Les Shapiro had unyielding conviction … and a solid appetite
Those in Les Shapiro’s substantial Facebook inner circle knew today was eminent. The family of the longtime Denver sports icon and broadcaster posted on Tuesday that Shapiro had entered hospice after a lengthy battle with cancer.
And not that any cancer is fair, but in the case of Shapiro’s lung cancer, it seemed particularly unfair.
“I’ve never smoked, I don’t drink, and I work out six days a week. If you had asked me to name the top 1,000 possible ways I would die, lung cancer would not have been on that list,” Shapiro, then 62, told Westword in Dec. 2018. “I happen to have a type of lung cancer that 98 percent of people with it are non-smokers.”
On Saturday, Shapiro’s family followed up with another post.
As Shapiro told Westword back then, just a few years before his death, “Life is f—ing random.”
I wouldn’t say I knew Les all that well, though I would consider him more of a friend than an acquaintance. I considered us colleagues who genuinely cared for one another but didn’t necessarily stay in close contact.
My first real world job coming out of college happened at this feisty upstart cluster of radio stations called Front Range Sports Network.
Before my time, my station was 87.7 The Ticket. During my time, it was a cluster of names more generically known as “ESPN Denver.”
That’s where I met Les.
Here I was, this doe-eyed journalist looking for literally any foot in the door, and I got to work next to this icon of my youth.
My first day was the company’s first anniversary party. It was a distinctive day because there was basically a carnival out on the back lawn of our building complex.
Sometime later I remember bragging to my brothers I had met Gary Miller and Vic Lombardi and Les Shapiro … and we were all hanging out at a carnival.
And while I don’t dare to speak for anyone, I think many of my colleagues would understand the feeling of being starstruck.
For me, it happened a lot early in my career. Here was Peyton Manning and Brian Dawkins and Tim Tebow. Jim Tracy nearly tore my head off once because I asked probably one of the dumbest questions of all time.
Not to date myself too much, but that feeling generally wears off quickly. You get more comfortable asking questions, talking with people you used to cheer for, etc.
For me, however, that feeling never fully goes away for those in the media I admired. I mean, I still tell my friends about the time I shared an elevator with Woody Paige.
Or Colin Cowherd. Or Phil Simms … though it could have been Boomer Esiason.
I guess the takeaway for young journalists is to ride more elevators.
But Les was absolutely that and more. As a 10-year-old boy, growing up in a Denver suburb with a custom-made No. 7 Broncos jersey, he was the dapper man in the suit on the little box tv on my kitchen counter delivering me the news about my other heroes: Joe Sakic, John Elway, Larry Walker, etc.
He’s a conduit to my childhood, one where I would sometimes dream to do something like Les Shapiro did.
And, yes, Les wasn’t always for everyone. But I wouldn’t trust anyone who is.
What I do know is he was a man of his convictions, but not so much he wasn’t willing to face reasonable debate.
So, let me paint a picture of who I knew Les to be.
He was someone who could find an appetite at any time. I’m pretty sure he knew exactly how long it would take from his house in Scottsdale to the Portillo’s down the road.
He was someone who would take the time to say hello and chat a bit after bumping into you at a local supermarket, even though he probably was feeling like garbage. He would make sure to ask about your sick mother.
It was a few months ago, and it the last time I saw Les.
He was the type of person that would yell out, “Johnny Love,” when you walked into training camp practice. Every. Single. Time.
Do you know what it’s like to have someone you so respect and admire know your name, and not only that, willfully engage you in conversation like a peer?
It should be on your list of goals if you can swing it.
This week, the Shapiros solicited some memories and stories to share with Les in his final days.
I don’t know if it was that I thought I would have more time to collect my thoughts or that maybe I just didn’t want to face what was about to happen, but my biggest regret is I didn’t finish this until after his passing.
Life is f—ing random. Les was right. Our lives crossed paths many times and in many “random” ways (Did I mention, his son played Little League with my best friend, Victor?).
And while he might not know exactly what he meant to me, I’m comforted in the idea he would have thought this was a funny, fitting tribute to a man who touched the lives of so many.
Rest in peace, Mr. Shapiro.