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July 1997

Vic Carucci and Football:
A Family Affair

by Maria SCRIVANI

He has a great seat at every Buffalo Bills game, including playoff and Super Bowl contests, plus locker room access to players and coaches. What’s routine in the workaday world of Vic Carucci would be a dream come true for many Western New Yorkers.

But the veteran Buffalo News football reporter, author and broadcast personality, says the beauty part of the perks that come with the job is having his whole family share in it.

Wife Rhonda is a major pro football fan, having grown up in Rome, New York, in a sports-loving household. Daughters Kristen, 12, and Lindsay, 8, while not avid fans, have enjoyed such benefits as traveling to the Pro Bowl with their parents.

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With (left to right) Lindsay, Kristen and Rhonda at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

Vic, who hails from Whitesboro, near Utica, was the sole fan in his home until he made a career of writing about football. Now his parents — Victor and Mary Anne Carucci — who still reside in Whitesboro, and brother John, a car salesman in East Syracuse, are converts to the Bills’ creed.

Family gatherings at holidays revolve around the football schedule, and sometimes that means Vic is on the road with the team. In April the Caruccis get the Bills schedule, and Rhonda says it becomes her “Bible” for family plans.

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Vic Carucci at age 9.

Still, first things usually have a way of coming first, and it was a family event that caused Vic to miss Super Bowl XXIII. He was in Miami a week before the big game between Cincinnati and San Francisco. He brought along brother John in lieu of the very pregnant Rhonda. The doctor had reassured Vic that the baby wasn’t expected to arrive for another four weeks, and he should go ahead on his assignment.

Sure enough, he received an emergency phone call the Thursday before Super Bowl Sunday. He and John rushed back to Buffalo. By the time Vic arrived at the hospital, his second daughter had already been born. That Sunday the family enjoyed watching the Super Bowl on TV together, its newest member sleeping soundly in her cradle. It was, Vic says, “the best possible reason to miss a game.”

Quiet family moments are hard to come by when football season is in full swing, so the Caruccis, who along with their Yorkshire terrier, Coco, live in East Amherst, have learned to savor their time together.     “The reason it all works is sitting right over there,” Vic says, pointing to wife Rhonda. “Her strength in keeping the household going when we’re in season — when my schedule is nuts — and her interest in what I’m doing are crucial to maintaining our happy family life.

“I know I am speaking for countless Baby Boomers when I say there never seems to be enough hours in the day. But no matter how busy you are pursuing your career and striving to bring security to the people you love, I think it’s crucial for a family to never forget that it is, indeed, a family. I think it’s critical that we, as parents, make certain our children always identify with that rather than with something else.

“When we can sit down and have a meal together, we really cherish it. We rarely allow interruptions, but sometimes it happens — like at 5:30 p.m. when we’re about to sit down at the table, and Ralph Wilson calls back. It’s really hard to get him, and Rhonda understands that that’s a call I have to take.”

Rhonda wears a gold necklace shaped like a Buffalo Bills helmet, a gift from Vic. The two met when his brother was working with her brother at a radio station. A love of football was something they shared from the beginning.

Vic, a graduate of Utica College where he studied journalism, says he wanted to be a sportswriter — a football writer, in particular — since junior high school.

“I remember watching a CBS-TV feature on Bob Oates, the legendary L.A. Times football writer,” he says. “The premise of the story was ‘A day in the life of an N.F.L. writer.’ I thought it was great a guy could, A) get into the game for free, and B) have one of the best seats in the house, while getting paid for it! I figured ‘That’s for me.’ Little did I realize there was so much more to it than that. I’ve since come to view Game Day as a very long, very hard day at the office.”

Recalling his boyhood, he says, “On Sundays you could find me in the living room with a football field grid pad and markers in front of me, charting the games on TV. I had a little stopwatch, and I’d time the hang-time of punts.”

In those days he was a “huge fan” of what was then the Los Angeles Rams, who were usually playing on the 4 p.m. national broadcast. His passion, he says, “Held up the family meal on Sundays.”

At the ripe age of 40, Vic Carucci looks big enough, and fit enough, to have played some ball himself. But he says he never seriously considered choosing the life of an athlete. “I played a ton of sandlot football and baseball as a kid. I was the one who organized all the games, and kept the statistics. We played morning, noon and night.

“But I realized, early on, instead of pursuing playing, and yet still wanting to be around the game, I could be a writer.”

In high school he began stringing for the Utica Observer-Dispatch, earning $7.50 per story covering the school sports scene. By the time he graduated from Utica, he was hired to cover college football for the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

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Tapping out one of his first stories as a high school “stringer.”

“I learned on the fly,” Vic says, “and then I got my big break when the guy who was covering the Philadelphia Eagles left unexpectedly. They decided to take a chance on me.”

The break turned incredibly lucky when, in his second year with the Courier-Post, the Eagles went to the Super Bowl. Vic Carucci was catapulted into the company of such nationally-known football writers as Larry Felser of the Buffalo News. When Vic won a national writing award the next year, it was Larry Felser who talked to him about an opening in Buffalo. Vic was hired after the ‘81 season.

Bills fans can certainly relate to what he identifies as highlights of his career. “I thought it was the greatest thing when the Bills went to the Super Bowl the first time,” he says. (That campaign was the subject of one of his books, The Buffalo Bills and the Almost-Dream Season, published in 1991.) “I had covered them in their 2-and-14 years, and now it was all the way to the top.”

As a “walking encyclopedia on the Buffalo Bills,” Vic Carucci, along with other Buffalo sportswriters, became a celebrity himself during all the Super Bowl hype, appearing on national television. While acknowledging the excitement of covering one of the best teams in the league, he hastens to point out that his job is to be a neutral observer, a role that best serves the fans.

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With (left to right) brother, John, and former Bill and co-author Conrad Dobler.

“The biggest asset I must have in my readers’ eyes is credibility. People have to be convinced you can be trusted to tell them what’s going on.”

A sportswriter’s take on the performance of the Bills is unique. “Generally it’s easier to cover winners,” Vic notes, “but a losing team produces more news stories. Anything prolonged — winning or losing — can be difficult to cover.”

It’s clear that, whether they’re winning or losing, writing about a professional football team is a dream come true for Vic Carucci. “I like the travel,” he says. Sometimes Rhonda joins him, and Vic’s mother usually stays with the girls.

“I really love dealing with the variety of people this job presents, and I like the whole process of gathering information. I like to be the one who knows something about something before anyone else, and I like being the one to tell the story.”

He’s also very good at telling the story, with numerous state and national writing awards to his credit. Most recently Vic Carucci received the Associated Press Sport Editors’ Association’s national feature writing award for a Buffalo News magazine story on Bills wide receiver Justin Armour.

But Vic says the highest honor of his career came in 1993 when his peers voted him president of the Professional Football Writers of America. He was given a distinguished service award for his two-year term heading the national organization of 500 print journalists regularly assigned to pro football.

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Presenting Joe Montana the George Halas Award as President of
the Pro Football Writers of America.

In addition to his book on the first Super Bowl season, Vic has written three other books in collaboration: Jim Kelly’s Armed and Dangerous, Fred Smerlas’ By a Nose, and Conrad Dobler’s They Call Me Dirty. He was also chosen among the nation’s top football writers to contribute four chapters to the highly acclaimed coffee-table book, 75 Seasons.

Each week through the NFL season and monthly during the off-season, Vic can be heard on Buffalo radio station WBEN as co-host of the “Thursday Night Huddle,” an hour-long call-in show.  He also co-hosts a weekly television program called “Fan Forum” on Empire Sports Network during the season.

He is a special correspondent for Sports Illustrated, and a regular contributor to several other national periodicals, including The Sporting News.

An ongoing project is Vic’s collaboration with Jack Kemp on the latter’s memoirs.

And so, from Vic Carucci, you can expect that the best is yet to come ... encouraged by his family’s dedicated support and
understanding.

Maria Scrivani is a free-lance writer from Buffalo, NY.

 

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