Saying Goodbye to My Friend John Saunders
Words cannot begin to explain the feelings I had when my daughter informed me of John Saunders death. I loved John like a brother and enjoyed every single broadcast we ever did together. I’m struggling with the reality that I’ll not have a chance to say goodbye…
My first memories of John date back to my original years with ESPN in 1991. John was a “big dog” who had a dual-deal with ESPN and ABC. It was unique in that John was allowed to also work on a “network” show. This was before Disney bought ESPN. Back then, most broadcasters were all trying to get to “the network”.
I was working College Football in Bristol, Connecticut with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Mike Tirico and Tim Brando. Fowler, Corso and I were doing College Gameday…which were all “home games” before we took the show on the road in 1993.
Big-John-Saunders would drive back to Bristol from New York on Saturday nights and meet all of us at a local bar for a drink and to discuss the day’s highlights from college football. It was an amazing conversation…with lots of different takes on this or that. Our late night talks would have made for great TV…talk about unfiltered! 🙂
John and I hit it off immediately and became friends. In 2003, our friendship had a chance to grow when ESPN put me with John in New York for the ABC College Football studio show. As Forrest Gump would say: we were like peas and carrots. In reality, we were black and white…yet neither saw a color, only a guy they loved and cared about. We ended our phone calls or conversations with: I love you brother.
— Dr. Darryl Henson (@DrHenson2) January 10, 2016
John was a tough son-of-a gun! An old hockey player who would/could go “goon-on-ya” in a heartbeat. In the hockey world, that’s what they call a tough guy or enforcer. BUT JOHN SAUNDERS ALSO HAD THE BIGGEST HEART OF ANYONE I KNOW.
Which leads me to a couple of stories on John.
In 2004, John and I were doing the ABC College football studio show with Aaron Taylor. We were several weeks into the season when John provided a classic. It was late in the day and we were coming on the air. As always, John welcomed the viewer with: hello and welcome to the show…I’m John Saunders along with Craig James and….um, um, former Notre Dame football player, um, played for the Green Bay Packers…haha, at this point, Aaron starts to help Big John with “Aaron”…and all of a sudden, John says: I know who you are!! Aaron Taylor! The camera crew, control room and all involved hit the floor laughing. As always, Saunders turned a brain-cramp into a moment we never forgot.
John loved his wife, Wanda and two daughters ( Aleah and Jenna ) with all of his heart, soul and mind.
Several years ago, I invited John and his family to my ranch in Texas for spring break. I’d spent the previous Thanksgiving in New York at John’s home and had told Wanda, Aleah and Jenna about my ranch. The girls were pumped and told me they loved to ride horses. So here came the Saunders’ gang with hats and boots and plenty of desire to work and play.
We got right to ranchin’ and our spring gathering. There were 90 bull calves that needed to be “worked”. In city terms: it was time for each to get their shots and to be “groomed”. Ha!
John, Wanda and Jenna were sitting nearby watching from a safe distance. Aleah was in the game! Aleah’s job was to keep the cattle moving through the chutes. Her weapon: a cattle prod that shocked a calf if it didn’t stay in line. Aleah was really into her job!
The sad part for the calves…was that once they were in the squeeze chute, they were restrained and castrated. In plain speak…their testacles were removed and tossed into a bucket, later to be fried for lunch. Seriously!! The ranch hands consider it a delicacy. Not me…
John flipped out watching this process and asked my head cowboy why we were castrating these bull calves. The answer: “well, Mr. Saunders…we’re trying to get these cows minds off of ass and to thinking only of eating grass”. Saunders grimaced at the answer!! Priceless!
Despite his enormous popularity, John was humble and gracious. He had an amazing laugh and a warm smile. John was a stellar broadcaster who made it look easy when “stuff hit the fan”.
John, I’m going to miss you. Thanks for all the memories and for being a friend. You will not be forgotten.
I love you, my brother.