A monumental farewell

Tribute: Baltimore residents and others turn out to say goodbye to sports columnist John Steadman and to remember how he touched their lives.

January 06, 2001|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

He was remembered as the poet laureate of Baltimore sports. He was recalled as a benevolent boss whose eyes twinkled with delight at newsroom horseplay.

And, as big names in sports, journalism and politics gathered yesterday to bid farewell to a legendary sportswriter, John Steadman was celebrated as the humblest of men of faith and a loving husband and uncle.

As the kind of man who regularly gave a young niece spare change and Chuckles candies - and a model for living right.

"Be it the family home, his church home, the press box, the newsroom, the football field or even Baltimore itself, he made it all his dwelling place," said the Rev. Frank Donio of St. Jude Shrine, celebrating a funeral Mass where sports metaphors played well.

"He now lives, I am convinced, in a new dwelling place, the Father's House. And from his eternal press box, he looks down on all of us as we play the game of life, admonishing us when we foul, cheering us on to the goal line, so that he can write about us in the book of life."

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 squeezed into the 150-year- old church in downtown Baltimore to sing the praises of Steadman, who died Monday of cancer at age 73. On one point, everyone agreed: Steadman, the son of a Baltimore firefighter, was the nicest of the nice guys, a gentleman to the end.

"He led the world in thank-yous," said close friend Lou Grasmick.

It was a funeral that brought out a Pro Bowl game's worth of former Baltimore Colts, including such familiar faces as Unitas, Donovan, Mutscheller, Matte and Moore. Former Bullets player and general manager Bob Ferry was among the more than 30 honorary pallbearers, as was Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos.

"He's a personality that comes along once in a lifetime," Angelos said. "He had the ability to criticize people and make the object of that criticism rethink what they were being criticized for."

Honorary pallbearer William K. Marimow, editor of The Sun, along with a share of its staff, joined longtime ABC sportscaster Jim McKay, Baltimore television personalities and writers from the Washington Post and the former News American in mourning Steadman. U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger also were there.

"They call this the Monumental City," former mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III leaned over to tell a reporter standing in the back of the church. "We're burying one of our monuments today. That's how significant he was to our community." The Mass of Christian burial, with its sacraments and tears, its eulogies and laughs, was simply the latest in a series of tributes unfurled in the two years since Steadman was stricken with cancer. Even as he nobly fought the disease, those who loved and admired the courtly Irishman conspired in a series of salutes.

When Steadman brushed off his induction in 1999 into the National Sportswriters Hall of Fame as of no great importance, his brother, Thomas F. Steadman, surprised and moved him by attending the ceremony.

"I'm not sure he would like all this fuss," Thomas Steadman said Thursday, as the last of several hundred friends filed through the funeral home.

John Steadman's widow, Mary Lee, said "I'm just overwhelmed. I knew he had a lot of friends, but I had no idea it would be anything like this."

Former Colt Art Donovan stood on the steps of the funeral home and explained the outpouring of affection in his customary, no-baloney way.

"What can you say? He was a very popular man," said Donovan, one of several former players who visited Steadman before his death. "Everybody loved him. If you didn't like John Steadman, you didn't like anyone."

Flowers came from the Orioles and from the NFL and several of its teams - including the Indianapolis Colts. Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell passed through the line, as did other sports figures, such as former New York Giants general manager George Young and his successor, Ernie Accorsi.

Some at the viewing and funeral, such as Robert Schapiro, knew Steadman only through his columns or from book signings. Still, Schapiro said, "He was a part of my childhood."

As mourners gathered yesterday on the sidewalk in front of the St. Jude Shrine, many talked of Steadman's integrity.

Former Colt Tom Matte said, "He was a reporter you could trust and say, `Here's a story, but don't say you got it from me. You really felt confident with John."

Johnny Unitas, the former Colt quarterback, said, "All the people of Baltimore loved the man. He stood up for everybody."

Ken Denlinger, a sportswriter for the Washington Post, said, "I can't remember a more passionate writer. Baltimore always seemed ... genuine to me, and John reflected that."

A light snow was beginning to fall when the closed casket containing Steadman's body was carried into the church. A white pall, symbolic of baptism, was placed over the casket, and the two-hour Mass began.

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