Life one big adventure

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

At dinner a long time ago, my eldest son, who wasn't very old at the time, asked the kind of question little boys tend to ask.

"Dad," he said, "who's your best friend at work?"

I paused for a moment and answered the only way I knew. "Jim Hunt," I said.

"Jim Hunt?" he repeated aloud. "Isn't he that old guy?"

"No," I corrected him. "He's just about the youngest man I know."

The telephone call came yesterday morning informing me that the youngest man I've ever known was dead at the age of 79.

Jim Hunt wasn't just a friend and a confidant and a colleague. Truth is, he was my hero.

He loved sports and media and being a personality. He loved life on the road and the big event and was almost as proud of his own accomplishments as he was of his lovely wife, Carolyn, and the remarkable achievements of their very successful children.

They have all grown up now; he never really did. He never wanted to, never stopped living or laughing. Life to Hunt was an anecdote, an adventure. He went everywhere and covered everything: Sports, politics, television, newspaper, radio. It didn't seem to matter so long as there was a story to tell.

Circumstances may have slowed him down the past few years, but to the end, he never stopped telling those stories, writing them, living them.

All of them related in the only tones he knew -- loud and louder.

We were from different generations: I grew up listening to him on CKEY radio every morning before going to school. We became friends during the 1986 Stanley Cup final just after he went up to introduce himself to a rookie named Brett Hull, who was about to play his first NHL game.

"I know who you are," Hull said. "You wrote a book about my dad."

Over time, we covered Grey Cups together, Super Bowls together, Stanley Cup playoffs together. You couldn't have asked for a better linemate. He was the show. The rest of us just played the part of audience.

He was of a different time, a different world, back when sports writers had intimate knowledge of the people they wrote about, but as times changed so did he. He never got old or stale. He changed with the times. He became a pundit as pundits became fashionable. He even did the impossible for several years on sports radio: He softened Bob McCown.

"The great thing about being my age," Hunt told me once when he was in his 70s, "is you can say anything to anybody and get away with it. Nobody gets mad or takes you seriously."

I never got mad but always took him seriously. We had our roles. He entertained me, I took care of him.

If he didn't know how to plug in his computer, I did it for him. If he didn't know how to file his copy, I helped him. One time, we were travelling to Edmonton for a Stanley Cup playoff game and the movie was about to be played on our flight.

Hunt fumbled around trying to get his headset to work when it was apparent he hadn't connected it properly. I plugged him in, turned up the volume, and then the movie came on.

The first five minutes or so of Three Men And A Baby have no spoken words, only music and Hunt was listening happily. Then the first words were spoken, and with headset on, and with as loud a voice as he had, everyone on the plane suddenly knew Jim Hunt was on board.

He announced, screaming, "This movie's in French!"

Quickly, I flicked the dial, turning the movie to English. Another Hunt story was born. Another to tell.

Years later, at the Grey Cup, Hunt was to receive a special award from the Canadian Football League he loved so much. Only it was to be a surprise.

I called Carolyn and made sure he packed an appropriate jacket and tie for the trip to Winnipeg. Then on awards night, I tried to prod him into going to the event.

"I'm not going," Hunt shouted. "Those things are so boring."

"Why don't we go and then go out for dinner afterward," I pleaded.

He relented and was near speechless as his name was called and he was rewarded for a lifetime of loving the CFL.

Years before that, Hunt, who didn't suffer fools well, was in the Argos locker room following yet another loss at Exhibition Stadium. On that day, Chuck Ealey threw five interceptions and, like all quarterbacks, was asked about it afterward.

"It was God's will," said Ealey, a religious man.

Said Hunt, without missing a beat: "Can't God read defences, either?"

That was Jim Hunt. Ol' Hunt, as he called himself. Shaky, as we called him. Ear-splitting and full of mischief. He knew Muhammad Ali and Mickey Mantle and Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, was in Moscow when Paul Henderson scored, argued with George Bell and Dave Stieb, fought with Harold Ballard, made trades for the Argos. He lived our sporting history.

And will remain alive in so many of us, forever.


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