Written by Rafe Chierchio - The other half of Coach  

If I had thought of it sooner, we could have dresses the left side of the Church in Rockne uniforms and the right side in those from Libations. We could have met at Shore Road to play the worlds largest football game - The Sbarbaro Bowl. The winner would determine which team's colors John would wear in the Bay Ridge Hall of Fame. But knowing him the way I do, I think he'd prefer to be inducted wearing nothing but his smile.

I love John Sbarbaro. He has touched me in no less than a perfect way. It is hard to imagine him playing a bigger part in my life. What I find remarkable is how big a part he played in the lives of so many others. Each period in his amazing life created friendships that were lasting and complete.

From neighborhood kid to OLA to Rockne Juniors to Libations (the bar and the football team), to his years at Tuesday night hoops, to all those spring training trips, to his 2 careers on Wall Street, to all those seasons coaching and to his obsession with Golf. John collected a vast array of great friends. We all count our blessings.

Plain and simply John was a great guy - a hale fellow well met - if you will. His natural ability to show love allowed him to cultivate the deep long-standing relationships that helped to define him. He cared. He was honest. He was fiercely loyal. He was genuine and humble. Frankly he was too good to be true and thankfully, he was ours.

He was also a lot of fun ...

Some of my favorite John stories were ones I wasn't even part of. I was almost as excited for the Spring training trips as the guys that went - just to hear the stories about a crew of crazy guys from Brooklyn taking over an otherwise sleep little town in Florida. I was half-asleep in bed one Saturday and I guess I had left the TV on all night because I woke up to Tim Mcarver saying, "Look at these Bozo's". I shot up - it had to be them! Sure enough, John, the McGiveneys, Bugout etc the rest were dresses in hideous Hawaiian shirts and silly hats playing Kazoos and parading around the stadium. They were front-page news that year.

His ingenuity for last minute Halloween costumes was inspiring. My favorites included TreeMan, The Invisible an, A Shower Stall and a Screen door. Yes, a screen door. Last years was particularly resourceful, he was a patient. The entire outfit consisted of a hospital dressing gown and a well placed foot long plastic thermometer (How'd he do that?).

The Tuns/Libations years. They should do a miniseries on those years. The cast of characters and countless stories are the stuff of legend. And knowing that crowd of John's friends as I do, those stories should be flying this afternoon at the restaurant. There will be plenty to go around. I can listen to them all day.

Then there was Rockne - the Coaching years. They were as good a run as I've had in my life. We loved that football team - it helped to extend our already extended childhood's. John was still banging heads with 20 year olds in the SITTL (Staten Island Tough Tackle League) when we decided to coach together. He, not surprisingly, was a natural. He coached the offense and I the defense. He was old school, was well prepared and always focused. He was intensely competitive and above all, he was a winner. He was out quiet leader… and me, I was the other guy. We built a team around a core of players with whom we still remain close. They were and still area classy, hard-nosed and disciplined. They played smart. They played as a team. They won championships. The acorns had not fallen far from the tree.

There was no better feeling than to play a team for the first time, and to see them smirk out our lack of size, our old fashioned split and backfield and simple zone defense, knowing that 4 quarters later we'd leave them scratching their heads. You can't measure heart. And staring with Coach and working it's way through the roster, we had plenty.

The playoffs were our favorite time of year. It was cold or wet or freezing or muddy but as I would say to John, "All is right in the world, John & Rafe are in the playoffs again". There was the Bayside Raiders game. Eight below zero, no locker rooms and a frozen field. John had argued a call too hard and was thrown out (wrongfully, in my opinion) in the second half with no score. I can still see Judy shuttling plays from outside the park to me on the sidelines. WE quickly convinced John that Judy's health was more important than any game. He begrudgingly relented - we did manage to steal that game after all.

Once we were young and stupid enough to break up a brawl that ended a game in the early years. When the dust settled I berated the team for losing it's composure and for letting John get hit by an opposing player. One by one they lined up to apologize to him - each one commenting on how bad his nose looked. John loved retelling this story. His nose hadn't been touched at all 0- it always looked like that.

We decided to make 1996 our last hurrah. It was our 11th season and we were incredibly proud of this team. We weren't young and athletic any more. We had become old and scrappy, but no less determined and competitive. The entire season was a series of close games that we kept finding ways to win. We beat a heavily favored team from Upstate NY in overtime to win that Championship, our fourth. WE cried like Babies. Later that evening these two grown men of relative stature could be seen doing calisthenics with their ballplayers in the middle of 5th Ave (stopping traffic for blocks). All was right with the world.

I turned to John on the 1st tee at Dyker and said, "I am sorry for what is about to happen to you". It was John's first round of gold and I feared he'd take on this challenge like all the others - head first and obsessed. I should have been in Vegas that day because I was never before or after, so right. John was a self-admitted golf-amaniac. He couldn't help himself. He would play anytime, anyplace with almost anyone (and all you guys out there thought you were special). I once played with him during a winter thaw in January. There were still patches of snow on the ground. I might have apologized to the wrong person that day - I should have offered it to Judy.

Lastly and for the record, John was the first person at the hospital when my son was born, somehow beating any of my in-laws or family who lived nearby, on Staten Island. He had come from work. His magic intact. Of course, he defied orders from the staff by gladly furnishing cigarettes for the new mother, Josephine.

Personally I have been so blessed by having John. For many years I didn't know where he stopped and I started, and I'm honored to feel that way. I think of him often and over the past weeks I've come up with an image I've created of him that makes me laugh and I'd like to share it with you: John standing tall with his big smile working: dressed in a #80 Hawaiian print football jersey and blue suede Pumas; golf clubs on one shoulder, skis on the other, a basketball at his feet, a cigarette in his hand and Judy handing him a chicken parmagian hero. It works for me - let it work for you.

I will miss the doing of life with John. I will not, however, live a moment without him. He has always been and will always be in my heart - A heart he helped to grow and make stronger. I will always love him.

Drive home safe Coach. I love you…….

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