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Howard Peretz, long-time recreational tennis and basketball player, describes himself as just "an old-school sports junkie."
But that’s not the whole story. Howard Peretz had a long career with Hasbro, the toy company.
"Well, I think the one I’m most identified with was G.I. Joe," he says.
You remember G.I. Joe, right?
"But I’ve been involved with Star Wars, and Care Bears, and Strawberry Shortcake, and Ninja Turtles, and Pokemon."
Quite a roster, eh? So perhaps it’s not surprising that as Howard Peretz saw it, the road should go on forever and the party should never end.
"I never really thought about retiring, and I didn’t want to get old gracefully and play old man’s tennis and bridge and shuffleboard," he says.
Next Stop: Writing A Book
Unhappily, age happened to Mr. Peretz, as did orbital cancer, which he became aware of one day when he rushed to the net and lost sight of the tennis ball he’d intended to hit. So he did what any "old-school sports junkie" benched by circumstances might do: He put together a proposal for a book about great moments in sports.
At least one publisher was intrigued, but there was a catch.
"They asked me to write the book," he says, laughing.
Actually, Howard was OK with that. But the publishing deal fell through. Howard wrote the book anyway. He called it "The Book of Sports Miracles" and published it himself. He was especially happy to include among the book’s 250 alleged miracles the ones he’d witnessed in person, such as the so-called "Greatest Game Ever Played."
The date was Dec. 28, 1958. The Baltimore Colts and Howard’s New York Giants met to determine the NFL Championship, nine years before the birth of the Super Bowl.
"At the open end of Yankee Stadium, where the bleachers were, where I was sitting, it was so cold that fans were setting fire to the wooden bleachers," Howard says.
"And then I had to watch Alan 'The Horse' Ameche go in the end zone right in front of me to win the game. I’m still mad the Giants lost the game."
Howard Peretz has ranked that game at No. 4 among "Greatest NFL Finishes." It sounds as if it might rank No. 1 on a list of the most disappointing of those finishes, at least for a New Yorker like Mr. Peretz.
A Miracle Of His Own
"The Greatest Game Ever Played" is a good story, maybe even a great one, but my favorite among the stories Howard Peretz told me didn’t make the book, even though it stars the guy who wrote it.
"I went to the Reebok Center as a guest in the West Side of Manhattan to play hoops," Howard says. "I had a guest pass. I was in my late 50s, 5-foot-9, headband — could shoot real well, but couldn’t run the court, couldn’t jump."
As anyone who’s played pickup basketball knows, even with a guest pass, Howard Peretz couldn’t just walk on to a team. He had to compete for a spot with the other guys on the floor. That competition often means foul shots. Guys who miss 'em drop out. The other players keep shooting until there are only five left, and those five play against the team that’s held the floor by winning the previous game.
"So, came down to me and this very athletic, tall, African-American who could dunk with either hand, shoot with his back to the basket, who had great range," Howard explains. "Came down to me and him for the fifth spot to play. And, of course, the four guys waiting, they didn’t want me. They wanted him, because they knew I was a liability. So the guy looked at me, and he’s a very classy guy, and he said, 'You know what? I’m not going to the foul line. I’ll go to the 3-point line and give this guy a chance.'"
There at the 3-point line, one of Howard’s miracles began to grow wings …
"I went to the 3-point line, and I matched him, shot for shot," Howard says. "Five in a row. I was in the zone. And then he missed the sixth shot. And by that time, the crowd, believe it or not, was rooting for me. And they were yelling for me to go to the foul line, because that was the way to win the deal. I was a good foul shooter. But I wouldn’t have any of that. I went to the 3-point line.
"I missed the shot. He then made a 3. I missed the 3, and I never played."
"You missed the opportunity to be in your own sports miracle," I tell Howard.
"My own sports miracle would not make the top 250," he says with a laugh.
So Howard Peretz didn’t get into that pickup game a couple of decades ago at the Reebok Center. But he got a story out of how he almost did...this 5-foot-9 guy in his late 50s wearing a headband almost got to play.
It would be years before it would occur to Howard Peretz to collect "sports miracles" and put them in a book ... which, come to think of it, might not ever have happened if he hadn’t had to compensate for missing that 3-pointer in the gym that day.
This segment aired on November 18, 2017.
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