Tony Golden:Good Company

Tony Golden

What was the name of the Green Bay Packer running back that Chicago Bear George Connor creamed in Wrigley Field on a cold and grey Sunday in November of 1955?  Connor broke up the Packers flying wedge on a kickoff return and knocked that Packer into next week. They called it the “hit heard round the world”.  Who was that guy that George Connor knocked out?

That’s the kind of question that only Tony Golden could answer. He had an encyclopedic memory for sports trivia and other arcane Chicago folklore. As the Irish say, “He’s the kind of man you don’t meet every day.”

Houli, Tony Golden, Ed Kelly, and Charie Carey at Gene & Georgetti after lunch.

Tony and I and Charlie Carey and a rotating group of characters regularly hung out after lunch at Gene & Georgetti’s. Tony would regale us with long ago exploits of gridiron greatness, debauchery, and bravery in battle. He could make you laugh and make you cry.

Anthony, “Tony” Golden died last week at the age of 90 surrounded by his wife Kay, and sons Kevin, Terry, and Tim. He’d received the last rites from Father Tom Hurley and was ready to pack it in. He lived every minute of those ninety years to the hilt, defiantly and with gusto.

He was born a policeman’s son on the south side of Chicago in 1929. His parents had both emigrated from Swinford, County Mayo Ireland and young Tony attended St. Justin grammar school and Harper HS, graduating in 1947, before playing football at Butler University. He got into the construction business, building homes and remodeling for about thirty years before setting up his own specialty promotional business, Golden Incentives.

He met his wife Kay at “The Store” down on Rush Street. Her father, an Irish patriot also from Mayo, had opened a tavern on Diversey just off Halsted. She was every Irishman’s dream, a pretty gal whose dad owned a saloon.

Kay and Tony got married in 1965, 54 years ago.

A legendary sportsman, Tony was the first race director of the Chicago Marathon, founded by his good friend Lee Flaherty. Tony ran over 42 marathons, including Chicago, Boston, and New York on several occasions. He told me    he and Notre Dame great Buddy Ruel had hopped in a taxi after the Boston race and Buddy got into it with a huge Italian cab driver after making a crack about his ancestry. Tony held the door while Buddy cleaned the cabbie’s clock.

In 1969 Tony and Mike Lind commandeered a horse named “Lady” and her carriage, from in front of a Rush Street tavern around 4AM and trotted over to Buckingham Fountain for a nightcap with “Lady”, while cops issued an all-points bulletin for the horse thieves. It was in all the papers the next day, but the lads were never caught.

Tony and his pal, Bogie the cop, had been entertaining Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle one night and the Mick wanted to drive Bogie’s squad car, which he did while speeding down a Chicago expressway with sirens blaring.

Tony finally quit the booze and hadn’t had a drop for over 40 years when he died. But he still loved to tell his stories and we relished listening, with names and dates he never forgot.

He took me under his wing over twenty years ago and introduced me to many Chicago legends, guys like Committeeman Ed Kelly of the Fighting 47th Ward and General Superintendent of The Chicago Park District. Ed ran his annual “Giant Awards” dinner at the White Eagle on Milwaukee Avenue and Tony always held a seat for freeloaders like me at his table. He helped found the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame with his childhood pal George Connor.

When I was shooting my film “Tapioca” in 2006, I played a sleazy used car salesman and we needed a little old lady to play the foil in the opening scene. Tony recruited his 100-year-old mother in law. I don’t think he told Mrs. Kelly what she was in for, because the look on her face when my character went off on her was priceless. I told Tony later that I might have shocked her, and he told me, “Are you kiddin’? She owned a tavern for fifty years, she’s been around the block, twice!”

Tony Golden circled that block dozens of times himself, peeling back the history of Chicago with each story. He knew all the big shoulders of this toddling town. He had an institutional memory cuz he was there.

Sure gonna miss those lunches with Tony. We’re hoping you can all make it to his final send off at Old St. Pat’s, 700 West Adams in Chicago, on Friday May 3rd, starting at 9AM, with funeral mass at 10.

And oh yeah, who was the Green Bay Packer laid out by George Connor that November day at Wrigley Field?

Charlie Carey and I were on the phone last week when we heard the news of Tony’s passing and Charlie said to me, “Man I was gonna call him this weekend, we were trying to figure out who was the guy who took “the hit heard round the world” and I couldn’t remember…. oh wait a minute, it just came to me, Veryl Switzer! Thank you Tony!”

I looked it up. Veryl Switzer admitted that when he was hit by George Connor on a kickoff return, it almost took his head off. Connor’s resounding tackle of Green Bay’s Veryl Switzer on a kick return in Wrigley Field will live forever in Bears lore. Switzer’s helmet flew one way, the ball another, and Bears linebacker Bill George recovered the fumble for a touchdown.

Thanks Tony, for the memories. Say hello to Veryl Switzer if he’s up there.


May Column from The Irish American News

Mike Houlihan

I’ve had three brief encounters with Paul Konerko’s wife. Like the classic love story, it’s a bittersweet tale.

We bumped into each other again in front of the elevators outside the Skybox Suites at Sox Park on Opening Day.

She pretended she didn’t know me.

I went along with the ruse and introduced myself and we exchanged small talk about her husband’s performance that day in leading the Sox to victory over the Tigers.

We bid each other adieu as she wheeled the stroller with her baby onto the elevator and out of my heart. Tony Golden and former Chicago Bear John Johnson were with me and Tony muttered to me, “How do you know Konerko’s wife?”

We had been guests of my old pal Charlie Carey in his skybox that day and it was a blast until we drank them out of beer sometime in the 8th inning. After the game I suggested to Tony and John that we have one more at Schaller’s.

The place was packed but Sue squeezed us into a table in the back and I kicked back with the sports encyclopedia Tony Golden and the legendary Chicago Bear John Johnson. Ordinarily these guys would be telling me great sports stories but all they wanted to know was “How in the hell do you know Konerko’s wife?”

They grilled me relentlessly as I ran up their tab and I finally spilled my guts and told them of my short but passionate history with the gorgeous Jennifer.

It was the summer of 2010 and I was driving a limo to make ends meet during Obamanomics. The gig was brutal because I was at war with the dispatcher, an uber-nerd named Jim who wore his military shorts up around his nipples with black socks under his combat boots and a jangling ring of hundreds of keys on his belt. He treated all the drivers with contempt and every time I laid eyes on him I wanted to jump the counter and beat him to a bloody pulp after gouging out his eyeballs with his magic marker.

He handed me the keys to an SUV with the order that read “Jennifer Konerko”. The pick-up was Near North and the drop-off was the private jet terminal by Midway. I recognized the name instantly and looked up at Jim, “Konerko?”

“Don’t screw it up.” he sneered.

On the drive over to the pick-up address I devised several elaborate schemes for disemboweling Jim. I put the Sox game on the radio and thought about the great Paul Konerko. I’ve been a White Sox fan for over 60 years and I will never, ever forget Paulie hitting the first grand slam in White Sox World Series history in game 2 of the 2005 World Series. I pulled up to his building, wondering if Jennifer was his daughter or his wife. Probably the typical airhead bimbo that you see on the arm of most sports zillionaires I thought.

I walked up and rang the bell, heard a hubbub of kids’ voices and then she opened the door. This is where the music swells and Grace Kelly steps into frame. She was charming and graceful and just flat out pretty. Little blue birds flew about chirping of her loveliness. She had all the bags ready and waiting by the door and I started hauling them down the steps to the van. She pointed out a very large red trunk and said, “This one is the mother lode.”

Each of the bags felt like they were filled with cement and the mother lode must have contained Paul’s barbells. Mrs. K floated down the steps with her two little boys in tow and off we headed to her destination. We hit the drive-thru at a McDonald’s on the way so the lads could eat and I surreptitiously turned on the radio for the game. The Sox were having a great season and I remarked as much to m’lady. She was very pleasant and told me of her worries about “the other team”, i.e., The Minnesota Twins.

She had her hands full with the towheads as they wrestled over the toys in the Happy Meal. Upon departure Mrs. K told her sons, “Make sure you thank Mike for the ride.” A good mom.

Maybe a month later the Sox and Twins are battling for contention in the American League and the Sox suddenly start a long slow slide into an end of season collapse that will doom their chances at another championship.

I’m at home one night watching the game with the sound off and the radio doing play by play. I’ll take Farmer over the Hawk any day. I’ve got to listen to one know-it all-blowhard at work, so I’d have to be a masochist if I put up with it on my TV.

Sox are losing. Konerko comes to bat in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded and strikes out. Nooooooo!

A week later, wanker Jim hands me the order, “Konerko”, pick-up near north, drop-off at O’Hare. This time I ain’t so thrilled.

He says, “Ask her if she can help him with that choking problem.”

You dirty blagguard! Don’t you dare speak of her.

I pull up in front of Konerko’s crib in my Executive Sedan. I ring the bell and there’s Paul standing there in his shorts and he asks me if I need any help with the bags.

I can handle it.

He shrugs and hands them off and then gives his old lady a kiss and she follows me to the car where I open the back door for her entrance.

As we drove to the airport in silence we both knew it was over. I caught a glimpse of her in my rear view mirror as she gazed out the back window wistfully. Sorry doll, but no World Series this year.

Curbside at O’Hare, red cap grabs the bags and we look at each other one last time. The sounds of the planes overhead drown out her final words, if there even were any.

Tony pays our tab at Schaller’s and asks me, “What kind of a tip did she give ‘ya?”

Come on Tony, It was never about the money.

Johnson the Bear scoffs at me, “Who are you kiddin’? You never even got to first base!”