Final cheer for `Reds,' who lived life his way

February 10, 2004|By MICHAEL OLESKER

SEND UP one final cheer for Eugene "Reds" Hubbe, who orchestrated so many glad hosannas at Memorial Stadium and helped create a community in the process. That was Reds down there, Sunday after Sunday across a dozen autumns, circling the field and leading Baltimore Colts ovations like a man conducting an ocean.

Reds slipped away last week, at 72, from cancer. But he left behind a legacy big enough for most of us who let our fears and inhibitions hedge us in. Reds never did. As his wife of 52 years, Ida, said yesterday at his funeral, with a kind of good-humored awe, "Reds lived, and I watched."

He lived a life stretched to its good-time limits. He was the long-shot City Council candidate who managed to get himself arrested on Election Day, 1971. Other politicians handed out walking-around money, but Reds had only $72 in his entire campaign treasury. So he handed out walk-around Seagram's 7, saying it was the least he could do on a hot day. When he campaigned for office again, he blithely announced, "I run not to get arrested."

He was the singing mailman who once forgot to deliver a couple of days worth of mail. It turned out, he stopped in at a tavern or two, and the job slipped his mind. He played the drums, and he sang, and he had a waterfront job where he booked friendly numbers bets while nobody was looking. And he had a distinguished peacetime military career that lasted nine whole days before the Army decided: This isn't working out for either of us.

When you walked into the Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk over the weekend, where Reds was laid out, you heard Frank Sinatra singing "My Way."

"That was Reds," said old friend Bob Blatchley, nodding appreciatively. "He always called `My Way' his national anthem."

He sang it, too. He sang it in bars and restaurants, and he was known to crash weddings and dances. He was always one of the town's top gate-crashers. He'd get dressed up and crash weddings and find somebody to wave to, such as the groom, so everybody thought he belonged there. With Reds, life was an endless party.

But, mostly, he'll be remembered circling the football field - with Bill Gattus, Buddy Janowicz and Domenick D'Amico - leading cheers for the Colts and helping the town fall in love with the team, and with a way of life that once seemed as if it would never end.

"Those guys were as important to this town as Unitas and Donovan and Lenny," retired sportscaster Vince Bagli remembered yesterday as mourners gathered for Reds.

What he meant was: They were having so much fun in front of 60,000 people, they made everybody want to be a part of it. The Colts cheers were our hallelujah chorus. They helped unleash our emotions.

How deep were those emotions? In the hallway outside Reds' service yesterday stood the owner of the Connelly Funeral Home, Anthony Connelly. He was born that December day in 1959 when the Colts won their second straight NFL championship.

Let the record show: His full name is Anthony Colt Connelly.

That's the kind of emotions unleashed by the old Colts and by the cheerleaders such as Reds Hubbe.

"A completely fearless guy," said the old Baltimore Bullets center Bob Ferry. "No fears, no inhibitions about anything."

"And he didn't have a mean bone in his body," said Louis Grasmick, the lumber company owner.

"A lovable guy," Gattus said. "He was like a brother to me."

He remembered bumping into Reds, and the two of them deciding to team up doing sideline cheers with Janowicz and D'Amico, and getting the go-ahead from the old Colts' general manager, Don Kellett, who sensed their spirit and gave them one instruction: Just stay out of trouble.

So there they were, the four of them, Gattus wearing a football helmet and the others wearing Colts horseshoes on their blue and white jackets, carrying a banner and leading cheers. It sounded like the tide coming in. It sounded, in the famous phrase uttered by a visiting coach, like the world's largest outdoor insane asylum.

At the funeral home, there were photos of Reds in his glory: leading cheers, posing for a moment with the likes of John Unitas, with William Donald Schaefer, and with Mickey Light, the town's best Sinatra impersonator.

Reds had the heart of a child but a grown-up's vision of the future. He gave up cheerleading, not long after Robert Irsay bought the Colts, and issued a formal statement: "With a heavy heart, and tears in my eyes, [I have] decided to call it quits. The greed of the owners and the players has taken the spirit out of it."

His cheerleading was done, but his legend lived on. At John Unitas' funeral 17 months ago, Reds and Gattus carried a big blow-up poster of Unitas. Outside the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, a couple from Crisfield, Dianna and Bunky Ford, said they'd driven since 4:30 that morning to arrive on time. Then they spotted Reds and Gattus.

"Hon," said Dianna, "can I get a picture of my husband and you holding this up?"

To the end, Reds leading cheers for Unitas: That picture was the snapshot of a whole generation.

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