Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shooting Stars & Nuff Said: A Tribute to David Nuffer

Last week was really interesting for me. On Tuesday the 1st I was living the high life. KRB and I had been given access by Steve Webster to the "Sports P.R. in L.A." lesson he teaches to his USF students, including a behind-the-scenes look at a Los Angeles Lakers game. We met J.A. Adande of the LA Times, Patrick O'Neill of FSN, and attended Phil Jackson's post-game press conference. We sat in section 112 - "where the players dwell" like the R&B song goes - and saw Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 and actor Andy Garcia. And I saw my L.A. friend Allie Mossler. Webbie even surprised us after Phil's presser by bringing in Lamar Odom, which made KRB swoon, and he spoke to us about being a pro athlete in the age of social media. It was awesome. He shook my wrist and was one of the nicest athletes I've ever met.

The next day I knew I'd be tired but I wasn't prepared for the news that hit me like a ton of bricks. My all-time favorite boss to date, Robert "The Chief" Villarreal delivered the announcement via e-mail. Our friend, and my very first boss in San Diego, David Nuffer, passed away that day after a battle with lung cancer.

He was getting old and frail but I just always thought he'd be around.

When I graduated from Notre Dame and returned to the 619, I sent out 100 résumés with cover letters. I figured I'd get a few back, right?  Maybe score half a dozen interviews or so among the many PR agencies, newspapers, and sports teams in town? I got exactly ONE response. It was from David Nuffer.

He didn't even have a job available but was willing to meet for an "informational interview."   I walked in that sunny September day and he asked if I like baseball...of course, I said...and who my team was...the Padres, I said. "Good," he smiled with a grin as bright as his white hair and as plain as his tan face and suit, "I was afraid you'd say the Dodgers. I f****ing hate the Dodgers."

That was Dave, I learned, and I saw his crusty yet humorous ways even more when he offered me a 12-hour a week job. I needed it. I took it.

He swore a lot. He hated the concept of Casual Fridays. He shed a tear when one of his clients, The Access Center, offered me a full-time job. He made sure I went to spring training and bought me margaritas. He stayed in touch long after I'd left his company.

One time he knew then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue would be in town for a luncheon, so he offered to pick me up at home and take me. "Be ready on Sunday at noon!", he growled.  I was but Dave never showed.

The luncheon was MONDAY at noon. He picked me up and apologized for 20 minutes.

When, after many years, I achieved my goal of working for the Pads, he cut out the notice in the paper, highlighted it, and inscribed a note and framed both. It read: Paso por Paso, Se Llega Lejos.....Step by Step, You Travel Miles.

It was a missive to never give up and a celebration of my new job in our shared passion - baseball. We also loved writing and reveled when I published Swinging for the Fences and he published several books on his icon, Hemingway.

How weird then to see him with an oxygen mask, in a wheelchair, in the final days. It wasn't the stout, piss-and-vinegar Daveed I knew. I thanked him once for helping to create the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce because at one point I worked for them. It was like all my jobs could be traced back to him. So did my obstinence, determination, and fighting spirit.

One day we were at lunch at Chuey's Mexican Restaurant in Barrio Logan, where we would go every few months just to catch up, and Nuff said, "Montoya, they call me a civic leader and a big-wig. But when I'm dead and gone, hell, no one will remember me."

That was probably the first time I ever disagreed with him. Heck, once I was young and experimental, I guess, and wore an earring and he said I looked like an effing idiot. I pulled it out 'cause I knew he wanted what was best for me. But on this day I said, no, Dave - you've touched a lot of lives as a mentor and friend. You'll always be remembered, compadre.