remembers his legacy that way.

In postscript, I'm glad someone read my column, because sure enough, a year later, the complex was indeed named after "The Faa". I don't know if I had anything to do with it, but I sure hope so.