The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday January 29th

Baltimore Misses Its Biggest Fan\

The Ravens brought an NFL championship back to Baltimore for the first time in 30 years.

But amid the manic cheering that ensued in Charm City last night, a sobering reminder surely lingered, leaving a twinge of melancholy.

This was the first Super Bowl without John Steadman. And he would have loved to have been there.

Mr. Steadman was one of nine reporters to have attended every championship game until yesterday's game in Tampa.

For more than 50 years, he was the authoritative voice of Baltimore sports, first as a staff writer at the Baltimore News-Post, then as sports editor at the News American and, finally, as a columnist at the Baltimore Sun.

Up until Dec. 10, Mr. Steadman never missed a Baltimore Colts or Ravens game, covering 719 games in a row. It was a streak that rivaled one of another prominent Baltimore sports figure named Ripken.

Except that Cal Jr. never needed his wife to push him to work in a wheel chair toward the end of his streak.

Toward the end of his, Mr. Steadman sometimes did.

He was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 1998. He began chemotherapy and radiation treatments soon after, continuing to write his weekly column.

Mr. Steadman was a champion of underdogs, a compassionate man who always looked for and wrote about the person and the heart behind the story, who loved people and loved Baltimore and was loved deeply in return.

I was fortunate enough to get to know Mr. Steadman on a personal basis and see for myself what a great man he was.

I first met him last spring.

In the winter of 1999, the Baltimore Sun established a sports internship in his name. The first recipient was to grab pen and reporter's notebook in the summer of 2000.

Preference for the internship was to go to a graduate of Mr. Steadman's high school, Baltimore City College. A City grad, I eagerly applied, and a couple weeks later I had been selected as the first John Steadman Sports Intern.

The Sun's Sports Editor, Molly Dunham, arranged for the three of us to have lunch together while I was home on spring break.

On the day of our lunch, I walked into the sports area on the fifth floor of the newspaper's building downtown.

There was Mr. Steadman, sitting in a chair in a tie and sports jacket. He immediately recognized this nervous neophyte as the young man who would make the first attempt at honoring his legacy. He rose out of his chair, smiling warmly and extending his hand.

During the lunch, Mr. Steadman flexed the uncanny memory that was one of his most remarkable and enduring trademarks, regaling us with stories about the people he had met in his travels as a sports writer.

As we were preparing to leave, Mr. Steadman told me he enjoyed getting to know me.

"You haven't even written a word for us," said the man who had only met me 40 minutes earlier, "and I'm already proud of you."

He is still the only person outside my family to tell me I made him proud.

A week later, Mr. Steadman sent a letter to my house, typed on an old upright typewriter on Sun stationery.

He began his letter "Dear Friend James."

In the note, he expressed his pleasure with our meeting, crediting my parents for doing a fine job in raising me. He told me he was sure I would do well as I pursued the craft of sports writing.

"There will be good days and bad, as with any other creative endeavor, even painting houses," Mr. Steadman wrote in his letter, "and as the old pitcher Carl Hubell used to say, 'even rain.'"

His illness gradually began to take its toll on his body. Some days when I saw him at the office, he looked great. Other days, I could tell he was in pain.

When I called Mrs. Dunham during winter break, she told me the news.

Mr. Steadman's cancer had spread to his brain, and the doctors did not expect him to live through the holidays.

On Dec. 31, 2000, the Ravens won the first playoff game in franchise history 21-3 against the Denver Broncos.

On Jan. 1, 2001, John Steadman was dead. He was 73.

I went to his funeral four days later. So did more than 400 people, crowded into a church in downtown Baltimore.

Among them were several old Baltimore Colts, Orioles owner Peter Angelos, broadcaster Jim McKay and scores of reporters from the Sun, the Washington Post and the defunct News American. All came as friends.

Three weeks later, the media observed a moment of silence in the press box for Mr. Steadman in Tampa.

Sixty minutes later, the Ravens were Super Bowl champions.

A city celebrated late into the night.

Somewhere, John Steadman celebrated with it.

James Giza can be reached at giza@email.unc.edu.

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